Salem Place Nursing and Rehabilitation has a special volunteer who helps keep up the spirits of its residents through his tireless efforts and nonstop antics.
Ed Welsh of Conway has been volunteering daily at the facility for the last year and a half, organizing activities for the residents, doing things for them and keeping smiles on their faces.
He said, "My mother-in-law and father-in-law were in the hospital. I told my wife, ‘I’m getting ready to retire. I’m going to come over and visit your parents. I started seeing all these wonderful elderly people. It opened up my heart."
Welsh describes himself as an "extreme kidder."
"I think the biggest help is to make them laugh," he said. "I like to have a good time. I came down here one day and I wore a dress. The ladies got a big kick out of that. One day I borrowed a dunk tank from the fire department. They spent about two and a half hours dunking me. Every day I try to hug as many of them as I can."
Vickey Kirkemier, administrator at Salem Place, said, "He’s here all the time. You’ll find him sitting on the porch visiting with the patients. He brings excitement to the nursing home. He might start a straw fight in the dining room or something totally off the wall.
"He helped us start an annual softball tournament with the staff. The patients pick sides and wear matching shirts, and he got the community involved. He takes what we would do and adds a little fun to it."
When Welsh started volunteering at the nursing home, he wanted to see the world from the residents’ point of view, and so he spent about eight hours in a wheelchair.
"I really got a better perspective of what the residents go through. I saw when the visitors came in, their response to me. Most people came in, and they have that look on their face. Most visitors never stop to talk to the residents."
He discovered the wheelchair-bound residents had trouble closing their bathroom doors after entering the bathroom in their wheelchairs. He wanted to give them a way to close their doors so they could have some privacy. He came up with an invention using a bit of nylon rope hanging from the doorknob with a Wiffle ball attached.
"I try to make life as easy for them as I can," he said. "If I have to come here, I want someone to help me."
His care for the residents varies from setting up bingo after lunch to pushing them in their wheelchairs to large-scale, facility-wide activities, such as the softball tournament. Some of the other activities he has dreamed up are "sombrero day" and a cooking class he put on for the residents, whom he refers to as his "kids."
"I go to meals and I cut their meat for them," he said. "I kid them and say, ‘Save something for me.’ One lady always saves me a chicken bone or a pork chop bone."
Welsh said his wife, Diane, works in Little Rock, and she also comes regularly after work to volunteer at Salem Place.
He said, "I think the good Lord said, ‘Ed, this is what you’re going to do when you retire.’ Anything they want me to do I’ll do for them. I never know what I’m going to do the next day. When I come in here and I see the look on their faces, I’m ready to go for the next day. They look forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing them."
He concluded, "This is a whole new life for me. This has become my life. I love it."
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson may be reached at 501-505-1236 or firstname.lastname@example.org)