Ding-a-Lings keep music alive

By Roz Weis,

Vera Wiest and volunteer Sue Dansdill play their handbells at the patriotic concert recently at Wellington Place.

(Originally published in the July 6 Public Opinion, available in print and online. Certain content is presented first to subscribers (print and digital), then released for consumption later)

The sweet sound and rhythm of handbells is keeping seniors upbeat at Wellington Place in Decorah.

A group calling themselves the Ding-a-Lings is in residence at the assisted living, nursing and rehab and memory support facility.

“We started the program seven years ago,” commented Lynn Monroe, activity director and self-proclaimed Head Ding-A-Ling.

“Our corporate activity consultant purchased the handbells for us after seeing another program. The assisted living and nursing home each received a set.”

Monroe gathered some of the residents, and they all gave the bells a try. The musical enthusiasts loved playing from the beginning and the program has blossomed ever since.

The Ding-a-Lings now boast 34 members (including some area volunteers).

There are no try-outs or auditions for Ding-a-Ling membership.

“Anyone can be a part of the group,” Monroe continued. “We have people from memory support assisted living, nursing home and from assisted living.”

Performances are scheduled three or four times per year. The most recent concert was a patriotic themed event Thursday, June 29. It was standing-room-only for the summer concert.

The average age of a Ding-a-Ling is 84. The group practices weekly, and the directors of the program go to great lengths to keep the group comfortable and relaxed. They draw the curtains to shut out glare, they arrange the group in close proximity to help with hearing aids and other issues as needed, and the group takes frequent stretch breaks between selections so hands don’t cramp up.

Monroe stands atop a stepstool to ensure the group can see her directing with her special handbell cards.

“When you think about the vision, hearing and arthritic hands of the residents, it is pretty amazing they are doing this,” Monroe continued. 

“It is so inspiring to see the joy on their faces,” Monroe said, “and to see the camaraderie among the choir members and volunteers and their dedication to the choir …They are so proud when people come to the concerts.

Concerts are held at Christmas, Easter, and during the summer (typically around July 4th holiday). But the handbell players have not confined themselves to in-house performances.

Monroe said one of the first Ding-a-Lings Mary Manning once remarked, “We need to take this show on the road.

Last Easter the group was invited to perform at First Baptist Church in Waukon. Residents are still enthusiastically talking about that road trip.

“We are not perfect, but we have so much fun … and we received a standing ovation,” Monroe continued., “It was awesome!”

The passion for the handbell choir is long lasting, and the importance of the music and being a member of the group is often illustrated in special ways.

“We had a member of the Ding-a-Lings pass away this spring,” Monroe said, “She had been a longtime member of the bell choir and her family asked if her bell could be placed in her casket … and a recording of the Ding-a-Lings was played as part of her service.”

Membership in the Ding-a-Lings is ever-changing, depending on the health of the members.

Current handbell players in the group (residents and volunteers) include: Cloyd Dolley, Phyllis Riehle, Todd Fulsaas, Louise Smith, Linda Mettille, Sandy Albertson, Karen Sersland, Alice Hemesath, Veronica Egli, Jean Graham, Rose Nienhaus, Arlene St. Clair, Laura Lee, Bev Christen, Dave Pahlas, Vera Wiest, Martha Hanson, Dan Neuzil, Ione Neuzil, Norbert Neuzil, Joann Halverson, Pat McIntosh, Taylor Guyer, Molly Hormann. Volunteers are Julie Fisher, Becky Weiand, Christine Kilarski, Tony Kluesner, Carrie Lee, Sue Dansdill, Pat Seckar, Becky Miles, Martie Berg and Vi Krivachek. Other volunteers assisting occasionally include Connie White, Sue Halverson and Becky Crotser.

Choir members surprised

The Ding-a-Lings were surprised with a special gift at their June patriotic concert.

Jana Albers, the daughter of Bev Christen, purchased matching shirts for the group with help from the following sponsors: Bruening Rock Products, Thrivent Financial, Decorah Bank & Trust, Viking Bank & Trust, Olson Explosives, Helms Funeral Home and Friest & Associate Realtors.

The choir members wore the shirts proudly, and many agreed that they were thrilled with the matching accessories.

As with many programs at Wellington Place, the Ding-a-Lings would not be as without community support.

“I would like to give a special thanks to our dedicated volunteers because without their help we could not have the awesome choir we have.”

Find more photos in the July 6 Public Opinion and July 11 Driftless Journal.

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