Despite 9 p.m. curfew, it's a senior prom in every sense Nursing home stands in for school memories


Tena Michalski was excited. It was the night of the senior prom, and she had waited for this for a long time.

Although there was no limousine ride to the dance or large mirrored balls sending sparkling glimmers around the room, the rest of the trappings were in place: the blue and white streamers, the band, the fancy dresses.

It still wasn't quite like most senior proms. For one thing, most of the seniors attending had silver hair and were in wheelchairs. And Tena Michalski, 76, hadn't been in high school for almost six decades.

"This is my first senior prom," said Michalski, a gregarious woman with white hair. Michalski, a resident of Meridian Nursing Home in Brooklyn Park, admitted she thought the idea of getting dressed up for a prom was pretty crazy at first.

"I couldn't believe it when they first told me. I thought it was silly," she said.

But after some initial doubts, she warmed to the idea and decided it was a great way to experience her first prom. She never attended one as a teen-ager because she switched to night school so that she could work during the day to help support her family.

"We didn't have a prom at night school," she said wistfully. "But my daughters both went to proms. They had the limousines and everything. It was really something."

On Monday night, Michalski and about 50 other residents of Meridian enjoyed music by the Charm City Band, dancing and refreshments at the nursing home's first senior prom. Activities director Sue Thompson organized the dance as part of a week-long celebration of National Nursing Home Week.

Warren Burke, administrator of Meridian, said staff members have scheduled many special activities this week for residents.

"This kind of thing is therapeutic in a lot of ways. It helps them remember the good times," he said. "Some of the residents don't smile much. It's like they're in a shell. But bring out the music, and they open up."

About 30 minutes into the two-hour prom, 83-year-old Leona Schaefer took to the microphone to belt out a couple of tunes from the old days. The crowd joined in during her rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," as three old-timers in canary yellow tuxes played along on the piano, saxophone and drums.

To make prom night extra special, two staff members had scoured a nearby thrift store and bought a dozen ball gowns so residents could trip the light fantastic in the proper attire.

Some wore flowing, floor-length dresses with sequins or lace. But at the Meridian Senior Prom, the dress code was more relaxed. Residents who preferred to come in house coats and slippers were equally welcome.

Irene Spriggs, 87, in a hot-pink number with matching hat, stood out from the crowd.

"I think this is really very nice," she said. "It's the first time I've danced in a long, long time."

Residents danced with staff members and relatives. Those who were in wheelchairs danced, too, twirling their chairs around in circles.

Halfway through the festivities, the group enjoyed some cookies and punch, which, unlike proms of yore, was not spiked.

And unlike those 18-year-old prom-goers, who usually call it a night sometime after the sun comes up, these folks were back in their rooms by 9 p.m.

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