Parade reconnects distanced loved ones

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Northwood resident Dolores Kuper, left, sits outside to watch the Northwood Family and Friends Parade of Cars and Joy at the retirement community in Jasper on Friday.


JASPER — She is strong but gentle. Kind and sweet, but also resilient.

Dolores Kuper’s daughters describe their mother as a religious woman who has made the best of her life. Never demanding and always thankful, the 96-year-old loves her kin with her entire heart.

Friday, seated on a bench outside Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper, Kuper donned a cream-colored mask on her face and a purple pom in her hand.

And she waited for them.

A seemingly never-ending line of vehicles snaked through the streets that surrounded her, and somewhere, inside that lengthy procession, Kuper’s family members slowly cruised forward, inching closer and closer to the woman they care for so dearly.

Widespread visitation restrictions aimed at protecting nursing home residents from COVID-19 have forced family and friends to find new ways to keep in touch. But on that warm spring morning, from a distance, outsiders rolled down their windows, held out signs with positive messages and imagery, and cheered to the Northwood residents, who waved as driver after driver passed them by.

Northwood residents Charles Schulte, left, Catherine Matheis, Lucille Rudolph and Mary Schnaus wait for the Northwood Family and Friends Parade of Cars and Joy to begin at the retirement community in Jasper on Friday.

“Better, better, better than I thought it would be,” Julie Fuhs, Kuper’s daughter, said when asked how she thought of the parade. Her sisters, Jane Seng and Nancy Huebner, as well as their sister-in-law, Bev Kuper, all erupted when they saw Mom.

Different versions of this scene played out over, and over, and over again, as more than 50 Northwood occupants lined sidewalks outside the facilities and countless cars, trucks and SUVs coasted in the sprawling caravan.

Before the event, Fuhs told of how the family used to visit Kuper three or four times a week in her assisted living apartment. Every Thursday, Kuper’s daughters would take her to David’s Hair and Styling Salon in Jasper, and after that trip, they’d head to Denny’s for lunch.

“They call me,” Kuper said of her tight-knit family before the parade. “They come, too, whenever they can. Just always been that way. From little on up.”
The coronavirus has stolen most of their in-person connection opportunities. The separation has worn on Kuper, and it’s also affected her children.

“It’s been hard for us,” Fuhs reflected. “Of course, we call her and send her notes. But [we] can’t go and see her and give her a hug or a kiss or anything.”
In a separate phone interview, Huebner said: “Being quarantined here at home and not being able to see anyone, especially Mom, has certainly been a lonely thing.”

Friday’s parade did not, however, mark the first time her children had seen her during the lockdown. On April 23, Kuper’s birthday, all six of Kuper’s grown-up kids crafted happy signs and safely sang to her on the pavement outside of her Northwood facility.

“She got teary-eyed,” Fuhs recalled. “But it was nice that at least we could do that. And we could all see her there.”

Northwood Social worker Stacy Mohr, left, stands by Northwood resident Rose Killian while she waves at the Northwood Family and Friends Parade of Cars and Joy at the retirement community in Jasper on Friday.

Some of her children have also dropped by on other occasions and waved to Kuper from the ground to the second story of the building — the level that she lives on — and video calls have been exchanged, too.

They all miss her. But they understand why it’s important that they stay away, and they appreciate all the extra efforts the senior living community’s staff are making at this time.

Last week’s parade was spearheaded by Jennifer Wilson, Northwood’s office manager and marketing director. She dreamed the experience would be as successful as it was, but going into the procession, she didn’t know how it would turn out.

She believed that giving both the residents and their loved ones a chance to see each other was important.

“We’ve been trying to do the new FaceTiming and the social distancing with the iPads,” Wilson explained. “It’s cool, and some of them really enjoy it. But [for] a lot of them, it’s bothersome. Because they don’t understand, and it kind of gives them a sense of uneasiness.”

Friday’s event was simple. And, even if it was brief, sunshine poured over the retirement community, and a sense of togetherness that had been disrupted at the facility was temporarily restored.

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