Nursing home activity director becomes characters on stage

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Dressing up is just part of a typical day for activities director Julie Schwab at Good Samaritan Society – Sunset Drive in Mandan, North Dakota.

“My pirate voice isn’t as good as other voices. It’s just, ‘Arrgh! You salty dog!’” Julie says before donning a tricorn hat and pirate costume.

Stealing residents’ and co-workers’ hearts for the past 19 years in Mandan, Julie is an anchor for many at the long-term care center.

“Oh, Julie is great. I have seen her in so many costumes,” resident Delores Poling says laughing.

There’s a specific goal behind all the effort.

“I think a lot of people do think you just come to a nursing home and that’s it. You’re done,” Julie says. “We just want them to be involved in activities enhancing their lives.”

Residents are currently marooned on pirate week but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“She is one that will definitely go above and beyond in everything she does,” Society administrator Kelly VanderVorste says. “She becomes the character when she does her little impersonations.”

‘She is magnanimous’

Developing characters such as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Julie speaks with an accent and even puts on a few concerts.

“She can sing like an angel,” Delores says.

At Christmas time, she turns into a 4-year-old and visits residents with Santa.

In an energetic, childlike voice, Julie hollers, “Hi, my name is Mavis Ann and I live across the street and I have a mom and daddy and I’m so glad to be here. I get to celebrate Christmas with my grandmas and grandpas. Thank you so much for inviting me.”

“Even staff are like, ‘Oh Mavis Ann is here.’ Because you can hear me all the way down (the hall).”

Silly stuff, but co-workers say it lights up the building in a special way.