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Bethany residents are 'Playing with Memories'

Iola Stark, Al Stephani and Minnie Winkels are part of the Playing with Memories production to be performed at Bethany Community in Alexandria.

Memory is the ability to store, retain and recall information and experiences.

It is an amazing gift, especially when memories are shared with others.

Residents of Bethany Community in Alexandria recently received a unique opportunity to share and document some of their memories.

They were part of a program called Playing With Memories created by local actress, playwright and director Kathy Ray of Barrett.

Last fall, Ray began meeting with about eight residents of Bethany Community once a week individually and in group settings. She spent time talking with them, getting to know them and asking them to share their memories.

"The goal of this is to honor the people who have come before us in the rural communities in which we live," said Ray. "To hear what their lives were like in the late 1920s and 30s and to hear of their contributions that have played a role in how we experience community life today.

"It's also a way to teach kids today what life and times were like for the kids of yesterday," she added.

Being one of the oldest children in a large family, Minnie Winkels, 91, had lots of memories to share about household chores and caring for siblings. But one of her favorite stories shared in the production is that of how her name got changed from her given name of Balbina to Minnie - a name she chose for herself.

Iola Stark, 99, also has many memories of farm life, as well of memories of time spent at a variety of jobs, from telephone operator to working in a doctor's office to dispatching cabs.

"I've done a lot of things!" the 99-year-old said with a smile. "And I remember most of them."

Unlike a lot of people, Stark did take the time to write up her life history for her family some years ago. But she is excited to share one memory in the Playing With Memories performance that she doesn't think her family knows about.

"I think it will be a surprise to them!" she said.

Al Stephani, 89, has different memories of growing up than Winkels or Stark. He was a city boy, growing up in the heart of Chicago.

His memories are about his father's mysterious job, shoot-outs on the streets and his visits to opera productions.

After months of gathering memories, Ray worked with the residents to develop those memories into a script written in a radio-show format.

Recently the residents - along with actors from Lakes Area Theatre in Alexandria - have been rehearsing the script for the upcoming performances.

Some of the participants will be reading segments, while all of them will have a part in the production. A slide show of their personal photographs will also be included.

Performances will be held Friday, May 13 at 1:15 p.m. and Saturday, May 14 at 3 p.m. in the Bethany Community Chapel. Both performances are open to the public.

According to Randee Hall, director of resident services at Bethany Community, the project was a positive experience for the residents.

"I think they had a lot of fun with it," she said. "They never wanted to miss one of their sessions with Kathy. They seemed proud to share stories about their lives and they learned a lot about each other. You could just see the friendships forming."

"There are bonds that form when sharing details of your life and philosophies of life - things that were and still are important to you," Ray concluded.


Performances will be held Friday, May 13 at 1:15 p.m. and Saturday, May 14 at 3 p.m. in the Bethany Community Chapel. Both performances are open to the public.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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