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Back at bingo

Barb Blom and Ecumen Bethany Community nursing assistant Kesha Johnson pose with the giant bingo card that was constructed to commemorate Barb’s return to playing the game at the Elks. (Contributed)

Barb Blom and bingo. They're a duo as inseparable as milk and cookies, Batman and Robin, macaroni and cheese, or Tom and Jerry. One can hardly be mentioned without the other.

No matter where Blom goes, she's got bingo on the brain.

"Oh, I love bingo," Blom gushed. "I could go every day. It's just so much fun and you meet so many friends."

Living the bingo dream

Blom is a bingo veteran, having been playing most of her 84 years.

"I grew up in Brainerd. My folks moved to the Cities. Then I got hitched." She laughed. "Then you stop having them little floppers coming out. I worked at Griswold's making detonators for bombs. We didn't fill 'em or nothing; we just made them. That was ... 60 years ago."

Fast forward to 28 years ago, she moved to the Alexandria area and became a regular at the Elks bingo. She is such a regular, in fact, that if she doesn't show up, her Elks family comes looking for her.

"How many games have I won?" Blom asked. "Lots of 'em!"

One of Blom's big wins came at the Mille Lacs casino around 12 years ago. Her friend's daughter won $10,000 in bingo, and after splitting it, Blom took home $2,500.

This year at the Douglas County Fair, she won $10.50.

Other times, she might win a candy bar or a pop. And sometimes, she doesn't win at all.

"It's just the name of the game," she said.

However, Blom's consistent attendance at the Elks was thrown into disarray in October of 2015 when she moved into Ecumen Bethany Community in Alexandria. She was able to attend periodically when she could find transportation, but it became difficult.

It wasn't until Blom was chosen as a recipient of a Wish Come True grant that she was able to resume living her bingo dream.

The grant is offered to Ecumen Bethany through Senior Crimestoppers, funded by Gate City Bank through CRA Partners. The program seeks to fulfill a wish or need for senior residents with the goal of improving quality of life.

The program provided Blom transportation and a companion in nursing assistant Kesha Johnson.

"Blom's a sweetheart," Johnson said.

"I can get tough if I want to," Blom replied.

The time finally came in January for Blom to restart her steady appearances at Elks bingo.

Jamie Tikkanen, director of Social Services at Ecumen Bethany, made Blom an extra special present to commemorate the occasion, a larger-than-life bingo card.

Blom was ecstatic when she received the gift and asked Ecumen staff to sign it. The card is now displayed proudly on Blom's bedroom wall, covered in signatures from her therapists, nurses, nurse's aides and others who have helped her along the way.

Though bingo is her favorite, Blom doesn't limit herself. She also participates regularly in other activities at Ecumen Bethany, from making necklaces and shepherd's pie to cookies and wall hangings.

Even so, bingo will always be her first and greatest love.

"Oh, besides bingo and the casino, I could live in the two of them," Blom said. "But I love bingo. No matter where I go, I talk about it."

Jessica Sly

Jessica Sly has been working as a content writer at the Echo Press since May 2012, contributing, proofreading and editing content for both the Echo and Osakis Review. A Wadena native, she graduated from Verndale High School in 2009 and worked that summer at the Wadena Pioneer Journal as an intern reporter. She attended Northwestern College in St. Paul (now the University of Northwestern - St. Paul), where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in writing and a minor in Bible. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano (and learning the violin), reading, writing novels, going to the movies, and exploring Alexandria.

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