Feted in Fantasy Land

Winona Gadapee brings her experiences in Nashville back home
By Sharon Lakey
At midnight on October 10, 2008, Winona Gadapee was still flying high as she and her husband, Arnie, touched down at the Burlington airport. In a few short hours, she would be sharing the experiences of two whirlwind days in Nashville while leading a “Music with Winona” session at the St. Johnsbury Health and Rehabilitation Center.
Dressed in the same turquoise dress and jacket that she wore at the Volunteer of the Year award ceremony, Winona arrived at the Center at 10:30 a.m. sharp. The piano she has played for the last nine years awaited her in the great room, and a small group of residents were already gathered there in expectation of her arrival. As she greeted them personally, more wheelchairs began circling up, and a caged ring-necked dove came to life with throaty cooing and bowing. “He loves music, too,” confided Millie Whitney, who was seated beside me, holding an open book of songs in her lap.
When the room was filled, Winona began by speaking. “I feel like I’ve been to Fantasy Land!” she exclaimed. And then, pulling a note from her bag, she shared some of the interesting points of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel where the event took place. “It’s all under a glass dome that covers 4.5 acres and houses 824 rooms. We were on the fifth floor with a balcony overlooking two waterfalls and a jet fountain that shot up 85 feet in the air. Arnie heard from one of the 3,000 employees who work there that the rooms run about $400 a night!”
There were “oohs” and “ahs” from the appreciative audience as she passed around some postcards. Bob Woods, who sat in the back of the room with his wife, Iva, smiled broadly. “Hey, Bob,” she said, “those roses you gave me before I left still look good on my counter.”
And then she sat down at the piano. A music teacher of many years, Winona’s hands moved comfortably to the keyboard, and a flurry of notes floated out across the hardwood floor. Her soprano voice led the group through “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” followed by a number of old, familiar songs like “Roll Out the Barrel,” “Home on the Range” and “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” She has made up six different sets of books for her singers, so they have a variety of tunes to enjoy.
Breaking between songs, she shared highlights of the convention: a spellbinding luncheon speaker, Chris Gardner, who is the author of the book and subject of the movie The Pursuit of Happyness; cocktails and a steak dinner, cooked to perfection, for 1800 people; and the topper, a concert by Wynonna Judd. “People had an easy time remembering my name,” Winona joked.
But perhaps it was the people she met, the other volunteers who were being honored, that impressed her the most. There was the 13-year-old girl who had already devoted three years to writing letters, doing nails and hair, and being a chatty adolescent friend for residents of her center. There were the four Girl Scouts, who earned their Golden Badges, by interviewing, photographing, and publishing the stories of 40 residents in their center. There was the car salesman who took charge of a float and transportation for challenged children in his center. Forty-eight states were represented, each with their own compelling stories of love.
Near the end of the session, Winona rose to show her award, an impressive engraved plaque. “I understand the Center will be getting one of these, too,” she said. She shared that the awards ceremony was carefully choreographed, requiring several run-through practices until perfection was reached. Then she let the residents know that she had volunteered to speak briefly before the large crowd.
Holding her award in front of her, she personalized the words that she spoke that day to the crowd: “I am amazed that anyone can be recognized to this degree for something that I enjoy so much. Thank you. I gain as much from you as you receive from me.”

Winona received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the American Health Care Association. She was nominated by St. Johnsbury Health and Rehabilitation Center’s activity director, Cindy Davidson, for her “Music with Winona” sessions held at the Center every Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., rain or shine. Cindy invites community members to visit the Center at any time. She would be glad to speak to you about possible volunteer opportunities, or you might just stop by some Wednesday morning to enjoy the music and company. You will be warmly welcomed.

Click here to view photos of the “Music with Winona” session:

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