My Minnesota: Music man brings smiles to nursing homes

  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 5:31 PM

Cancer survivor hopes to play every nursing home in the state "before they put me in one."

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Loren Wolfe, left, visits with 90-year-old retired butcher John Havonetz after a recent gig at Friendship Manor in Shakopee.

Photo: Curt Brown, Star Tribune

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The residents of Shakopee's Friendship Manor have been wheeled two-deep into an L-shape surrounding Loren Wolfe. After his sound check, Wolfe asked the elders if they know why musicians count "one-two" to test their equipment.

"That's as high as we can count," he cracks amid chuckles and smiles.

He opens his morning concert with "Ring of Fire," one of the three Johnny Cash songs he'll play. Wolfe works many nights as a Cash impersonator, but today he's not wearing black. He feels too good.

His oncologist had called the previous day with good news. Uncle N.E.D. was hanging around.

"That stands for No Evidence of Disease, and any cancer survivor will tell you he likes it when Uncle Ned is visiting," Wolfe says after his concert. "He's welcome to stay as long as he'd like."

Two years ago, doctors removed a potato-size, melanoma-linked tumor and the lymph nodes from Wolfe's right armpit. His goal was to survive two years. He's more than survived. He's flourished. Just listen to his buoyant singing that fills the nursing home for proof. (www.startribune.com/video)

Wolfe goes from the Beatles' "When I'm 64" into Louie Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" into Patsy Cline's "Crazy," then slides into some Conway Twitty, TV theme songs, then patriotic numbers. The chorus of "Glory, glory, hallelujah" from the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" seems particularly fitting.

A staffer at the home finally has to gently suggest Wolfe wind up his gig because it's time for the residents' lunch. They all sing "Happy Trails" as an encore.

"Most musicians would run from gigs like this one, but I'm drawn to them," Wolfe says. "I want to play every nursing home in the state before they put me in one."

As Wolfe packs up his amp and guitar, 90-year-old John Hovanetz asks him for a hug and shares the sadness he feels about losing his wife of 62 years. Wolfe reminds the retired butcher from Jordan how blessed he was to have 62 years of sweet memories.

Wolfe has lived in Shakopee his whole life. His father, Red Wolfe, was a well-known trumpet player around town. Loren has played guitar since he was 12 and his Wolfe Brothers Boogie Band used to play the blues at the Cabooze and other local joints.

Wolfe ran his own home improvement business for years and then joined a larger building wholesaler.

Since his diagnosis, he's retired to publish a couple of children's books and play his music (lorenwolfe.com).

Married to his wife, Mary, for 42 years, Wolfe is now a grandfather of three with two grown kids. He's gone through recovery, become a deeply spiritual man and plays about 15 gigs a month, mostly at nursing homes like this one.

"It's like receiving a gift every time I'm around people like John," he says. "They've all seen so much and it's just a joy to sing with them."

CURT BROWN

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