Eau Claire, Wis. – Each and every week, the day 89-year-old Rose Bertram most looks forward to is Thursday.
On those mornings, she makes her way from her apartment in a senior living facility in Eau Claire to a gathering room in the basement. Every Thursday, 10:30 a.m. sharp.
Bertram parks her walker in line with five or six others and joins the group of residents already sitting with 90-year-old Marvin Kauffman at the helm. He lifts a book, “The Best of James Herriot,” and begins to read the veterinarian-turned-author’s most beloved short stories, his voice booming.
“It’s like going back to childhood, sitting on the floor cross-legged in kindergarten listening to a story,” said Bertram, a resident at St. Francis Apartments. “You forget about everything else and you’re there. I enjoy it thoroughly.”
Kauffman started this book group last fall. The St. Francis resident doesn’t have a background in literature or English. He’s no retired professor or literary expert, but rather a retired businessman who traveled the country and the world while working in sales and marketing for 43 years. And he loves people.
He had been thinking about ways to serve others, as it was something that kept popping up in his church Bible study.
Creating a new kind of book club crossed his mind. Although his senior facility already had a few other book clubs, his would be targeted toward residents with more difficulty reading because of vision loss.
One of Kauffman’s sons suggested Herriot’s work. Although the stories take place largely in England, many are tales centered on caring for farm animals and on rural farm life.
“That’s the way people around here often grew up,” said Kauffman. “They often say ‘Oh, I did that.’ Because of their background, I decided it would fit just right.”
So Kauffman made signs for the club and hung them up around St. Francis. Four or five people showed up in the beginning, but the number has now doubled. Each time, Kauffman reads Herriot’s short stories — loudly.
“This little story is called, ‘A lame calf leads me to Helen,’ ” Kauffman said at the start of recent meeting, explaining that the story would give them a chance to better know Helen, a woman Herriot becomes romantically interested in.
Kauffman gestured to a large map of Yorkshire, England, propped on a chair beside him. All the key cities and locations are highlighted in orange. Each of the regulars has their own little copy.
Kauffman hopes the effort brings the stories to life.
“If you can put yourself into that time and that place, you’ll have more fun and that’s what I’ve attempted to do,” Kauffman said. “If I can make it sound like we’re right here on this farm, sitting on that soft grass, then I’ve done it.”
Therese Quick, manager of St. Francis Apartments, said the club has been uplifting and inspiring for all who attend.
“It’s been growing and growing and growing,” Quick said. “I think the main thing is Marv’s voice, but also reminiscing on the good old times and all the memories that it brings up for them.”
To Bertram, what makes the club so special is listening to Kauffman so expressively tell each story.
“This is different from other book clubs, it’s better,” she said. “It takes away all the aches and pains and you’re just in a different world for half an hour.”
For Kauffman, the club has become both his service and the best part of his week.
“I love it,” Kauffman said, chuckling. “To me, this is doing a service for people that may make their life more interesting, more enjoyable and a time where they can get out of their old and jump into something new for a half-hour.
“If I can do that … I’m very thankful,’’ he said. “And I thank the Lord a great deal all the time.”