- Associated Press - Saturday, August 2, 2014

RACINE, Wis. (AP) - One man held a nursing home resident’s hand, looking into her eyes, while he and 11 others sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to a packed dining room.

As she sat in her wheelchair, the woman beamed. And as she did so, another member of the Salvation Army’s troupe of senior singers tried surreptitiously to wipe tears from her eyes. During that song, another nursing home resident spoke of the time he shared with his own sweetheart and how glad he was to have her “to pray for me when I was in Korea.”

The singers belong to the Salvation Army’s Senior Center in Racine. Every Tuesday - except in July and August when they take a break for the summer - the group serenades nursing home residents in eastern Racine County, The Journal Times (http://bit.ly/1t52Jbu ) reported.

In June, the group sang at the Becker Shoop campus of Lincoln Lutheran. Some wave to residents as they are wheeled into the dining room, where nursing home residents are lined up for the main event.

They sing some of the “old-time songs,” such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” plus hymns and religious songs such as “This Little Light of Mine,” said Lee Johnson, director of community and public relations for the Salvation Army.

“I don’t care if they’re Catholic or Jewish. Everyone seems to know those old-time hymns,” he said.

He said the singing group began about 23 years go, and typically travels to two nursing homes each Tuesday. There they sing and pray with residents for about 45 minutes, Johnson said. They often are accompanied by a pianist and a horn player.

“I like the singing, the prayers, the whole thing,” said Becker Shoop resident Mary Jean “MJ” Smolka, 95, of Racine.

One doesn’t even have to ask Loretta Life, of Mount Pleasant, if she loves to sing with Community Care Ministries. She belts out hymns with the look of sheer joy radiating from her face, her body moving to the music.

“I’m 80 years old and can see myself in that type of situation. I just kind of look forward and think I could be here or one of the other places. I think ‘what would I like?’ ” explained Life, who is retired. “Singing is a gift that God has given to me. I want to use it first of all for him, but (also) to bring joy to the hearts of other people.”

Life sings in her church choir at Faith Community Church in Mount Pleasant. But this will be her eighth year singing with the Salvation Army’s senior singing group.

“If we want the people we’re singing to enjoy it, we have to say to them with our expressions we enjoy it,” Life said. “It is such an incredible ministry to me.”

Racine resident Sue Makys, 79, was visiting her husband, John, on June 24 when the group visited Becker Shoop. She said they’ve heard the group sing before, and really enjoy their sessions.

“They were good. I guess I enjoyed it all,” Sue Makys said.

Life - whose sister Josie Martin, 75, also sings with Community Care Ministries - said their choir is like a family to her.

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