Former Oswego school teacher finds joy working with nursing home residents

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2006 Healthcare Hero
Louise Kellogg

Volunteer Louise Kellogg does not let anything slow her down, even at age 75. "My own kids tell me to take it easy," the lifelong Oswego resident said. "But I tell them 'I'm not done yet.'"
Which is certainly true.

As the head volunteer at the Meadowbrook Manor Adult Care Facility in Hannibal, Kellogg channels her abundant energy into singing and playing the piano for the residents and staff every Wednesday. It's more than just volunteering, according to Kellogg—it's a way of life.
"This is my family," said Kellogg, who has been volunteering at Hannibal nursing homes for nearly 20 years. "I'm so attached to them and they're so attached to me that I don't think I'll ever stop."

Kellogg said it all started with a year of piano lessons when she was in grade school. She added that being a "card-carrying church-goer" her whole life opened up opportunities to volunteer her talents. After the lesson, she picked up a piano music book and started teaching herself, and said has not "quit the keys since."

Singing was Kellogg's second talent, and chirping in an ecumenical choir for 20 years sealed the deal for a life of dramatic performances. "The pastor approached me, who also happened to volunteer at a local nursing home," she said. "He told me they needed someone to play the piano part-time." There was some reluctance, according to Kellogg. "I wasn't wild about singing at nursing homes," she admitted. "But then I started going and each time I got more and more into it, and I began asking what the residents wanted to hear." Twice a month turned into once a month and that turned into once a week.

Kellogg's song selections are not random. She had to ask around to discover each resident's musical taste, which took some time. It also takes some time to get through the 80-track song list—three weeks to be exact. During the holidays, Kellogg plays appropriate tunes such as Christmas carols and, more recently, St. Patrick's Day Irish tunes. "The music they like is stuff that has been around for ages," she said. "It reflects the times they lived in, and whether or not they can even sing doesn't really matter. What's important is that the music makes them feel young again."

Kellogg, for instance, is not a big fan of rock 'n roll. "A little bit of that stuff goes a long way for me," she admitted. "And it doesn't last; you hear the songs for a week then they are never played again." The songs' longevity is a testament to the older generation, which makes up most of the residency at Meadowbrook Manor, Kellogg said. "This is the generation who went to World War II—'The Greatest Generation,'" she said. "I sometimes feel like I owe them something, which can be seen in the songs we sing."

Kellogg also said she always carries her "bag of tricks" so she can step in if area ministers and pastors cannot make it to Meadowbrook Manor. Kellogg also helps transport residents to and from various functions. This benevolence has earned her a reputation among residents at Meadowbrook Manor. "Some call me 'Sister Louise' and others call me 'Reverend Kellogg,'" she laughed. "I guess it depends on what your religious background is."

It's not all fun and games for Kellogg, who said compassion is just as important as the energy and bag of tricks she brings to Meadowbrook. Since Christmas, three residents at the home have passed away, and this where Kellogg's big heart steps in. "Just last week we had a resident request me to be by her bed when her roommate passed away," Kellogg said.

Before volunteering, Kellogg taught in the City of Oswego School District for 30 years. Kellogg also volunteers her dramatic talents to younger generations, sitting in as drama coach for Hannibal Central High School in its latest production—"Music Man."

She said a good sense of humor has certainly helped get her through tough times. "It's just great to be out here giving back to people not much older than me," Kellogg said. "And the best part is that most of them don't know when I mess up on the piano or sing off key, or even forget the words."

Mary Waldron, administer of Meadowbrook Manor, said: "Louise has a very giving and caring spirit. She treats our residents with respect and love, and goes above and beyond what I would normally expect a volunteer to do."