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Bring on the smiles

Oakland Education Center student Justin Steckman, 13, said he was excited to bring a bit of colorful happiness to the residents of St. Marks Living in Austin on Tuesday.

On that day, he and seven other students from the center delivered carnations in be-ribboned vases, to 65 residents of the home. It was a pretty way to mark Valentine’s Day, he said.

And, it was an instructive time, too.

“It’s nice to learn about what people do in that environment,” he said, in between deliveries. “It’s like history; it’s inspiring to hear about people’s pasts.”

Justin Steckman, 13, begins delivery of flowers to the residents at St. Marks Living on Valentine’s Day on Tuesday.

It did not take long for that to happen, thanks to Evelyn and Kenneth Heimer. The couple grinned over their carnations, thoughtfully donated to the cause by Austin Hy-Vee.

“This is very nice,” said Evelyn, 82. She and Kenneth had just finished their exercises in the fitness room and were on their way to their room when presented with their flowers. Kenneth was dressed with suspenders that looked like yardsticks.

“I measure myself every morning,” he joked.

Evelyn raised a chuckle from the visitors when she was asked how long the couple had been married.

“Fifty-nine years,” she said; and then with a pause, “To the same man.”

The pair met at the Terp Ballroom back many years ago, Evelyn said. She was attracted to Kenneth, 88, because “he was a nice guy and a good, really good dancer.”

Kenneth’s eyes lit up at the mention of dancing.

“Have you ever heard of the Six Fat Dutchman?” he said excitedly. “From New Ulm,” adding he loved to dance the polka.

Other residents said it was nice to be remembered. Ron Newkirk liked his carnation so much that he placed it between his teeth, mimicking a flamenco dancer.

Jaiden Schumacher, 18, helps prepare flowers and vases for distribution at St. Marks Living on Wednesday. She and fellow classmates chose the activity to bring smiles on Valentine’s Day.

The students said they enjoyed their time with the residents — so much so that they will be back, said instructor Becky Gerdes. Working with Life and Enrichment Director Jessica Conway, Gerdes and students will plan once-a-month activities, such as playing cards, games or reading the newspaper to a resident.

“We want our students to be able to work within the community, to experience the benefits of community, and the benefits of volunteering — that what you do can make our community stronger,” she said.

Conway said it was a great partnership. The residents were tickled with the flowers.

“Just to show the love, to know people are thinking about them — that brings big smiles to our residents,” she said.

Jaiden Schumacher, 18, enjoyed delivering the blooms.

Residents she said, told the students, ‘Thank you’ and they were happy,” she said. “And I thought it was great.”