To commemorate our 100th anniversary, we at Lutheran Social Services have been busy pouring over old archives. From black-and-white photographs, to mid-century fundraising brochures, to old Messenger magazines, we have uncovered countless gems. \
One such gem was found shining in the Fall 1987 Messenger. It was headlined “Senior Companion Volunteers Find Love” and adorned with a photograph of two 63-year-old lovers lost in each other’s eyes.
The article tells the love story of Melvina and Robert Wenzel, who met through Lutheran Social Service’s Senior Companion Program. Just as in 1987, the Senior Companion Program pairs senior volunteers with other seniors to combat loneliness and help them live independently.
And, as Bob puts it, the Senior Companion Program benefitted him as a volunteer as well—even before he met Melvina: “Being wanted and needed is really important and the reason I joined the Senior Companion Program—for friendship.” He began volunteering in June of 1985 shortly after moving to Fargo.
Melvina echoed his sentiments. After losing their spouses, she explained, “We both had been so lonesome and depressed we would just sit and play solitaire.” After volunteering at the Fargo Nursing Home for 10 years, Melvina joined the Senior Companion Program in February of 1985.
Both Bob and Melvina had been volunteering for a little more than a year when Melvina’s 80-year-old cousin played matchmaker to unite the pair. In July of 1986, Melvina’s cousin asked her to visit at the same time Bob was volunteering as a Companion to her husband. And the rest is history. Kind of.
Bob said, “Asking her for that first date was awfully scary.” So, most of their “courtship” (as the Fall 1987 Messenger described it) consisted of meeting at monthly Senior Companion events, with Bob walking Melvina to her car afterward.
Bob finally gathered the courage to ask Melvina out almost a year after their first meeting, and the couple had their first official date on June 27, 1987. Things moved quickly after that! Bob asked Melvina to marry him just three days later on June 30th.
“I decided I was in love with her a year before, but I was afraid of being rejected,” Bob said. Melvina said yes, and the pair were married on July 13, 1987. “The feelings are no different from being married at 21 than being married at 63.”
Melvina said they felt like teenagers: “We can’t eat, can’t sleep, and we’ve both lost weight.”
The Messenger detailed that the couple “hardly ever spent time listening to the stereo or watching TV anymore” because they were too busy talking and getting to know each other. Bob explained, “We do a lot of reminiscing about our pasts, we have the same hobby of Indian artifact hunting and we talk an awful lot.”
That’s where the 1987 Messenger ends the story. But with a love story that sweet, we had to do some more digging. As it turns out, the couple lived happily for more than two decades before Melvina passed away in 2009. Her obituary describes her “legacy of serving others,” and even mentions that she continued volunteering with the Senior Companion Program for 18 years.
Bob died at age 91 in 2015. His obituary, too, discusses his time spent volunteering as a Senior Companion.
While we can’t promise that you’ll find a life partner, a recent study found that volunteers with Lutheran Social Service’s Senior Companions Program were able to overcome their own loneliness through the companionship they gained through their volunteerism.
Even more good news, you don’t have to wait until age 55 to start volunteering. Lutheran Social Service’s Volunteer Companions Program pairs adults 18 and older with seniors in need of extra assistance to combat loneliness and maintain independence. Here’s an overview of the senior volunteer opportunities at LSS. If you are interested in any of these programs, please visit lssnd.org/senior-independence or contact any of the people listed below.
Senior Companions: Pairs 55+ companions with age 60+ seniors or adults who are lonely, homebound or disabled while providing clients with one-on-one companionship, social recreation and help with light tasks in their homes. Older volunteers who meet certain eligibility guidelines receive a tax-free hourly stipend and travel reimbursement. (Contact Becky Telin, 701-838-7800, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Volunteer Companions: Pairs older adults with volunteers age 18 or older to provide companionship, social recreation and help with light household tasks. Companion receives travel reimbursement. (Contact Becky Telin, 701-838-7800, email@example.com)
Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP): Links age 55+ volunteers with short- or long-term projects that promote senior independence, food security, health and wellness and more. Volunteers serve non-profit, government agencies and community groups. (Contact Nancy Olson, 701-271-1318; firstname.lastname@example.org)
– By Micayla Bitz