ROCHESTER — Art Johnson vividly recalls his first car, a rite of passage that happened 70 years ago. It had a sun visor mounted on the front and flashy side skirts on the back. It was a Chevrolet, and it cost him $800.
“I thought it was pretty classy,” Johnson, 96, said.
Johnson’s memories of his first car had been jogged as he strolled the front parking lot of The Waters on Mayowood senior living community, where a gleaming assortment of antique and classic cars had been assembled for the benefit of residents. Johnson was in his 20s when he bought his first car, just out of military service, he said.
“Would you like to take a ride with me,” Johnson asked a nurse’s aide.
“I’m ready for a date. Let’s go,” she replied.
There is nothing like a car show to open the portals of memory and invigorate the spirit. Thursday’s “Roll with It Car Show” at the senior center in Southwest Rochester triggered a flood of them among residents.
Joe Valdivia, 82, recalled the first big road trip, to Mexico City, Mexico, with family members when he was 17 or 18.
“The thing was smoking the whole time as we were going down the highway,” Valdivia recalled. “But we managed to make it over and back.”
The event was billed as a way for The Waters’ residents to experience the excitement of a big event during the Minnesota State Fair, which is in the midst of its 12-day run, without having to make the trek to St. Paul.
The day was divided into two events: Classic cars in the morning and State Fair-themed food during the community’s daily “Happy Hour” in the afternoon.
“We have many people that can drive. But we have a lot of our residents that maybe for mobility reasons (would have difficulty attending the state fair),” said Marni Harris, active life manager at The Waters, a 175-apartment facility with 220 residents. “(So we’re) basically bringing the state fair here.”
The event was made possible by the participation of the Hiawatha Valley Antique Club, whose members owned many of the 17 classic cars on display. They included Model As and Ts and vintage cars dating back as far as the 1920s and as recent as the 1980s.
“It’s like going back to a class reunion in your school. All those memories come back,” said Jerry Giese, a club member.
As they filed out of The Waters, residents were greeted by Tim Peters and his 1930 Model A Tudor sedan rat rod, called “The Widowmaker,” parked at the front entrance.
With a 750 horse-powered engine, the vehicle can reach 100 mph in an eighth of a mile, he told residents. Tim and his wife Karla Peters, who is the lead housekeeper at The Waters, jokingly bantered back and forth about the importance of avoiding such speeds. The vehicle is so boisterous that his wife can hear him coming a mile away, he said.
He doesn’t drive that fast when she’s in the hot rod, she said.
“We call this the Widowmaker, because when I crash it, she’s gonna be a widow,” he said.
Events like the car show help residents feel more connected, Tim Peters said. The Waters is made up of a wide range of residents. Some are mobile and can get out to go shopping or out eat. Others, such as those in the memory care unit, aren’t allowed to go without an aide. Holding a car show at The Waters has the potential to engage every resident.
“A car is an extension of somebody’s personality,” Tim Peters said. “We just enjoy the reaction. It helps them to remember things from their youth. It makes them feel a better.”