The Face of Cassia

Gene plays the accordion while Val watches

Music and Meatballs: An Apple Valley Village Love Story

People clap their hands and tap their toes as polka music radiates from the room at Open Circle of Apple Valley. One person keeps a close eye on the accordion player. Apple Valley Village Memory Care resident Val can’t sing along anymore. She still fixes her eyes on her husband Gene and smiles as he plays.

Val attended Open Circle regularly for eight years. Gene offers his time and talents playing the accordion monthly there now. When he does, staff bring Val downstairs from the care center to Open Circle to listen.

“Of course, when she’s coming in, it’s like the queen’s coming in,” Gene says with a smile. “ … It’s like family there.”

For Gene and Val, it all started with a spaghetti dinner on Valentine’s Day decades ago.

Val met Gene when her coworker invited the two of them over for dinner. It didn’t seem to go well. Gene and Val argued much of the time and the host wondered why she had ever invited her brother at all. Yet, Gene invited Val to a party and the two of them danced the night away.

“That was the start of a good thing,” Gene says.

They married by the end of that year.

And they enjoyed spaghetti and meatballs on Valentine’s Day annually from that point on.

When Val was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, someone suggested adult day services at Open Circle of Apple Valley.

“I can’t remember how I was introduced to Open Circle, but it was a good thing,” Gene says. “I had her home because of Open Circle. I had eight more years with her.”

The nurturing environment at Open Circle of Apple Valley encourages friendships and involvement through a wide variety of fun and interesting activities. Programming provides meaningful, purpose-filled opportunities to help members remain vital contributors to the larger community.

That was certainly the case for Val.

“They kept her mind and body moving,” Gene says. “Even though it was getting worse, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Val became non-communicative, but the staff continued finding ways to interact with her.

“It’s amazing how they know what she wants,” Gene says. “They are good for a person who doesn’t converse. They used to get her to do things I could never get her to do.”

One thing she loves to do is smile, especially when Gene is playing the accordion.

Gene realized Val needed long-term care when she was hospitalized in June 2023. Gene and his children looked at three other options but wanted her to move upstairs to Apple Valley Village. They were glad she had the opportunity to do so.

That transition went smoothly.

“Two weeks after she was in long-term care, they had a conference with all the people on her care team and all of them said, ‘We love her. She gives nobody a problem. She is good to everybody,’” Gene says.

He visits her daily, feeding her every afternoon so staff can attend to others’ needs.

Initially, those visits lasted four to five hours.

“It was getting me to the point that I was spending too much time here,” Gene says.

Instead, he visits for about two hours per day. He never gets bored doing so.

“I’m used to just sitting there and watching her,” Gene says. “I’ve been doing it for years.”