Gunnar Wold strapped on his accordion in front of a room full of people at Spokane’s Parkway Village senior community Wednesday.
He started playing, but then paused.
“Oh boy, I’m nervous,” said Wold, who was participating in the nationwide Bring Your Talent competition, a search to find America’s most talented seniors and caregivers.
He gathered himself and continued playing, working the bellows as he tapped his toes to the beat, apparently in his zone. The audience clapped along to the song, the “Saturday Night Waltz.”
The talent search aims to put the spotlight on seniors and simultaneously raise awareness about long-term care. It’s hosted by the nonprofit 3in4 Need More Association, which raises awareness about the need for Americans to prepare for long-term care, in association with Emeritus Corp., a Seattle-based company that owns assisted-living facilities nationwide.
“I feel very strongly that our seniors have contributed so much over a lifetime and they need to be cared for,” said Marion Somers, an elder-care expert and author who spoke to the crowd before the talent show began.
People are increasingly caring for older loved ones, Somers said, and with a large, aging population of baby boomers, there is “a geriatric tsunami coming our way.”
“It affects almost everyone in one way, shape or form,” she said. “By and large, most people are not prepared for that. That makes me very uncomfortable.”
Each participant gets a prize, but the first-place prize, which will be announced at the end of the summer when seniors around the country get a chance to compete, is a free year of rent at an Emeritus facility, valued at about $45,000.
Videos of each performance will be posted to Emeritus Senior Living’s Facebook page for people to vote on.
Eleven runners-up will get a week of free rent.
Margaret Spurlock recited a portion of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe for the competition.
“I memorized this poem in high school 63 years ago,” she said. “I still remember it.”
Andre Feriante, a classical guitarist from Seattle, represented his mother and father, Carlo and Polly Feriante, in the contest.
“My parents have been givers to humanity their whole lives,” he said. “I am here to give back a little to them.”
Other performers included: Judi Manuel, who sang and played the autoharp; Janet Schmauch on the piano; Debbie Pederson, who prompted laughter around the room with a few jokes; magician Dick Frost; and Joe Graham, who shared a story.
“You guys give me so much inspiration, and you eliminate any fear I have of getting older,” Somers said. “You’ve weathered the storms and you’ve been successful.”