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Just for Fun music group swings on, two decades later

The singing group Just for Fun performs at the Viking Plass, a senior retirement home on April 7. The group formed 20 years ago and now has 30 active members. (Colin Mulvany)
The singing group Just for Fun performs at the Viking Plass, a senior retirement home on April 7. The group formed 20 years ago and now has 30 active members. (Colin Mulvany)

On a recent Monday evening, the smooth strains of “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” floated up from the basement of Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church.

The musical group Just for Fun was in full swing preparing for an upcoming performance. Clad in matching purple shirts bearing their logo, members laughed and chatted between songs.

“My mom and I started this group 20 years ago in our front room with a guitar and a piano and some friends who liked to sing,” director Julie McCarter said. “It just grew from there.”

Each Monday evening, unless they’re performing, Just for Fun meets for practice at the church. “Pastor Mark Wheeler is very supportive and offers us a place to rehearse,” McCarter said.

With 30 active members ranging in age from 7 to 94, the group has become like one big extended family. “We’re very social,” pianist Diane Strasburg said. “We go out to dinner after every performance.”

And sometimes love blossoms among the members. Her husband, Bob, proposed to her under the Christmas tree in December at their annual Christmas party.

Listeners might be surprised to learn that there’s not a professional musician in the bunch, especially after hearing the sweet harmonies of “Side by Side.”

McCarter said, “We sing older songs and some gospel music – the kind of songs our audiences can sing along to.”

Their performance calendar is quite full. The group sings a couple of times a month at area retirement centers and assisted-living facilities. “We make people happy when we go to those places and sing,” said Sandy McNeil, a founding member. “You should see the smiles on their faces!”

Indeed, McCarter said that’s the mission of Just for Fun. “We go to retirement centers and nursing homes. Their lives are so serious there – we want to give them a little fun.”

Singing is just part of the entertainment. At the rehearsal, members launched into a syncopated version of “The Three Bears,” complete with hand gestures.

Then McCarter said she wanted them to show off just a little. A group marched to the front of the room and sang a spirited version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” But their version had a unique twist – they performed the entire song, backward.

“You’re never too old to learn things,” McCarter said.

While the group practiced, Kayden Allen, 8, and Johnny Sides, 7, played nearby. “I like singing,” Kayden said. “My cousin taught me how to rap.”

He said he has “two grandmas, a grandpa and my mom,” who sing with Just for Fun.

Johnny’s mother, Lilly Haeger, has sung with the group since she was 17. “My parents are deceased, so for Johnny this is like his adoptive grandparents.”

The heart and soul of the group is their ever-energetic director. McCarter leads with gusto, her love of music bubbling over as she bursts into song. Apparently, her passion is contagious. When she married her husband, Dick, he didn’t play any instruments. “Now he plays mandolin, ukulele, guitar and autoharp,” she said.

She grinned. “There’s nothing like music. You eat it, drink it and sleep it!”

The group never charges for performances. Instead, once a year they hold a garage sale at the church to raise funds for travel expenses and equipment upkeep.

“We don’t do it for money,” McCarter said. “We don’t do it for attention. We do it just for fun!”