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Loving the old-time sound

Hundreds of records — just a fraction of the total collection — line Bob Knutson’s basement. Most of the records were owned by Red Wing musician John Barghusen. (Republican Eagle photos by Michael Brun)1 / 3
Bob Knutson of Red Wing shows a couple of his vinyl records on loan to Deer Crest. The retiree donated phonographs to local assisted living facilities and periodically switches out a selection of music from his collection of over 5,000 albums. 2 / 3
Knutson supplies a complete listening station with phonograph, speakers, stand and a notepad for requests. 3 / 3

At Deer Crest assisted living facility, past the main entrance by the elevators, sits a phonograph with speakers and a stack of vinyl records. Just down the road, at Potter Ridge Assisted Living, is an identical setup.

The same display can be found in a handful of other senior living communities around Red Wing and Cannon Falls, and Bob Knutson said he hopes to see that number grow.

The Red Wing retiree has spent more than a year and a half donating record players to any assisted living facility that will take them, as well as lending a rotating selection of music from his collection of over 5,000 albums.

At first he thought residents would simply enjoy listening to the classic tunes; but, after hearing stories from staff members, Knutson said he knew it went much deeper.

“This was bringing back memories,” he said. “We had people crying and singing along and dancing.”

Although much of the music he brings is available on newer technology, Knutson said half of the enjoyment comes from holding the records and examining their large album art.

“This isn’t a fluky thing that just happened once,” he added. “I’m finding the same results wherever I take this.”

Easy listening

Mary Wille, former activities director with Red Wing Healthcare Community, was one of the first people Knutson approached with the idea.

“I think he thought he had to really sell this, and I was like, ‘Let’s go, this is great,’” Wille said. “I knew the residents would love it, and I knew I would love it.”

Knutson leaves it up to each facility to decide what they will do with the records, and Wille said her first thought was to put on activities to reminisce about artists and songs. While leaving late one night, she witnessed a less-formal use that warmed her heart.

“I peeked around the corner and there was a small group sitting there playing records, chatting and having coffee,” she said. “This is awesome because they can just do that anytime they want.”

For assisted living residents, having a choice to do something on their own can boost self-esteem, Wille said. “When people think that everything has to be done for them, they get discouraged.”

Knutson said he picked the least complicated equipment he could find, thanks to help from the local Radio Shack.

“They put a record on, push a button and the tonearm comes down,” Knutson said. “It plays the whole record and shuts off — just about anybody can run it.”

Greatest hits

Knutson’s extensive collection spans decades of popular music, including genres from country western to rock ‘n’ roll and opera.

“Everybody seems to have a favorite artist,” Knutson said, throwing out names like Gene Autry, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Conway Twitty.

Most of the records were originally owned by Knutson’s friend and neighbor, the late John Barghusen of Red Wing. “His whole life was family and music,” Knutson said.

After Barghusen suffered a series of strokes and had to go into assisted living, Knutson purchased his house and vowed to keep it exactly as it was for his return. But Barghusen died a few months later, leaving Knutson with over 3,000 records.

“I didn’t count them exactly, but there were stacks of them,” he said, all stashed away neatly in wood cabinets. He listened to the records and enjoyed them for a while before eventually thinking of a way to share the music with others.

As the idea of donating phonographs began to take off, Knutson said he went out in search of even more vinyl. Through friends and garage sales, he’s managed to pick up a few thousand additional albums.

“I think a lot of records go to the dump,” he said, “and once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

With all the positive feedback he’s received, Knutson said he feels compelled to continue expanding the endeavor to other assisted living facilities in the region.

“This is supposed to happen,” he said. “I’m just the instrument.”

Anyone interested in donating records can contact Knutson at 651-212-6326.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

(651) 301-7875