It’s Fat Tuesday and the more than 40 older adults at the congregate meal site at the Lexington Senior Center are wearing Mardi Gras beads and a few braver souls are sporting masks.
Before they eat lunch together they are enjoying a show by singer Smiley Tysinger, who sings Bobby Bare’s “Marie Laveu” about a voodoo queen in Louisiana in honor of the occasion. Armed with a laptop, prerecorded instrumentation, a speaker and microphone, Tysinger is a one-man band.
Since it’s also one more day until Valentine’s Day, Tysinger asks for suggestions for love songs and croons Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” But a few other suggestions include Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fittin’ Jeans” and “I’d Love to Lay You Down.”
“This is a wild bunch!” Tysinger exclaims at the Twitty song suggestions but obliges the crowd, nonetheless, with their requests, which also includes Ray Stevens’ “The Streak,” which draws laughter from the crowd.
But the hour-long performance primarily focuses on old-school country and gospel tunes that he grew up hearing such as “Long Black Veil” and ends with many singing along with “Amazing Grace.”
For the past 13 years, Tysinger, 74, has been entertaining other older adults at Davidson County Senior Services’ congregate meal sites in Lexington, Thomasville, Southmont and Denton as well as other local assisted living facilities and rest homes including Abbotts Creek, Alston Brooke, Brian Center, Brookdale, Brookstone and Lexington Health Care. He also visits Mt. Vista Health Park in Denton and Autumn Care of Salisbury. He typically visits each facility once a month.
In fact, he began what he calls his ministry to seniors when a volunteer at Autumn Care asked him to come sing for the residents. Although he had just retired in 2005, he hesitated at first but relented and found his calling.
At that first visit, Tysinger recalled how many of the residents at Autumn Care were in wheelchairs and appeared mad that he was there. Since the facility also has an Alzheimer’s disease unit, he was told by some of the nursing staff many patients were non-verbal.
“I thought ‘What have I got myself in to?’” he said. “But once I got started good, some people started clapping and then I noticed the Alzheimer’s patients were mouthing the words right along with me. That really touched me. And I’ve been doing this ever since.
“I really love these old people,” he said. “I love to see them smile and hear them laugh. And it’s not a one-way street — I get a lot out of it. It makes me feel good and helps keep me young.”
Tysinger and his wife of 37 years, Karen, travel to the senior centers and nursing homes together now that she also retired a couple of years ago after 25 years in nursing. They also owned and operated Smiley’s Tamarac Marina at High Rock Lake for five years and Smiley’s Convenience Store on Linwood-Southmont Road for 11 years.
“That basically ran our lives for seven days a week, 17 hours a day,” she said of why they sold the businesses and “decided to have some fun.”
Tysinger and his wife are both choir members at Center United Methodist Church in Welcome and she typically sings a duet with him at each performance. At the recent show at the Lexington Senior Center, they sang “Jackson,’’ a hit for Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood in 1967.
The couple’s Sunday school class also sometimes visits residents at the nursing homes when they do the performances.
“Some of these people don’t have anyone to come visit them,” Tysinger said. “Sometimes they line up to get a hug.”
Tysinger, who said he grew up singing in church choirs and even lent his baritone voice to a local band called Almost Country decades ago, has also been singing with the monthly “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” community outreach program at Center UMC for about five years.
He and more than a dozen other musicians and singers perform a variety of music, from old hymns and gospel tunes to country and popular music, for two hours the last Thursday of the month. Donations collected at the program are given to local nonprofit organizations each month.
“I love that it goes to local charities,” he said. “You know that makes a big difference in this county. And it’s just a bunch of great people, too. There’s a lot of talent on that stage.”
Tysinger is a trustee at Center UMC and Karen is director of senior activities and the health and welfare program as well as head of the evangelism committee.
They have both served on the board of directors of the High Rock Lake Association for about 15 years. They got on the board because of their previous business interests at the lake but have stayed on because of their love of the area.
“We’re still passionate about the lake,’’ Karen said. “We like to fish and go boating.”
The Tysingers also spend time with their family of two sons, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“We have a lot to keep us busy,” she said.
Vikki Broughton Hodges may be contacted at email@example.com.