FARGO — If you’re ever in the mood to talk baseball, 98-year-old Dorothy Hildreth is your woman.
“We were always a sports family,” Hildreth says of her childhood in Gardner, N.D. “There were nine of us kids, so we even had our own baseball team.”
Hildreth is in her element at a recent Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks meet and greet at Elim Rehab and Care Center in Fargo, the place she has called home for three years. She’s wearing a RedHawks baseball cap and T-shirt surrounded by popcorn, peanuts, Cracker Jack and cotton candy as she visits with RedHawks right fielder Tim Colwell.
“Tim is one of the greatest gentlemen I know,” she says. “He’s so personable,” Hildreth says.
But Hildreth isn’t just fangirling over a player she watches from the bleachers. Hildreth and Colwell are friends - and neighbors. Colwell and Redhawks Hitting Coach Anthony Renz have lived in apartments at Pioneer House, Elim’s assisted living facility for the past two years.
While the arrangement - having 20-something minor league baseball players living under the same roof as 80 and 90-year-olds - might seem unusual, it’s something that fits with Elim’s intergenerational approach. They also have a pre-school here with students and residents sharing time together.
“It’s so nice having the players here. They’ll stop and say ‘hi’ to the residents and sometimes get asked to join in the activities,” says Heather Bagley, Elim’s activities and marketing director.
And Renz is quick to hang out with his neighbors no matter what they’re doing.
“If I’m around during the day and I’m walking around, Mayvis (Solberg) will usually find me and want me to put a couple of pieces in the puzzle she’s working on,” Renz says.
No doubt, not every player would be a good fit to live in an assisted living facility. The RedHawks housing manager has to decide which players might fit better into a host family’s home, an apartment or even here at Elim. Bagley says Colwell and Renz have the personalities for it.
“They’re both so respectful and ‘go-with-the flow,’” she says. “They’re like family.”
Even so, Renz says he was a little surprised when it was suggested he come to Elim last year.
“When I asked where I was going to be living, the housing manager said ‘don’t panic, but you’re going to be in an assisted living facility,” Renz says with a laugh. “But then I got here. The place itself is really nice, and the people are amazing.”
He says his favorite part is getting to hear about the lives some of the residents have lived.
“Some of the people here are over 100 years old. Think about what they’ve seen and been through in their lifetimes, Pearl Harbor, World War II.” Renz, 26, says. “I could talk to people of the older generation forever. It’s a real life history lesson.”
But Renz says it’s not just history the residents want to talk about. A few of them want to talk baseball. At least four of the residents including Hildreth, Irvin Huseth, Solberg and Mavis Peterson frequently attend RedHawks games.
“I didn’t miss one game last year and, God willing, I won’t miss one this year,” says Hildreth with a big smile on her face.
Others might not attend every game, but they might give Coach Renz a little advice.
“Well, they’re always friendly about it, but they’ll say ‘hey, when are you going to start winning?’ I love the banter we have with them,” Renz says.
Colwell knows that firsthand as well. During the meet and greet, he turned as red as the sweater he was wearing when a male resident shouted out, “Do you have any hot women following you around?”
“You definitely notice some people don’t have much of a filter anymore. I think it’s hilarious. They have no qualms. They’ll tell you exactly what they’re thinking,” Colwell says.
Renz and Colwell says it’s like living with grandparents or even great grandparents. They don’t get to see them as much as they might like with traveling and late night games. But they know their Elim fan club always has their backs.
Neither man is sure how much longer they’ll be with the RedHawks. It’s hard to tell with baseball. Colwell, 27, is already starting to think about going to medical school when his playing days are over. So they say they’re embracing living in an assisted living facility 50 years before they might have expected to.
“No matter what happens next for me, I’m always going to remember this chapter in my life and these people,” Colwell says. “This has been such a special opportunity. It’s hard to put it into words.”