Some were already in love before they joined the Geritol Frolics and some fell in love while entertaining in the nonprofit theater production company geared for senior citizens.
The Geritol Frolics started in 1987 by Bob Dryden, who was then the Central Lakes College (CLC) Theatre director. Dryden, 74, retired from CLC in 1995-96. Dryden, who still lives in Brainerd, wanted to start a theater production for senior citizens ages 55 and up and he named it the Geritol Frolics. The Frolics are now run by Ed and Yvonne Yunker.
Cast members who joined the theater production at the beginning continue today to entertain audiences every year. The Frolics perform every October. This year the shows will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 17, 19 and 26 and at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 18, 20, 24, 25 and 27 at the Franklin Arts Center auditorium. Tickets are $10 and $12 and may be obtained by calling the box office at 825-4993.
Bert Caswell, 90, and his wife Mona, 83, of East Gull Lake are one of a few couples who still dance and sing with the Frolics.
“We fell madly in love with each other (while in the Frolics).” Bert Caswell said.
When Bert and Mona joined the Frolics, they both were married to their previous spouses. Bert lost his spouse in 1992 when she was killed in an automobile crash and Mona lost her husband a year earlier.
The Caswells love to dance and sing and had thoughts of retiring and not coming back for the 2013 season, but were talked into coming back for one more season.
The Caswells have performed in most of the shows over the years, but had to drop out last year for a chance to relax. The couple joined the Frolics when they saw it advertised in the Brainerd Dispatch. They both were retired and thought it sounded like a great opportunity to perform.
“I love music and dancing,” said Mona. “I was in a danceline and I tap danced as an adult. I love it.”
Bert said he joined because he likes to entertain.
Paul Vrudny, 84, and his wife Myra, 80, have been married for 60 years and also are original members. Paul said he was invited by Dryden to join the Frolics, as he was involved with a couple of shows prior to the Frolics.
“We were members of a square dance club and I also sang in the church choir,” Paul said.
Paul also sang in a male barbershop group and Myra sang in a female barbershop group. Paul was also director of the choir at their church, Zion Lutheran Church.
“I met her in church,” Paul said of Myra. “She was confirmed with my younger brother. I watched her for a few years and I went to the service in 1948 and that is when I started writing to her. I served in the Korean War and came out of the Army in 1951.”
The Vrudnys have always enjoyed performing theater productions and meeting all the people.
Paul’s favorite show was when he was in a western scene with Dryden and he played the role of the drunk.
“I could be a half-step behind everyone and it didn’t matter,” Paul said. “My hat fell off and I had to do a forward roll and grab the hat. It was fun.”
Myra is well known for playing one of the Andrews Sisters.
Ernest Aarrestad, 84, and his wife Ellie, 83, of Brainerd also are original cast members, who have been married for 61 years. Ernest joined in 1987 and Ellie a year later. The couple, like the others, love to sing and dance. The couple attended Concordia College, Moorhead together where they were in choir and band. Ernest played the trumpet and Ellie played the clarinet.
Ernest pursued a degree in music performance and eventually received his master’s from the University of Northern Colorado. Ernest taught music for 32 years and also tuned pianos. Ernest started the music program at Pequot Lakes School District and was there for seven years. He then was the band director in the Brainerd School District at Franklin Junior High for 25 years. He also has directed the church choir at Trinity Lutheran Church for 21 years.
Ernest said while in the Frolics, he sang “Danny Boy” in Washington, D.C. during the National Council on Aging conference.
“I sang ‘Danny Boy’ and a lady came up to me and said ‘You did a great job lip-syncing,’” Ernest said. “I said ‘No I actually sang it.’
“Ellie plays a great Edith Bunker.”
Ellie said, “That was so much fun to play. I could make a mistake and it would still sound good.”
All three couples performed in Washington, D.C., as well as during a senior expo held in the 1990s in Las Vegas at the University of Nevada.
Dryden did his research when he started the Frolics, which sparked his interest when he did a play titled “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” that cast senior members. He went on a sabbatical to find an art program with senior citizens to help him create a program at CLC. He found one in Canada and then added his own touch to the production by adding comedy.
Dryden said he received a grant to create a concept involving senior theater and he also wrote a book about it.
“Some people call me the father of senior theater,” said Dryden. “(In senior theater) you don’t laugh at them trying to something you laugh at them for doing something.”
Dryden said due to medical reasons he retired from CLC and had to give up directing theater productions. The late and former CLC theater director Dennis Lamberson then took over and then when the college decided not to run the program anymore, the Yunkers took over in 2001.
“Ed was one of my techie people,” said Dryden. “Theater was my life and theater was his hobby.”
Ed Yunker said when the college decided not to do the Frolics anymore, he and Yvonne began talking about how to keep the senior citizen show going. It was at that time that the Brainerd School District decided not to use the Franklin building anymore and that it became an arts center, perfect for the Frolics.
The Yunkers decided to lease the auditorium for the Frolics. They began writing the show and designing costumes. Lynn Olson, the Frolics orchestra director, stayed on to continue to help with the shows. This will be Olson’s last season with the Frolics. He is 80.
“We have to find a new orchestra director, but we want to continue with the Geritol Frolics,” Ed Yunker said.
Yunker said the cast of 51 seniors are from the Brainerd lakes area.
The Frolics begin meeting in the first week of August. They rehearse for three hours, three days a week.
“It is a rigorous schedule, but when we put it together everyone knows the music,” said Yunker. “It is a show of song, dance and comedy.”
Yunker said it costs about $40,000-$50,000 to run the show each year. Yunker said the only people who are paid are four orchestra members, a choreographer and a sound and lighting service.
Yunker said they sell advertising for their programs and tickets for the shows and that is how they keep the Frolics going.
“We draw people from around the state,” Yunker said of the audience. “We work with a number of travel agencies that put together trips. (At the end of September) we had 13 buses booked from around the state who are bringing people to the shows, that includes buses from Lakeville, Duluth and St. Cloud. There are not a lot of Geritol Frolics programs. I am not sure how many there are in the U.S. ... I think there was only one other one in the state ... but I don’t think they are active.”
Each season, the Frolics have a theme for their show. This season’s show will be a mix of productions from the past nine years. Yunker said this season the show will have a lot of glamour and music will include “No Business Like Show Business,” “All That Jazz” from “Chicago” and there also will be a gospel and a patriotic segment.
Yunker said he owes all the original members, who also include Betty Alderman, a debt of gratitude.
“They are the ones who helped put the Geritol Frolics back on stage,” said Yunker. “They’re the ones who helped it be as successful as it is today. There is a long history with these folks involved and it is a testament to their endurance.
“The Geritol Frolics gives seniors a chance for artistic opportunity. We don’t use professionals. We have great talent.”