It is 10:22 a.m. on a sun-kissed autumn morning.
Inside the Muscatine, Iowa-based Sunny Brook Assisted Living Center, a pair of pals prep for their twice-weekly exercise session.
“Tell me that favorite color,’’ Scott Morel, Transition Specialist for Rock Valley Physical Therapy, says to his buddy — and patient — Frank Bermel.
“You know the color, pal,’’ says Bermel, a soon-to-be 102-year-old dynamo, who is crisp of mind, wonderful of heart and stand-up comedian funny, to Morel, he of monster heart and wonderful soul. “It’s green. Don’t give me any of that red stuff.’’
Green to a man who farmed for eight decades, is the color of farm implement giant John Deere, and Bermel who lived on a Sweetland (Iowa) Township-based farm of 40 acres while working another 300 acres, respectively, was a John Deere man.
“My dad had a Ford tractor and some International (Harvester) stuff, but it was always John Deere,’’ Bermel said. “Nothing better. Made over in the (Quad) cities.’’
After a brief conversation, Bermel and Morel begin burning up the Sunny Brook hallway. The goal is happy mix of cardio and conversation, enough to keep Bermel on the path to continued good health. Exercise and interaction are important for anyone, especially if you are playing life’s game past the century mark.
“You gotta breathe through your nose and you gotta pick up your feet, Frank,’’ Morel says as the two — separated in age by decades, but brought together by one common goal — talk — and walk — like they have been friends forever. “You know Frank, I think you’re showing off today. This is the longest we have walked in a while,’’ Morel adds. “Great job.’’
Before the coronavirus took hold, Bermel was able to have visitors, and welcomed family members with regularity. Since, Bermel can see family only through a door and via Facetime chats.
Knowing his patient’s outgoing nature and the need to have someone to talk with, Morel focuses on interaction while working the physical side of the visit.
“Give “ Mandy’’ credit for finding a way to keep Frank engaged,’’ Morel said of Amanda Crouch, PT, DPT, and assistant clinical manager at Rock Valley’s Cedarwood Road clinic, a hustling, bustling bevy of good work nestled neatly into the back side of Muscatine. “I’ve been with Frank a couple of months; it was Mandy who made this happen. She adjusted when COVID hit and it’s made a big difference with Frank. But I’m having a blast being around him.’’
Having something to look forward to every week is a big reason Bermel is looking forward to birthday No. 102 come Nov. 20.
“Frank is strong, he is funny and he is a wonderful man,’’ Morel said. “He needs people. He needs something to look forward to. He needs what we provide, especially since he cannot have visitors. I look forward to working with him and though he gives me a hard time, I know our twice-weekly sessions are great for him. I like when he complains about what we do and then when we are done he says how good it was for him to have done it. I feel better about the world each time I get to work with Frank.’’
As the two patrolled the Sunny Brook halls, Morel points out a glass case with a photo just outside Bermel’s door. It shows him being honored by the Today Show for reaching the century mark. It also lists his interests.
In addition to being a proud farmer, Bermel takes great pride in the fact he and his late wife, Cleo, shared 70-plus years of marriage and were blessed enough to have four children and a bevy of grand and great-grandchildren.
“We were married in ‘41,’’ Bermel said. “She was the best. Great kids, grandkids. Loved farming. Worked my backside off, but loved it. Proud of it.’’
After a lengthy walk, talk and jog down memory lane, Bermel — with Morel’s guiding hand at each step — made his way to the Sunny Brook dining room. It was time for lunch.
“You coming back?’’ Bermel asked of Morel.
“You bet I am, Frank,’’ he said. “I love our time together. You are as good for me as I am for you.’’
With that, the kindly, older gentleman, pats the man some 60 years his junior on the back and sends him on his way.
“That’s why I do what I do,’’ Morel said. “I’m in a clinic filled with people who love and care about what they do and when I go outside that clinic, I get to do this. You can’t beat that.’’
Before the doors open to release Morel into a second hallway of the neatly-kept facility, he turns just to make sure his guy is OK.
“That right there, that’s what keeps you from letting all the outside stuff — COVID, politics — get the best of you,’’ Morel said, opening the RVPT van. “It’s good stuff.’’
Boy, is it.
By Johnny Marx