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Aug 29, 2023

Rock Valley Physical Therapy and Les Wilson work together to make beautiful music.

Inside the building with the signature blue awning, heart-warming goodness fills the room.

On one side, a plethora of toes are tapping to the “Elvis’’ tune before them. Across the room, a hard-working patient and her compassionate, ever-dedicated therapist are completing exercises to the snappy beat.

One man, already on his second song request, asks the room if a magician will be part of tomorrow’s entertainment. “Music today, magic tomorrow,’’ he says, chuckling.

“We do have a magician we treat,’’ says Kristie Boll, PT, DPT, OCS, clinic manager at Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Prophetstown, Il., clinic. “No names, but that’s true.’’

In the middle of all that is wonderful about the moment, 67-year-old Les Wilson, a 24-karat gem of a man, who – for as long as anyone locally can remember – has given his time, his heart and his musical talents to entertain residents of 44 nursing homes across several Illinois counties – is entertaining the room.

Wilson’s time, his travel and his songs are simply a longstanding labor of love. Few, if any, enjoy brightening a room with music more than he does. Putting over 64,000 miles on one’s pickup truck in a year –  making sure music and merriment is shared with those battling a variety of advanced-age health issues – is even more proof Wilson loves giving back.

While many are grateful for the kind soul that Wilson is, it is he who is filled with gratitude on this sunny summer day. He is walking, talking, playing, singing and doing so with a smile on his face, all thanks to Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

A few months prior, all of the above was in doubt.

“I am treating Les after an intensive spinal surgery (T5-L5 fusion) and he has a previous total cervical spine fusion,’’ said the ever-caring and compassionate Boll, the longtime leader of the Prophetstown clinic and one of life’s true gems. “He is only three months out and is doing phenomenal. From the first day I met Les, I knew he was a special person. He lights up the room and always has a smile on his face. His passion is playing guitar and singing and his main goal is to be able to play for an hour and carry in his equipment – a guitar and his 30-pound speaker – so that he can play for the local nursing homes.’’

Kind and generous to a fault, Wilson says he is happy, upright, walking and able to play his trusty six string – an instrument he taught himself to play six decades ago – thanks to the great work of Boll and the always-upbeat Monica Holliday, PTA, CES, PES. On this day, Wilson’s gratitude is shown in an impromptu, four-song set that had the clinic rocking and those passing by outside stopping to watch.

“Magicians,’’ Wilson said of Boll and Holliday. “Kind, caring, wonderful people who absolutely know what they are doing. They have great knowledge and know exactly when to push and when to pull back. I know I would be struggling, maybe laying in a hospital bed, if not for them after surgery. I still have work to do, but I’m getting there all because they are amazing at what they do.’’

In all, Wilson has survived a stroke (1991) and dealt with 12 surgeries related to back issues. “I am a true walking miracle, said the retired salesman, who has been entertaining people across Illinois for more than 40 years, including being part of the legendary two-man group, “Inspirations.’’

Today, Wilson and his wife run a top-notch antique entity in Prophetstown.

For Boll, Holliday and front office lead Brenda Dessing, the joy is Wilson. His energy, attention to detail when it comes to staying true to his therapy and his personality, all benefit the Rock Valley staff.

“He is a natural musician and taught himself to play by ear,’’’ Boll said of Wilson, who these days occasionally shares a stage with a pair of gifted musicians in Les Floto and Jeff Kromer. “He just doesn’t let any little thing get him down, which has played very well to his favor with his tremendous progress in therapy. To be almost completely fused and achieve the high level of function that he already has speaks wonders of what someone with the right mindset and drive can do.’’

Wilson, who is on the verge of returning to his nursing facility tour, says music is great therapy.

“I do it for the smiles,’’ he said. “I have seen it first-hand trigger people – especially those in memory care – back to a time when everything was clear. I had one lady get up and dance to a song and I was told it was the first time she had been up and moving in a year. I love people and I want to get back to playing for them. Thanks to everyone here (Rock Valley Physical Therapy) I’m just about there.’’

And with that, Les Wilson, a truly kind man, ended the impromptu concert like he does with every set, beautifully bringing to life the tune, “Why me Lord?’’

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller