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10-14-02: Special crowd finds fun at Minster dance
The Daily Standard

    MINSTER - The infectious rhythm of "Celebration" filled the United Steelworkers Hall on Saturday night as guests eagerly headed to the dance floor leaving behind soft drinks and snacks.
    The steady beat had men and women alike tapping their feet and shaking their bodies. Some tapped the padded arms of their wheelchairs while others were content to watch from the sidelines.
    Each year the Minster Kiwanis Club sponsors a dance for employees of Auglaize Industries in New Bremen, a sheltered workshop for adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, as well as residents of Heritage Manor Nursing Center in Minster and the Auglaize County Group Home in Wapakoneta. More than 80 came - a record for the event.
    "We've been doing a dance for about seven years," said Kiwanian Connie Schafer. "Prior to that we sponsored a sports day at the football field."
    Club members spent several hours Saturday morning putting up red, white and blue decorations in keeping with a "God Bless America" theme. A whimsical Uncle Sam doll made himself at home on a folding chair while dozens of decorations hung from the walls and ceiling. Even the tables were suitably adorned for the occasion.
    Kiwanian Chris Kuenning designed three large posters, including one showing the ever-popular Snoopy and his pal Woodstock. Several members of the confirmation class at St. Augustine Catholic Church assisted as part of their community service requirement.
    A steady stream of vans pulled into the parking lot shortly before 7 p.m., delivering wheelchair-bound clients and others needing special assistance. The remainder came with their parents or friends. The night air carried the sounds of happy voices and school-girl giggles.
    Steve Minix, a Heritage Manor resident, didn't let a wheelchair deter him from a night on the dance floor. He sat back, extended one arm and grabbed the hand of Heritage Manor employee Donna Springer of Celina. She danced for him, moving her feet and swaying to the music.
    "Our people have been looking forward to this dance for weeks," said Heritage Manor volunteer Angelina Burklo of Coldwater. "They started getting ready three hours ahead of time. Some were too excited to eat supper."
    Caroline Klopfenstein of St. Marys, an Auglaize Industries employee, knew weeks ago what she would wear - dark grey pants and a T-shirt decorated with three felines. Fellow employee Lisa Patton of Wapakoneta chose jeans and a red and white shirt emblazoned with a pair of glittering red lips.
    Together, the women made sure their friend, Chrissy Roberts of Wapakoneta, didn't miss a dance. They each held a handle of her wheelchair, pushing it back and forth in time with the music. She chuckled in delight while trying to say the word "dance."
    John Finnen, another Auglaize Industries employee, mimicked the renowned Jerry Lee Lewis as he pounded out the tune "Great Balls of Fire" on an imaginary piano. He later joined disc jockeys Kurt Bergman and Josh Boeke (J n K Disc Jockey Service) on stage. With microphone in hand, he sang along with "Born To Be Wild."
    "This is really a neat thing," Bergman said watching the dancers from his perch behind the sound equipment. "We've been supplying the music for three years and we're going to keep doing it until they don't want us anymore."
    The young men provide their services without charge, calling the work something they could do for the community they call home.
    Penni Carroll, recreation coordinator at Auglaize Industries, circulated among the dancers, stopping to "shake her booty" with one group before heading on to the next.
    "These folks love dances and socialization," she said later. "They have been talking about tonight for the past three months. They knew what they would be wearing, who they would be sitting with and how they were getting here."
    The Kiwanis Club uses proceeds from its annual Palm Sunday pancake and sausage breakfast for the dance and mementos for their guests. This year everyone took home a patriotic bear, a decoration and a photo of themselves in a star-studded frame.
    A young man came up to the table where Schafer was dispensing bears. He gratefully accepted a royal blue one. Unable to speak, he smiled and nodded his head. He returned later in the evening for what Schafer assumed was another bear. He patted the plastic bag and she handed him a red one. He shook his head from side to side and pointed in her direction.
    "It was so touching," Schafer said in a voice quivering with emotion. "He wanted to make sure I had a bear to remember this night as well."
    A stack of hot pizzas arrived at 8 p.m. and the dancing stopped just
long enough for participants to eat a wedge or two. At the bewitching hour of 9, the music stopped and guests made their way to the parking lot where cars and vans waited.
    Bernice Duncan and Jo McCarthy, both of  St. Marys, rounded up their adult children, Aileen Duncan and Allen McCarthy, for the ride home.
    "We enjoy this as much as they do," Bernice Duncan said. "It's fun to watch them get out and have fun with their friends. The Kiwanis Club certainly deserves credit for going the extra mile."


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