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Lakes area families, friends keep in touch despite social distancing

Some lakes area families are finding unique ways to continue safe, protected face-to-face visitations with their loved ones.

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Brainerd resident Lorraine Bemis enjoys her 90th birthday balloons Friday, May 27, delivered by friends and neighbors keeping their distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bemis was speechless at the kindness of her friends. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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Visiting family and friends — especially those who are elderly — is not quite the same now, given the global coronavirus pandemic.

Some lakes area families, though, are pushing through, finding unique ways to continue safe, protected face-to-face visitations with their loved ones.

Sue Kuhn of Nisswa is used to spending about three days a week out and about with her 99-year-old mom Jane Lee Kuhn, who lives at Edgewood Vista, an assisted living facility in Brainerd.

Right now, though, visitors aren’t allowed at Edgewood, and residents are staying inside for the most part. That means the Kuhn women can’t partake in their regular outings.

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“It’s pretty hard,” Sue said Thursday, March 26. “I’m a widow, so I live alone, and so I do a lot of things with Mom. And so it’s really hard, but we’re making it work.”

The duo got some face-to-face time Thursday, but this time with a screen between them, as Sue stood outside Edgewood and talked to her mom through an open window.

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Jane Lee Kuhn (right) enjoys a window visit with her daughter Sue Kuhn Thursday, March 26, at Jane Lee's residence at Edgewood Vista Senior Living in Brainerd. The woman are keeping their distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

For Jane Lee, the quarantine of sorts is reminiscent of two separate instances in her childhood, when she was in solitude during bouts of the measles and scarlet fever.

“I was quarantined for weeks,” she recalled.

Barb Albright, assistant executive director at Edgewood, said visits like the Kuhns’ aren’t uncommon now. There was an instance at the Baxter location last week, she said, when a family came and drew with chalk in the parking lot while dancing to music on the radio. Their Edgewood family member got to watch the fun from her second-story window.

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Over on Tyrol Drive in Brainerd, nine friends and neighbors gathered — while practicing social distancing — for a birthday celebration Friday for Lorraine Bemis, who turned 90.

Friend Deb Kummet said the original plan was to have all Bemis’ neighbors over for cake and ice cream Friday and then have a dinner celebration at Prairie Bay Saturday.

“But then all this happened,” Kummet said.

Bemis stepped outside clad in socks and pink sweats with a surprised expression on her face as neighbors, one by one, handed her “90” balloons and gifts including cake, chocolate and the makings for gin and tonic.

“It was worth turning 90 for this,” Bemis exclaimed, later noting she was rendered nearly speechless at the kindness of her friends and neighbors.

“She’s not only a neighbor, she’s a great friend,” said Steve Suer, who lives across the street from Bemis.

The only thing Bemis regretted about the day was she wasn’t able to invite everyone inside for coffee. But with social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking everyone to keep at least 6 feet of space between one another, gatherings in close quarters are not recommended.

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Lorraine Bemis admires her 90th birthday balloons as friends Deb and Rick Kummet and Becky Leach watch from afar, according to social distancing guidelines. Bemis' friends and neighbors surprised her Friday, March 27, with gifts and balloons at her home on Tyrol Drive in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

For many, though, FaceTime is becoming an important tool for visits. Albright said Edgewood staffers are helping residents set up the app for virtual communication with their families.

And, of course, there’s always the phone.

“Thank heavens for the telephone,” Sue Kuhn said, noting she and her mom now talk twice a day.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

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Lorraine Bemis admires her 90th birthday balloons as friends Deb and Rick Kummet and Becky Leach watch from afar, according to social distancing guidelines. Bemis' friends and neighbors surprised her Friday, March 27, with gifts and balloons at her home on Tyrol Drive in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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