Amazing things can happen when parallel lives intersect. That is exactly what happened recently at Oak Hammock at the University of Florida.
Slightly before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Oak Hammock took a proactive step by closing its doors to non-residents in December 2019. This action meant a lot of things, one of which was to halt the weekly interdenominational service where, for the last 13 years, various ministers from different denominations would come to the Health Pavilion on Saturdays and provide a sermon to the residents who had difficulties going out into the community and attending a church service.
David and Jan Vance set up an area in the Health Pavilion and prepared it for the weekly religious service. The resident’s loved it. The staff enjoyed it – hearing the preaching and the singing. This happened every Saturday for years. Ms. Betty Archer, a past resident, was the coordinator and learned that Kenneth Curry, Oak Hammock Community Service Liaison/Transportation manager, was a pastor and she asked if he would join the weekly service rotation five years ago, which he happily did.
Kenneth knew that God had called on him as a young boy to be a minster. Out of high school, he joined the U.S. Army which took him to Germany, where he was a member of a Christian Servicemen’s Home Church.
“It was there in Germany when I recognized my calling,” Kenneth shared. “When I accepted it, I got out of the army, went to seminary school in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theology.”
He also holds a master's degree in counseling and was awarded an Honorary Ph.D.
Kenneth’s life journey led him to Oak Hammock seven years ago and he has been enjoying what his sermons provide the residents and staff.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, no one knew exactly how long non-residents would be required to stay off Oak Hammock’s campus. So in February 2020, Julie Ann Ariet, the ILR and new member coordinator at Oak Hammock, and resident Bev Cone approached Kenneth about filming a sermon that could be shown to residents on the internal television channel 1960. Kenneth agreed.
“We started recording the service in the Oak Room, with Ms. Bev Cone playing the piano, Julia Ann videoing it and me preaching,” Kenneth said.
Meanwhile, Dick Martin, a resident of 13 years, returned to Oak Hammock after a trip away from campus. Dick retired as a U.S. Army chaplain after 24 years, also serving as a minister in the United Methodist Church.
Kenneth told Dick about the videotaped services, which was right up Dick’s alley – in more ways than one.
After retirement, Dick sought out a better way to document his post-retirement travels with something more entertaining than still photography and slides. He purchased a video camera and discovered a passion for video production. Over the years, he perfected his craft and, as technology evolved, he upgraded from VHS to digital video. To this day, he continues to expand his production skills and accepts whatever new challenges a constantly evolving industry presents.
Dick has produced an impressive collection of videos, including various Institute for Learning in Retirement programs, or ILR, the Adventures in Living series featuring Oak Hammock residents and several promotional videos. Additionally, he produces videos for residents in which he records their oral histories for their future generations to have. His self-taught hobby keeps him busy and has helped to get him through the pandemic.
During the pandemic-induced lockdown, Dick searched through his vast collection of videos and selected some of his favorites. He chose various interviews and human interest stories on videos and emailed the links to fellow residents making those videos accessible online. Nearly every day for 80 days, Dick did what he could to keep everyone engaged and entertained during quarantine.
When he learned what Kenneth was doing with the interdenominational service, he knew he could combine both of his passions to work and help the campus.
The two teamed up and moved the production to the Acorn Room to produce a weekly prerecorded chapel service that aired every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on the Oak Hammock internal television channel. They produced more than a year’s worth of services in the last year and continue to record them today.
Both ministers took turns conducting the interdenominational services, alternating every two weeks. Bev played the piano for Kenneth and Ron Hoopes performed on the instrument for Dick.
The recorded videos have become a much larger endeavor since those first tapings. The two ministers find their own songs, Dick puts them together, videos the sermon and puts it music – transforming them into what is aired today. Of course, the support of the Oak Hammock IT team was imperative in getting the chapel service programs airing on the television channel and online.
“That ability to have the service online allows me to share the link with friends and family I have in Okinawa, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and to many people throughout the country,” Kenneth said. “People tell me they really enjoy it. It is a true honor to be able to conduct the services here. Dick told me today that he was unaware of how many Independent Living residents see the videos – he is constantly hearing from people that they enjoy it – even when the recording doesn’t go smoothly. We have had times where the video played but there wasn’t audio, but that’s okay. I just smile.”
“I enjoy being able to give residents encouragement and hope,” Kenneth added. “To let them continue to have their faith in Christ grow stronger. We all need our faith.”
The way the lives of Kenneth and Dick came together that resulted in entertainment and hope during an unprecedented time, truly has been amazing.