INDEPENDENCE — Cedar Valley Hospice’s music therapy program has 94-year-old Doreen Stirm kicking up her heels.
With the sounds of 1930s and ’40s music and a pair of custom-made tap slippers, Stirm is tap dancing again.
“It was a wonderful gift from Cedar Valley Hospice,” said Stirm’s daughter and part-time caretaker Angie Reuter. “She has always loved to dance.”
To help Stirm relive the magic, Cedar Valley Hospice music therapist Rachel Johnson took shoe taps she had at home from her daughter’s dance classes and glued them onto Stirm’s favorite pair of slippers. The living stage was completed with Stirm’s old tap board she’d saved from years ago.
“It was like Christmas morning,” said Johnson. “Her eyes lit up. I don’t think she ever thought she would be able to do that again. She was so happy.”
Stirm was born into a musical family. Her grandfather was a singer in Washington D.C., where she grew up, and her mother, Anne, played the piano daily.
“Every morning, I would wake up to the sound of ‘Country Gardens,’” Stirm said. “And we would sing together all the time.”
Stirm studied tap and ballet through high school. In the evenings, her mother used to take her to the theater where they always sat in the first or second row to see the “guys play in the band.” Saturday nights were Lawrence Welk nights. “Of course, I knew all the songs for that too,” she said, smiling.
Stirm would eventually move to Iowa with her husband, Ralph, who’d just gotten out of the service.
“Here I was a city girl and he was a farmer,” she said. “Boy did I have a lot to learn.”
Before she knew it, she was helping raise 200 chickens, bailing hay and, of course, feeding Ralph and his crew of nearby farmers who helped the family take care of 240 acres of soybeans and corn.
“I couldn’t even cook, but thanks to Ralph’s mother I learned how,” Stirm said.
She remembers the first time she cooked on her own.
“I had cooked a smaller meal because it was lunch time, and I didn’t have a dessert,” she said, laughing. “Ralph looked at me and said, ‘Is this all we’re getting?’ I learned quickly how to make pies. ... Cherry became Ralph’s favorite.”
The Stirms raised three children and farmed their land for 50 years before moving to Independence in 2000. During that time, she became very involved at her church, where she played the organ for 36 years.
Stirm still has her piano, but macular degeneration prevents her from reading sheet music.
“You’d think after all those years of playing, I would have memorized at least one song, so I could play it,” she said, smiling and shaking her head.
Johnson was adamant about helping Stirm reach her goal to tap dance again.
“When I brought her the slippers, it was such a joyful moment for her. ... I think for a little bit she forgot she was 90 and dealing with her health.”
“As I look back, I have a lot to be thankful for,” Stirm said. “I never knew I had this long.”