WINSTON-SALEM — Vaughn Boone drives 120 miles round-trip from Mooresville each week to play his guitar for the “younglings,” as he calls the residents at Arbor Acres retirement community in Winston-Salem.
“I just love seeing the faces of these nice, young people light up,” Boone said. “I love bringing joy to people.”
That’s quite a statement for someone who is 97 years old and has been playing his guitar for about 85 years, longer than some of the residents have been alive.
Boone started playing his guitar at Arbor Acres two years ago when a friend, who lived at the retirement home, introduced him to resident Robert Merritt.
Merritt, 86, had been playing his guitar at the facility’s biweekly Wine & Cheese event and invited Boone to join him.
“Playing here is one my favorite things in the world,” Merritt said. “Vaughn is a great guitarist, and I would play with someone like him any day.”
The two have created a book of about 100 songs from which the residents can request their favorites and then sing along. Their appearance usually attracts about 25 people.
“This is a resident-driven event,” Susan Smart, the continuing care manager at Arbor Acres, said. “Robert and Vaughn have taken it upon themselves to play, and the residents are more than happy to join in and watch.”
About 30 residents attended Monday’s performance, rolling into the room in their wheelchairs and shuffling in with their walkers to watch Boone and Merritt play.
“I enjoy it, everyone enjoys it,” Muriel Madden said. “They play all old-time songs that everyone knows, and it reminds me of when I used to sing them in college.”
Madden, who will be 89 on Sunday, said she loves listening to Boone play and just getting together with the other residents.
That seems to be a common sentiment. The room is filled with the residents’ cheerful voices as they sing or hum along to the songs, many of which are “songs that were old when your grandparents were born,” Boone said.
“I go there to play because it seems to bring people together and open people’s hearts,” he said. “Throughout my life, I’ve always had another job to support me financially, but guitar playing, magic and ventriloquism is something I’ve always done on the side to bring people joy.”
Boone, who was an officer in the U.S. Air Force in World War II, used to perform magic shows at U.S. bases in North Africa and has done magic tricks and ventriloquism for more than 60 years.
He occasionally brings his dummy and bag of tricks with him to give the residents an extra treat.
“My motive is just to make them happy and spread cheer any way I can,” Boone said.
He doesn’t have to leave right after a performance and drive back to Mooresville. He spends the night at the home of his wife of 13 years, Mary Ruth Dobbins, who lives in Winston-Salem.
And Boone, who still works out at the YMCA every day to stay in shape, said he hasn’t missed a Monday yet and hopes he will be playing there for years to come.
“They look up to him and like him because he plays his heart out for them,” Dobbins said. “He’s a fabulous musician and they give him a reason to play.”