If you are feeling crabby, grouchy or otherwise in a negative state of mind, there’s a surefire cure for what ails you waiting on the other side of the door in Gloryann and Larry Koester’s room at the Brookdale assisted living center in Wayne.
Open the door, and the cure awaits in the waiting arms of Gloryann, who never lets anybody – including this reporter – leave without a hug and a kiss.
“If they leave without it, they have to pay taxes,” she said, although nobody really knows what taxes one would want to pay for missing out on a warm hug and a lipstick-highlighted peck on the cheek from the 80-year-old ray of sunshine who, with her 83-year-old husband, have brought a lot of happiness and joy to the facility since their arrival 2 1/2 years ago.
Gloryann’s unapologetic spreading of joy and happiness to residents of the facility was recently recognized by the Nebraska Assisted Living Association, which recognized Gloryann as the Resident of the Year during a recent convention in Kearney.
Even after receiving the award, Gloryann was still shocked that she would be recognized for doing nothing more than being herself.
“I’m still not over being totally shocked by it,” she said, “because I thought, of all the nursing homes in Nebraska, why would I be the one they pick out?”
When the Koesters first came to Brookdale in early 2015, she saw the faces of many of the residents and saw few, if any, smiling faces.
“Everybody sat around and sulked and some were even crying, and I said to Larry, ‘I know that God has sent me here for a reason. What’s his purpose in showing me this?’”
She decided that their purpose in being at Brookdale was to spread happiness and joy and help their neighbors believe in the power of Jesus Christ, and so she and her husband set out to start turning frowns upside down among the people in the building.
“We painted these little bitty clothespins, and every time they went up and hugged somebody they didn’t know and said I love you, they got a clothespin,” she said. “People were full of clothespins and the nurses who helped us were just astounded.”
Soon, the two started the Laughing Hats and Rusty Zippers groups. People started bringing funny hats (the Rusty Zippers part of the group is a play on the older guys who “dribble” every once in a while, Larry said) and the smiles started coming, one by one.
“They’d put these hats on and just giggle, and I thought that was remarkable,” Gloryann said.
She would spread her love and joy among the residents, rolling up behind them, one by one, and give them a hug and a kiss.
“I would whisper to them, ‘Did you know I love you?” and kiss them on the neck, and it perked them right up,” she said. “By the third day, Larry would push me around and I would hug and kiss them.”
Soon, the dark energy of sad neighbors was replaced by the infectious warm greetings and smiles that Gloryann would shower her residents and Brookdale staff with.
“I would sneak up behind people at lunch and give them a hug and a kiss, and it was so fun and so beautiful to see them smile,” she said. “I just can’t explain the emotion I feel for these people.”
The facility is especially fun during holidays like Halloween, when everybody gets dressed up in costume – even Larry, who donned a rather silly looking costume at last Halloween’s party.
“The head nurse took Larry aside and dressed him, and he comes out of her office with this big black bra on that was stuffed with spices,” she said. “He was a walking spice rack.”
“She told me to put (the bra) on and I told her I don’t know how to put one on, but I can take one off,” Larry added, laughing.
Karissa Hays, director of sales and marketing at Brookdale, said the Koesters have been a wonderful addition to the community.
“Brookdale Wayne is proud to be a witness of Gloryann's success. Both Larry and Gloryann exude confidence and bring positivity and happiness to those that surround them,” she said. “In a long-term care setting it is important for people to see the good in each other, the good in the staff, and the good in the community as a whole. Gloryann, with the help of her daughter, Stacee Milan, have brought that good to our community and they continue to help others look to the bright side while having fun. We are pleased they have taken pride in where they live and want to help make it even better with each Laughing Hats Club event. The Koester truly are an inspiration to love and kindness, we hope to imitate what they have taught us.”
To hear Gloryann tell it, their 65-year marriage didn’t start out well.
As a little girl in country school, she saw the red-haired, freckle-faced boy sitting on top of a bank one day. She said he looked down at her and said “I’m gonna kiss you. He was my worst enemy until the school closed.”
By sixth grade, she was getting walked to class by a boy three years older than her that she had no interest in.
“When I got off the bus that first day, I got to the top of the steps and there he stood with this dice keychain and he stuck it under my nose and said, ‘I’ll roll you for a kiss, babe,’ and then he found out what classes I took and would come running out of nowhere and take my books and carry them to my next class,” she said. “And I still hated him.”
Eventually, though, the hating changed to dating, and at the age of 15 she married the 18-year-old boy who had been pursuing her all this time.
“Mom didn’t buy me a wedding gown, but I told him that one day I’d march down the aisle in a wedding gown to him, because he was so great,” she said.
Fifty years later, she got her wish. They renewed their vows in 2002, this time with Gloryann walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown with children and grandchildren on hand to witness the occasion.
The Koesters farmed west of Allen, and Larry still tends to livestock there. It was on that farm where he helped his wife overcome some lonesome feelings by encouraging her to become a Mary Kay cosmetics consultant.
“This bugger was on the phone one day while I was stirring potatoes in the frying pan and I was wondering who he was talking to, and it was my cousin, who was a Mary Kay consultant, and she’d talked him into giving me the OK to get involved in Mary Kay,” she said.
“I told you that you were joining. I was giving her the 11th commandment,” he added. “Thou shalt do this.”
Gloryann came up with every reason not to do it, but her husband would not budge. Even after she came home and told him she was denied a $400 loan by the bank, he took her back to the bank in an old truck and told the banker he was putting up the truck as collateral for her to borrow the money she needed to start her business.
“That truck was worth $401, I think,” he said with a laugh.
Gloryann didn’t think she would be a success as a Mary Kay consultant, but on that first night she made $200.
“In 1974 that was a pretty nice sum of money and I brought it home and took that fistful of money and dropped it on the table,” she said. “The next day I took it to the bank and said I was putting that toward my loan, and the banker was so impressed that he said if I could make $200 in one show, he’d gamble on me. I paid the $400 back in two weeks and then borrowed $800 with no problem.”
Soon, Gloryann was off and running. She became a Mary Kay sales director in 1976, and in 1985 she received the prestigious Go Give award as the top director in the entire company.
Mary Kay also gave its top consultants a pink Cadillac for their work, which Gloryann was amazed by.
“When I got that recognition, I didn’t think I’d actually get to take the car home and keep it,” she said.
“I was with Pioneer Hybrid for 30 years and I couldn’t even get a pink pickup,” Larry added.
Gloryann said her husband’s insistence on getting out of the house and getting involved with Mary Kay helped bring out her love of people.
“He’s responsible for pushing me out there and helping me to gain that belief,” she said. “When you do unto others, it will be done unto you and what you think about, you bring about. I’m still the same person, but (fear) doesn’t hold me back anymore.”
And if that doesn’t make you smile and want to give her a hug and a kiss – nothing will.