Dan Hendricks: Improv Minister of Peace and Joy for Seniors

Pastor Dan Hendricks regularly visits Dallas Stoller at his home in Paul, Idaho. Photo by Nancy Kunau.

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By Dianna Troyer

When words fail, Pastor Dan Hendricks counts on music to communicate with seniors when he walks into an assisted living center or hospice situation. 

“I never know what will happen,” he said Hendricks. For two decades Hendricks has touched countless lives in Minidoka and Cassia counties of southeastern Idaho. 

“Every situation is different,” said Hendricks, 50, pastor at First Assembly of God in Rupert and chaplain for Horizon Home Care and Hospice. “It’s kind of like doing musical improv. I just know at that moment, I’m God-appointed to be there and minister. I sing while the Lord directs and ministers. I tune into what people want to hear, whether it’s hymns, country classics, pop, or rock.”

Sometimes he sings one-on-one with a resident, while other times he leads singing in a common room. 

“Music always touches people in profound and dramatic ways,” he said. “Songs evoke emotional reactions when other communication fails.” 

He recalls a man in the memory care wing of a skilled nursing center, who stared blankly and was unresponsive to conversation.

“I knelt beside his wheelchair, held his hand, then began singing ‘Amazing Grace,’” Hendricks said. “By the second verse, he was weeping. His eyes were alert and full of expression, like he had come back to life.”

Another time, a woman could not stop crying.

“For some reason, she had become locked in a sad mindset,” Hendricks said. “When I went to visit her, I would sing and recite Longfellow’s poem about daffodils. It took several weeks, but she slowly and steadily regained joy in her life. When I wasn’t there, she would lead other residents in an imagined choir. I was so blessed.”

Another unforgettable experience was a family saying goodbye to their matriarch. They requested Hendricks sing her favorite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

“As I sang, the family began weeping, and a great sense of peace filled the room,” he said.

Hendricks discovered his love of musical performance through karaoke.

“From karaoke, I transitioned to church worship. I love to communicate emotion powerfully through music.” 

Hendricks began visiting care centers when an activity director invited him to entertain residents with a concert about 20 years ago. 

“As soon as residents heard music, they came out of their rooms into the commons area to listen,” he said. “My music ministry has grown from there.” 

He visits five care centers regularly. In 2017, he began working as a hospice chaplain after being invited to do a church service at a memory care unit.

“With both hospice and church, I keep in mind that we never know what someone has been through,” he said. “We don’t know their battles, so we should extend love and kindness.” 

To hospice nurse Barb West, Hendricks is not only a co-worker but a friend who ministered to her terminally ill husband.

“Serving as a hospice chaplain isn’t just a job to him,” West said. “He’s really in tune with people of all ages and is so gracious toward everyone. Even after he leaves a place, he still thinks of ways to make someone happy. He knows what to say that will comfort each person a little differently for whatever they are going through.”

Two to three times a week, Hendricks visits residents at Rosetta Assisted Living in Burley. 

“All of us—residents and staff—love when he comes,” said MaryAnne Hines, a supervisor at Rosetta. “Through music, he really connects with people. He’s 6-feet, 4-inches tall and has a towering persona. Physically he seems bigger than life. When he sings and dances with residents, it’s mesmerizing. They respond well to him and are smiling and laughing.”

Hendricks also visits Dallas Stoller at his home in Paul.

“Dad brightens up when Dan comes and sings,” said Nancy Kunau, Dallas’ daughter. “He has such a gift for singing and engaging with Dad. He’s kind, empathetic, knowledgeable, and humorous. If you look up the word joy in the dictionary, it would be a synonym for Dan Hendricks.”

Hendricks gives people a genuine sense of hope, she said.

“When people are discouraged or feeling hopeless, Dan re-aligns them,” Kunau said. “He has the ability to encourage them to take another breath and to let them know they have an amazing purpose here on Earth.”

Sometimes instead of singing, Hendricks sits in comfortable silence. 

“One man really had no interest in religion or a visit from a chaplain,” he said. “All he wanted to do was sit up in bed and eat a meal. So, for 45 minutes I helped do this. I held him up with my hand, so he could eat. When my arm and hand got too tired, I sat with my back against his to keep him propped up.”

Whatever situation Hendricks encounters, he said he ultimately feels invigorated just visiting with people.

“I love connecting with people, but music adds something special. It helps create an emotional bond that is both beautiful and life-affirming,” he said. “I believe people need to know they matter, and my singing is a way to tell them that.” ISI

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