If there’s one thing Bob Knutson knows for sure, it’s that a higher power has had a hand in his work.
I’ve got so many God stories, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
There was the time when one of the two dozen or so albums he brought to a senior center from his 21,000-piece collection had a song that was special to a couple for decades. Another time, after getting a request for an obscure album, he found one of seven in the world in his donation pile.
For the last four years, Knutson has been bringing vinyl music to senior living facilities, setting up more than 42 Technica Turntables for the residents and swapping out records on a 220-mile trek through Minnesota and Wisconsin each month.
Knutson started “Songs for Seniors – Red Wing, MN” in Red Wing when a neighbor and friend of his passed away, leaving him with a large collection of vinyl records. He donated some to a senior home, just thinking it was a nice gesture.
When he learned from staff of the home how much the residents enjoyed the music and the stories that came from it, Knutson was astounded.
“On the way home, I just chuckled. She’s embellishing all this … I couldn’t believe what she was telling me,” Knutson said. “(I) took it to another spot; the stories got bigger and better.”
Then he realized he had stumbled into a phenomenon. Memory care wards were lighting up, and senior living facilities were filling with memories.
And he does it all – donating the records, buying the turntables, driving and switching out the records – for free.
“It’s got some magic. I’m hoping it goes across the whole country because it’s just that good,” Knutson said. “A lot of things happen in your life because of timing. This is just a perfect time to do it.”
Since word has gotten out around the state and even the country, Knutson said he’s received more donations of old records. Monetary donations are also accepted, Knutson said, as they go toward the cost of purchasing turntables for the senior living facilities.
Since stumbling into this, Knutson has also developed and gained a partner of sorts, Kelly Bystrom, owner of Vyntage Vinyl in Red Wing.
Bystrom and his friends help Knutson clean up the records once a week, and Bystrom donates records to Knutson’s cause.
The two became involved with the cause together when Knutson stopped in Bystrom’s shop one day and explained his mission. Bystrom donated some albums he knew wouldn’t sell, and since then the two have been involved.
“He’s helped me so much; he’s got so much experience. He’s just a great guy. Comes down once in a while, brings a couple of his friends, they clean records for me,” Knutson said. “(He’s) just a super fella, and he feels good about this.”
As a record store owner, Bystrom said Knutson – whom Bystrom called a genuine person – is helping keep traditions alive.
“I don’t like to see the great old music go to waste, and there’s not a lot of people purchasing them,” Bystrom said. “But there’s still a lot of people enjoying them. What he’s doing, it’s helping a lot of senior citizens bring back memories they haven’t thought of in 30, 40 years.”
They are memories Knutson sees brought back to life each month – as part of a mission he hopes to grow.
“It touches your heart so much to see these seniors happy. They’re special folks too,” Knutson said. “The stories just keep going on and on and on … It just has fantastic results. I’m looking forward to doing this for a while. I enjoy it.”
By Samantha Stetzer