They come carrying red songbooks full of old spirituals and other tunes, ready to sing for people at assisted living homes and retirement communities.

But perhaps more importantly, the Lincoln Senior Chorus comes with memories, as well.

That's what Jack Cole has cherished about directing the 38-member chorus for the past 20 years.

In the Alzheimer's units of Lincoln assisted living communities, the music sparks peoples' memories, said 86-year-old Cole.

"And by gosh, they'll start singing with us," he said.

The chorus committed to helping others remember celebrated its own past at its 50th anniversary concert at Vine Congregational United Church of Christ on Sunday afternoon.

Around 60 people came to watch the group perform, including friends and family members.

Terri Tenopir watched her mother, Marvalee Richardson, perform "very well." Richardson has been with the chorus for about a decade.

"She loves doing this," Tenopir said.

From April to December, the group performs two 30-minute programs weekly at assisted living homes and retirement communities.

Fifty years of singing is a great milestone for the Lincoln Senior Chorus, said member Wilma Martin.

"It's a commitment, but it's providing a good service to these people," said Martin, a member for 17 years. "It's uplifting."

The average age of each volunteer member is 78, Cole said, but there are no age restrictions for those looking to join, and no auditions, either.

Marilyn McCage joined three years ago following encouragement from friends and enjoys helping others remember the good old days.

"It's really nice to cheer them up and see them sing along," McCage said. "Without them there, it wouldn't be as joyful."

The chorus practices once a week at the F Street Community Center, where the group was founded in 1967 by women intent on forming a singing group. 

The Lincoln Senior Chorus also sings at clubs and church meetings for special occasions.

During Christmas season, they perform seven to eight times a week.

Martin said they present a wide-range of songs, starting off with hymns and then finishing with more secular songs.

"It's something the people can relate to," Martin said. "You sing a song like 'School Days in September' and they all know it and they enjoy participating."

Throughout its history, the Lincoln Senior Chorus has seen its share of directors and accolades.

In 2009, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program awarded the chorus the Living Bell Award for the group's volunteer efforts.

In 1997, Cole became the director after retiring and moving to Lincoln. 

At Sunday's concert, the 38-member chorus was joined by The Ethnic Singers, a folk group, led by the Lincoln Senior Chorus Assistant Director Russ Workman. 

Fifty years since the chorus began, director Jack Cole believes they will continue to bring back memories for years to come.

"People love to reminiscence," Cole said. "And after we're done, they'll stand up and tell us that, how much they loved it."  

Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or zhammack@journalstar.com

On Twitter @zach_hammack 

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