Modeling enthusiast brings love of trains and smiles to senior home residents
In 2011, when longtime railway fan Bill Choiniere retired, he was looking for ways to spend his newfound free time. His mother saw a picture in the Stillwater, Minnesota, newspaper advertising that Boutwells Landing Retirement Community was starting a model railroad club.
“I went over just to see what they were doing. I tell people they got me in a headlock and wouldn’t let me go,” he joked. “I had some modeling experience and they let me make some suggestions. I’ve been here ever since.”
Choiniere has had model train layouts off and on throughout his life, including one in his college dorm room that he and friends built. Due to a lack of space at home, he has not had one of his own for quite a while, so when this opportunity arose, he took it.
Choiniere and residents Hugh Madson, John Saunders, Carol Mackner, Rollie Rubertus and Jesse Escue manage the Boutwell Model Railroad Club and work on the layout together. Choiniere meets all the technical needs of the club. He lays all the track, does all the wiring for the control system and keeps the engines running.
The residents in the club work on the layout by creating different scenes with items donated to the club. They also decorate the layout for Christmas.
“I do all the technical stuff and the residents do the layout, but everyone helps with anything that needs to be done, really. We have workdays on Thursday, and everyone looks forward to that,” Choiniere said. “We usually spend a few hours working and then open on Saturdays for families and friends to come by and see the models.”
Grandchildren of residents are particularly fond of the models and there is even a Thomas the Tank Engine model for kids. The club also uses donations to help residents who are looking for models for their grandchildren.
“People donate more than we can use, so when the residents come in looking for something for their grandkids, we use that as an opportunity to teach them a little about models and what is age-appropriate,” Choiniere said. “Then they make a donation to the club and we give them some pieces to get their grandkids started.”
Residents often bring their grandkids by the club and members teach them about modeling. “We hope that someday the kids can come in and help us on our workdays. It’s pretty rewarding to see them learn and enjoy it so much,” Choiniere said.
The most enjoyable part of volunteering at Boutwells for him is interacting with the residents and their families. He enjoys actively being a part of everyone’s joy and bringing happiness where he can.
“Seeing the smiles on peoples’ faces is the most rewarding part,” he said.