Wednesday, October 14, 2015

At 91, he's the oldest and just getting started

At 91, George is our oldest veteran in this year's National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.


“We were so young when we went off to war … none of us were heroes, we just did what we were told …”
-       From the poem, “Veterans.”

The young man who wrote those words has hair that long ago turned gray. A stroke a few months back slowed and slurred his speech, but come Sunday in Durham, North Carolina, he'll take his place on a stage he knows all too well.

George Farr, 91, can be considered Veteran Performer Emeritus -- it’s his 12th year at the festival and he holds the distinction of being the oldest in the show.

He’s been working hard at his speech therapy and other exercises to hold his own with the young whippersnappers in their 80s and younger.

“I’m not walking as vigorously as I was. If I could run a marathon, I would. I know my speech is a little peculiar. The secret is to speak slow. But I’m ready. I’ve been looking forward to Durham since last year. It’s my favorite time of the year.”

He’ll perform this year in the chorus and do an interpretation of, “September Song,” about a man looking back on a life well lived.

“I’ll be singing it without singing a note,” he chuckled. “I’m interpreting the lyrics of the song.”

Farr joined the Army in 1943 and transferred to the Army Air Corps as a B-17 pilot. But a week before deploying to England and the war, military brass officially phased out the aircraft.

He came back home to Minnesota where he married, raised a family and lived a life without regrets.

“I don’t have a secret to living long. I just have enjoyed or tried to enjoy everything I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’ve changed careers several times, and love being on stage.”

After decades of community theater, singing and writing poetry, he discovered the creative arts festival. He does it for one reason only -- the love of it.

He wrote and performed the poem, “Veterans,” about being young and going off to war, at the 2010 festival in Tomah, Wisconsin. He was inspired, he said, by standing on stage the year before with all the other veterans

“This has been a major factor in my life the last 12 or 14 years. It’s a challenge now, because I’m competing with Veterans of all ages. But each time I win an award, it just accentuates the positive nature of the festival. It’s a place to have fun, inspire one another and encourage each other.

“There are a lot of younger, talented people who will be on that stage,” he added, “but we’re all friends. I have a lot of friends here and look forward to seeing all of them.”

Art therapist Kathyrn Larsen from the Minnesota VA will accompany Farr on the trip to make sure he gets rest and is well taken care of.

“I’m very Mother Hen-ish, so George has taken to calling me Mom,” she said. “The last three Mother’s Days, George has surprised me by actually stopping by the VA with a bouquet of flowers, along with a poster from the festival. The poster has all the signatures of the Veterans from our Minneapolis group.

“It’s almost hard to put into words,” she added, “but this event means more to him – and to me – than I can say. He’s one of the most with-it people I know. He does this because nothing makes him happier than sharing his creativity, and everyone loves him for it. He walked into the dining room at the festival in Reno (two years ago), and everyone gave him a standing ovation.”

And he said it is the Veterans who inspire him, characterized in the closing words of his poem:

“Here we are, young and old of every shape and size
Diverse in race and religion some foolish and some wise.
Different in every conceivable way but when the flag goes by
We are one. We love our country,
The United States of America,
And will ‘til the day we die.”

For more on this year's festival, click here.