As the first professional entertainer at the East Aurora nursing home Absolut Care of Aurora Park, Jenny Trometer has been a surprise hit.
On an afternoon last week, her fans sat before her in wheelchairs, some smiling and softly singing “Please don’t take my sunshine away” as Trometer played the piano and sun beamed through the Halloween decorations on the window.
“I love the residents here,” said Trometer, 35, who has a developmental disability. She is legally blind and can’t read music.
She started playing five years ago in one wing of the nursing home. Now she plays piano sing-alongs with confident, steady poise throughout the sprawling Main Street campus. Her stints at Absolut Care were arranged by Suburban Adult Services.
This month, her work led to a state award for Absolut Care, named large business disability employer of the year by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. Trometer, 35, who lives with her family in Wales, went to Albany with her mother a week ago to pick up a certificate and perform.
“She had a ball,” said Carol Olejnik, activities director, who has been working with Trometer since she started. “She stole the show.”
As a little girl, Trometer would go to the piano and start playing simple tunes. She took classes and learned by listening to recordings that her Community Music School teacher sent home with her, said Theresa Trometer, her mother.
These days, she learns songs by finding them on YouTube. That’s how she picked up her current favorite, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”
“I have a very good ear,” she said. “Once I get a song in my brain, it sticks with me forever.”
Trometer goes two afternoons a week to Absolut Care, works about eight hours and plays on upright pianos and a portable keyboard on seven wings. She gets to know people and makes a point of playing songs they like.
She knows one regular is fond of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” and another enjoys “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” For a woman named Sally who prefers songs with her name, Trometer plays “I Wonder What’s Become of Sally” and “My Gal Sal.”
Absolut Care staff say they admire her verve, her repertoire that seems to contain hundreds of songs, and the way some of the 300 residents perk up and sing when they hear her play.
“She brightens it up. … They love it,” said administrator Kirsten Whittemore.
“It’s a connection to their old life,” she said. “When else do you hear ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’?”
Theresa Trometer said her daughter’s work at Absolut Care has brought out a second talent in her daughter – working with the elderly.
“They like her, she likes them,” said Theresa Trometer. She was impressed when she went to Albany and heard her daughter accept her certificate.
“I couldn’t ask for a better life,” Jenny Trometer told the crowd. “I get paid for what I like to do.”