GENESEO — Diane Fortune often finds herself in tears or laughter as activity coordinator in long-term care at Hammond-Henry Hospital in Geneseo.
Most recently, she was full of smiles. Two years ago she began thinking about having a toy train at the base of the Christmas tree at the entrance to the long-term care center to provide entertainment for its residents.
Richard Melchin, a resident center, sent her dream on its journey.
“Richard came to live with us about one year ago,” said Fortune, who described Melchin as a “kind and gentle man who shares his love and enthusiasm of trains with anyone who will listen.”
Despite his outgoing nature, Fortune said Melchin was never one to join in the group activities planned for the residents.
“He spent much of his time in his room or out in the gazebo when the weather was nice,” she said. “My staff and I were always searching for an engaging activity for him and always, with a smile, he would politely decline us.”
That changed, Fortune said, if the conversation turned to trains.
Melchin would share stories about the toy trains in his childhood and his work for more than 25 years as an engineer for The Burlington Route. He also could share how the trains operated and whether they were fueled by coal or diesel.
Fortune said that each day she was at work, she learned something new about Melchin and trains. Thus, her search began to have a model train set up in the long-term care facility.
After numerous phone calls, Fortune contacted who she called “the right people.” Members of the Geneseo Model Toy Train Club donated train track they no longer needed and helped set the track in place.
Hospital employees and Melchin’s son, Richard, provided train cars, transformers, village buildings and the “much needed knowledge to complete this extraordinary fun project,” Fortune said.
“I asked Richard to oversee this assignment, and he happily accepted.”
Fortune also bought Department 56 Christmas buildings and accessories to complete the village.
Since the train setup has been in place, she said, Melchin has been out of his room nearly every afternoon to tend to it.
“He tweaks the engines and cleans the tracks,” Fortune said.
“There are two chairs by the train setup; one is for Richard and the other is for the rest of us,” she said. “If you sit there for even a few minutes, you will find out how much Richard loved his job as an engineer or, more importantly, how much he loves trains.”
Fortune says Melchin shares his memories of a typical day working for the railroad, the responsibilities of the job and the different towns and cities he would visit or pass through.
“When I asked him what the favorite part of his job was, he replied, ‘Sounding the horn and waving to all the pretty girls,’” Fortune said. “I’ve often wondered if that is how he met his wife.
“Having the train where it is, at the entrance to Long Term Care, is one of the best things we could have done at the hospital,” she said. “Now, when I go look for Richard in his room and he’s not there, it makes me smile.
“We are a small facility, and we do our best to make this part of our residents’ journey meaningful,” Fortune said. “My mentor once told me that these residents will make you smile, laugh, cry and enrich your life in some way every day so enjoy the gift of this opportunity. And I am.”