GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — She wore a straw hat and old-fashioned picture hat, a train engineer's hat and chef's hat, even a Husker cowboy hat and an Uncle Sam hat.
“A hat for every medley,” Helen Waring Johnson told the residents at Primrose Retirement Community in Grand Island during a recent visit.
The Ladies' Spring Event at the retirement home was Johnson's 100th show. She has been performing what she calls her “Musical Hats Show” only since September.
A photographer from Geneva, Neb., Johnson, the mother of three grown children, said she had always like music and singing.
“I'd better do it before it's too late,” she said with a smile.
Johnson said she just started calling a few retirement homes and senior centers and pretty soon was traveling all over the eastern part of the state and into Iowa, singing songs from “The Great American Songbook” while wearing different hats.
Johnson put on a different hat for each medley of songs.
For songs like “Singing in the Rain” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head,” she wore a rain hat she found in her closet. And when she sang “Choo Choo Ch'Boogie,” “I've Been Working on the Railroad” and “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” it was in an engineer's striped hat.
Johnson encouraged the Primrose audience — many of whom also were in hats — to sing along and clap to the beat when they felt like it.
She said most of her performances have been at retirement homes and senior centers because “they like the songs that I like.” Johnson also has sung at other venues, including Stuhr Museum.
This summer she can be seen at Geneva Patriot Days in July, the Old Settler's Picnic weekend in Fairmont in July and the Gresham Q125 celebration in May.
Johnson said her latest “career” has taken off much faster than she ever anticipated and she sometimes finds herself doing two or three shows in one day, often in different towns. So far she has visited 38 cities and towns in Nebraska and Iowa.