George Hlava, a resident at Oak Trace senior living community in Downers Grove, taught at Lewis University College of Business for 40 years, during which he also worked at Western Electric and AT&T for 35 years as a project manager. With an eye for detail, flawless administration, and the ability to multi-task, he earned a reputation for getting things done.
George has also always been a great networker. He recalled that he and his wife often traveled on Grand Ole Opry cruises. During that time, he befriended Pete Fisher, vice president and general manager of Grand Ole Opry. Pete subsequently reached out for assistance with projects after George retired.
The practice of seeking assistance from George grew. “Some directors connected with different performers started calling me and asking for help. I’d go wherever I needed to and met all kinds of great people–music, theater, film. It wasn’t for big jobs. Executive producers and directors get all the glory. But if they needed someone to help, they’d call me,” he said.
Over the years, George worked with Dolly Parton, and Donnie and Marie Osmond. He’s still in touch with both. He also has gotten to know Opry stars Little Jimmy Dickins, Jim Ed Brown, Jeannie Seely, and Bill Anderson. George treasures his collection of photos of and with a number of celebrities.
George said this career path that “happened out of the blue” came just at the right time and gave him great pleasure and wonderful memories.
George moved to Oak Trace from his home in Naperville a year and a half ago because of health issues. “I had cared for my wife for nine years after she got cancer. I was on my own for 17 years and had started not doing very well. After having taken care of someone for so long, I didn’t want to go to my kids’ homes and lay that on them. My niece is a nurse and told me that Oak Trace is the best senior living community. I did rehab here after a hospital stay and had great results. I then decided to move in,” he said. George is in assisted living at Oak Trace, where he’s able to receive any assistance he requires while maintaining his independence and active lifestyle.
When the lifestyles team learned of George’s interests and talents, they encouraged him to coordinate some entertainment for Oak Trace Health and Wellness Center. Pursuing what he knows best, George decided to produce a Grand Ole Opry showcase starring staff and fellow. George recruited performers, directed rehearsals, advertised the event, coordinated equipment, and wrote an informative history to share. He followed that with a Motown-themed show.
Last week, Oak Trace Health and Wellness Center performed its Disney showcase, written and produced by George. Because of the importance of music for anything relating to Disney, George actively recruited musically inclined performers. “Some people would look down and try to avoid me when they saw me coming down the hall. They know I was going to ask them to sing, and when they say they can’t sing, I’ll say, ‘Everyone can sing.’” He tactfully has identified additional roles for participation in his shows, including magicians and readers. He said a resident friend of his, who is 101, loves to tell jokes, but they’re “filthy.” So for the Disney show, George handpicked Mickey Mouse jokes for the centenarian to tell. The doorman at Oak Trace played Pluto, a nurse played Cinderella, and a CNA was Pocahontas. Additional characters played by residents or staff included Tinkerbell, Mary Poppins and Burt, and Aladdin.
George actively promoted the event to fellow residents, family members and staff. “I ordered cutouts to decorate the hallways in advance. It’s my way of advertising and creating excitement,” he said. “I have sound equipment and microphones that we used. I arranged rehearsals. I made goody bags with t-shirts, Mickey Mouse ears, and candy for the kids. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.”
More than 100 people attended the Disney event and immensely enjoyed themselves. So too, did the people who performed.
“I try to make the process fun for everyone. It’s been increasingly easy to recruit performers for each show, which suggests they’re having fun. I try to find something for everyone to do. My motivation is for people to enjoy themselves and have a good time,” said George.
“We have so many residents with incredible backgrounds. George is a treasure, and we’re grateful for his endless energy that he graciously shares with his fellow residents at Oak Trace,” said Dan Harrington, executive director.