Becoming a local celebrity has been a lot of fun for Willard Lohrenz.

Becoming a local celebrity has been a lot of fun for Willard Lohrenz.
The 85-year-old knew he had some certified fans when someone posted a photo of him on Facebook doing what he does best - waving.
Not just cursory or half-hearted hand movements, but positive, caring hand waves to brighten the days of hundreds of motorists.

Once wintry weather makes its exit, Willard parks his wheelchair roadside in front of Leavenworth Homestead Assisted Living Residence each day to wave at motorists.
Initially, he gave waves to truck drivers, who soon developed a fond recognition of the cheery greeter and began honking their horns in response. “Truckers automatically wave back,” said Willard.

But why stop there, thought Willard. “I decided to start waving at cars and pickups too. I’ve done it so much that I recognize a lot of the drivers now.”
He has also noticed that people are not only waving as they pass by, they are grinning. Which is exactly what Willard likes to see in a world fraught with uncertainty and concern. “It makes me feel good and it’s a fun thing to make people smile and laugh,” said Willard.
He has given a lot of thought to the many drivers who pass along Hughes Road each day. He wonders about what they are thinking as they drive - if they are in deep thought because they are worried about something or tired from a long day at work, or sad. Whatever the cause of their serious expressions, Willard’s mission is to make them feel better and ensure that for that brief moment as they pass him on their journey, he can give them a little joy and some happiness.
For Willard, paying it forward is not a chore in any way. He is a happy man. And very grateful.

He is wheelchair-bound due to a leg injury, but that doesn’t stop him from staying active and busy. After three years at Medicalodge and a year at Homestead, Willard cautions people to not fear giving up their home and entering assisted living when they are unable to live without help.

“I love living at Homestead,” said Willard. “The staff we have from top to bottom are unbelievable with good senses of humor. They are wonderful, they talk to me and provide me with anything I need. They are good friends and I am a button away from help if I need it, somebody is listening and somebody is going to answer. The food is always good and I get ice cream at night. Plus, I can have privacy in my room or socialize.”
When he questioned his walking buddy about why the 92-year-old is walking less and talking  more, his friend said, “I’m 92, so I get to walk a little and talk a lot more.”
Homestead hosts regular meeting for residents to find out what they like and what they don’t like. The residents don’t always agree on everything - especially food choices - as Willard found out. “I want goulash,” said Willard. Not a popular choice however, among residents.

For Willard, living at Homestead is just another chapter in his life. When he couldn’t decide what courses interested him in high school, he became drawn to typing class.
When he travelled to western Kansas after high school graduation to harvest crops on a small farm he noticed a woman exiting the farmhouse traveling to the barn who was singing as she walked.
When he joined the military and was stationed in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and worked as a typist for two years, they wrote each other often. “I was always looking and waiting for her letters.”
They married and had three children.

After working as a typist, farmer, salesman and at the VA, he enjoys the activities and days out that Homestead provides. “There is always something to do like bingo and exercise and painting old pieces of wood,” said Willard.
One of his favorite activities is whacking balloons with pool noodles. “One woman’s daughter visited while we were doing this and she was shocked at how hard her mom was beating the heck out of the balloons.”
Homestead also assures that residents get out regularly for trips to a variety of places such as restaurants, Walmart and Goodwill.
The joy that living at Homestead brings Willard is matched by the staff’s affection for their ‘celebrity’ resident.

“Willard brings so  much laughter and joy to the residents/staff at Homestead,” said Kelli Jo Davison, executive director at the facility. “Life changes so quickly, and seeing his positive face everyday reminds me why I love this job.”
The Facebook post has generated a whole new group of fans who pass by Homestead and recognize Willard and give him an enthusiastic smile and wave. “You get about three or four guys in a jeep and they are just excited to wave and smile,” said Willard. “Truck drivers just automatically wave.
“Little old ladies whose heads are just barely above the dashboard still wave.”
Willard is very grateful, secure and happy to be in a place where people care, and he plans to continue to spread the love to everyone who drives by Homestead —  for a very long time.