Peace, hope, and joy prevail through Dan Hendrick's music ministry at care centers
Story by Dianna Troyer
Photos by Nancy Kunau
Unresponsive to attempts at conversation, a man in the memory care wing of a skilled nursing center stared blankly. To connect with him, Pastor Dan Hendricks reached out with music.
“I knelt beside his wheelchair, reached for and held his hand, then began singing ‘Amazing Grace,’” Dan says. “By the second verse, he was weeping. His eyes were alert and full of expression, like he had come back to life. Music always touches people in profound and dramatic ways. Songs evoke emotional reactions when other communication fails.”
Another time, a woman could not stop crying.
“For some reason, she had become locked in a sad mindset,” Dan says. “When I went to visit her, I would sing and recite Longfellow’s poem about daffodils. It took several weeks, but she slowly and steadily regained joy in her life. When I wasn’t there, she would lead other residents in an imagined choir. I was so blessed by this. It validated the influence of music.”
Throughout his 20-year music ministry, Dan, 50, has touched countless lives in the Mini-Cassia area. Pastor at First Assembly of God in Rupert, he also serves as chaplain for Horizon Home Care and Hospice. Sometimes he sings one-on-one with a resident, while other times he leads singing in a common room at the facilities.
Dan discovered his love of musical performance with karaoke.
“From karaoke, I transitioned to church worship,” Dan says. “I love to communicate emotion powerfully and will sing songs of all genres—hymns, country classics, pop, rock or worship—whatever fits the situation.”
Dan began visiting care centers when an activity director invited him to entertain residents with a concert about 20 years ago.
“As soon as residents heard music, they came out of their rooms into the commons area to listen,” he says. “My music ministry has grown from there. I never know exactly what will happen or how God will touch lives through me. I just know at that moment, I’m God-appointed to be there and minister. It’s kind of like doing musical improv. I sing while the Lord directs and ministers.”
Dan visits five care centers regularly. In 2017, he began working as a hospice chaplain after being invited to do a church service at a memory care unit.
“With both hospice and church, I keep in mind that we never know what someone has been through,” he says. “We don’t know their battles. Therefore, we should extend love and kindness.”
Dan says he feels his job is to share God’s love through his musical talents.
“I try to live out Philippians chapter 2 by humbly considering the needs of others and serving them how Jesus would want me to,” he says.
One of Dan’s most memorable experiences was with a family saying goodbye to their mother and grandmother. They requested he sing her favorite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
“As I sang, the family began weeping, and a great sense of peace filled the room,” he says.
To hospice nurse Barb West, Dan is not only a co-worker, but a friend who ministered to her terminally ill husband.
“Serving as a hospice chaplain isn’t just a job to him,” Barb says. “He’s really in tune with people of all ages and is so gracious toward everyone. Even after he leaves a place, he still thinks of ways to make someone happy. He knows what to say that will comfort each person a little differently for whatever they are going through.”
Two to three times a week, Dan visits residents at Rosetta Assisted Living in Burley.
“All of us—residents and staff—love when he comes,” says MaryAnne Hines, a supervisor at Rosetta. “Through music, he really connects with people. He’s 6 feet, 4 inches tall and has a towering persona. Physically, he seems bigger than life. When he sings and dances with residents, it’s mesmerizing. They respond well to him and are smiling and laughing.”
Dan also visits Dallas Stoller at his home in Paul.
“Dad brightens up when Dan comes and sings,” says Nancy Kunau, Dallas’ daughter. “He has such a gift for singing and engaging with Dad. He’s kind, empathetic, knowledgeable and humorous. If you look up the word joy in the dictionary, it would be a synonym for Dan Hendricks.”
Nancy says Dan gives people a genuine sense of hope.
“When people are discouraged or feeling hopeless, Dan realigns them,” Nancy says. “He has the ability to encourage them to take another breath and to let them know they have an amazing purpose here on earth.”
Sometimes instead of singing, Dan sits in comfortable silence.
“One man really had no interest in religion or a visit from a chaplain,” he says. “All he wanted to do was sit up in bed and eat a meal. So, for 45 minutes, I helped do this. I held him up with my hand so he could eat. When my arm and hand got too tired, I sat with my back against his to keep him propped up.”
Whatever situation Dan encounters, he says, “Ultimately, just visiting people invigorates me. I love connecting with people, but music adds something special. It helps create an emotional bond that is both beautiful and life-affirming. I believe people need to know they matter, and my singing is a way to tell them that.”