Vietnam vet feels at home at Melbourne Place — with his guitar
Photo Gallery | Will Losaw and Friends at Melbourne Place
PITTSFIELD — A Sunday afternoon before Veterans Day finds Will Losaw at EPOCH Assisted Living at Melbourne Place — his home away from home.
The 67-year-old Vietnam War veteran and guitarist, accompanied by fellow guitarist Jim Halse and vocalist Deb Tyer, known as Will and Friends, are performing country and western classics such as Eddie Arnold's "Make the World Go Away" and the Johnny Cash hit, "Folsom Prison Blues."
The latter is by request as Melbourne residents, many from the World War II era, love Losaw's portrayal of the "Man in Black."
"He's good, period," George Naventi said.
"We like his music, his attitude and his dog — got to love the dog," said George's wife, Betty.
Losaw and his canine companion, Milo, have been regulars at Melbourne Place for the past nine years. He also performs at other area assisted living/long-term care facilities as well has participating in various musical fundraisers.
After 21 years in the Army and another 21 working for defense contractors, Losaw believes volunteering his time at Melbourne and elsewhere is another way of serving his country.
"You should always give, no matter how much you get back," he said. "A lot of the people I play for are from a disappearing generation that held us together as a nation."
Aside from Losaw's regular visits, Melbourne is a special place for veterans, several of whom are residents. The assisted living facility hosts a "Veterans Story Hour" every other Wednesday with Tyrone Bellanger, and two years ago, it began donating the proceeds of its annual crafts fair held last Saturday to local veterans organizations.
Beyond the factory
Growing up in South Lee, not far from the Hurlbut Paper Mill (currently Onyx Specialty Papers) Losaw wanted his life to account for something beyond working in the local factory. A year after graduating from Lee High School in 1966, he enlisted in the Army, did several tours of duty in Vietnam — the last in 1973 — and kept re-enlisting until he left the military in 1988.
Losaw returned to the Berkshires, eventually getting a job with Pittsfield General Electric in the ordnance division, and later General Dynamics. He retired from the private sector in 2009.
Shortly before retiring, the veteran started volunteering at Melbourne, bringing his guitar and eventually binders with his playlist so residents could sing along, or at least follow along, has he serenaded them with plenty of oldies but goodies.
Melbourne Place has made him feel at home ever since.
"I got this affinity for older people; such a respect for them that's turned into a love affair," he said.
The much younger staff at Melbourne also look forward to his visits.
"He brings humor to what he does here — he makes [everyone] laugh," said Sherry Pease, the facility's life enrichment director.
"He's warm and authentic," said Melbourne Executive Director Diane Weinstein. "You get an immediate sense he's sincere."
Weinstein's assessment of Losaw may explain why he identifies with Cash as his favorite entertainer, occasionally doing a tribute concert to the late country singer dressed all in black.
"He was honest with you and a great storyteller," he noted.
Losaw, married with three grown children, shows no signs of slowing down, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, diagnosed a few years ago and the affects of Agent Orange, the cancer-causing defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
"Music is what keeps me going," he said. "We get along just like me and food."