'Extraordinary love story'

Music conjures memories, magic during Black Friday Party Briarcliffe Gardens

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“There are many studies supporting the relationship between music, mood and memory,” Stefany Reed, the marketing director at Briarcliffe Gardens, said Friday. “For those among us affected by dementia, music plays an important role because the memory of music is stored deep in an area of the brain that remains relatively unaffected by the progression of dementia.”

That fact surfaced unlike ever before when Briarcliffe Gardens held its annual Black Friday Party.

“This is an unquestionable love story for the ages,” Reed said as legendary entertainer and vocalist Vini Ames crooned his way though the audience, singing favorite songs familiar to the crowd. “His energy was contagious, the smiles were bright and the residents’ feet were tapping.”

Even the extremely attentive Briarcliffe staff members were up and dancing with some residents, whether they were seated for safety reasons or up and boogieing to Ames’ ageless sounds.

“Chris Hanley joined her mom for the party and was absolutely delighted to see her dancing and singing along with a member of the Briarcliffe team to Ames rendition of a popular swing dance tune,” Reed said. “It was such a heart-warming Black Friday Party.”

The gathering brought back many memories for Hector and Cathy Lipa, who were cozied up at a table opposite Ames’ music machine and his wife, Stephanie, who plays the keyboard during any and all of her husband’s appearances.

To say the Lipas were the happiest people in the spacious room would be an understatement. Ames helped the couple celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary three years ago at the once-famous Evelyn’s Villa in West Warwick.

“Although a lot has changed for the Lipa family in that time,” Ames said, “Stephanie and I have very fond memories playing for Hector and Cathy at their golden anniversary. Being able to bring my music here, to old friends and new, gives us great joy.”

Perhaps that’s the reason the Lipas, who were married on Sept. 17, 1966, have enjoyed jitter-bugging for many years – even during Hector’s days at Briarcliffe Gardens, which Cathy visits every day without fail.

As Ames began singing Frank Sinatra’s famous “Summer Wind,” Hector’s eyes lit up and a wide smile appeared on the face of the Navy veteran and former Johnson & Wales University Culinary Arts professor. When Ames sang Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Hector was moving in his chair with Cathy still holding his arm.

“The Lipas have been married 53 years, although you certainly would not guess their ages when you see them jitter-bugging together,” Reed said. “This is the best Black Friday Party ever, and we’ve all shared in their extraordinary love story.”

Ironically, it was a party much like Hector and Cathy once worked then they owned and operated a catering business and at times were assisted by their children – Melissa, Stephen and Lolita, a one-time New England Patriots cheerleader who is married to Brian Roberts and teaches physical education and cheerleading at Coventry High School.

So for the Lipas, Black Friday wasn’t about those midnight rushes to big box stores or recovering from over-eating that Thanksgiving dinner.

Instead, it was living proof that music – as Reed reiterated while announcing that Vini Ames will be back at Briarcliffe for the Rock the Ugly Sweater Christmas Show later this month – “really did bring back the memories today.”

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