Fun at the Inn brings people together; supports medical research

JoAnn Ekwall, seated and creator of Fun at the Inn, checks in guests, including granddaughter Mackenzie Bennett and Dianne Thomae of the Red Hat Cuties of Burnsville, at the Lake Elmo Event Center. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

The Fun at the Inn, meeting every third Wednesday of the month, includes buffet and entertainment. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Klondike Kate 2000 Judy Nelson, 2014 Kathy Rustin-Westphal, and 2013 Anita Mack entertained. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Sick of being cooped up in her home during a winter season that seemed it would never end, JoAnn Ekwall vowed to create an event that would bring people together regardless of the weather.

Ekwall, a long-time resident of West Lakeland Township, said older adults and retirees like herself are sometimes bored, and she feels the entertainment options in the area are limited for seniors, who often have extra free time and not enough on their calendars.

After the spring thaw finally arrived, Ekwall approached the husband and wife owners of the Lake Elmo Inn -- Chris and John Schiltz -- about holding a monthly event for seniors, or anyone else who is free on a Wednesday afternoon and seeking a little fun.

"I love doing this sort of thing," Ekwall admitted. "I decided to get the best entertainment and venue I could find for a fun daytime event."

After months of planning, Ekwall, 73, hosted the first of what she hopes will be many "Fun at the Inn" parties at the Lake Elmo Inn Event Center .

The Sept. 17 event included a performance by members of Klondike Kates of St. Paul Winter Carnival lore, who came dressed and ready to entertain in their vaudeville-era garb of feathery boas, western saloon style dresses and oversized jewelry.

Fun at the Inn parties will occur the third Wednesday of every month at the renowned event center in the city's Old Village downtown district. The events will include lunch, socializing and live entertainment from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Fun for a great cause

Ekwall's goal for Fun at the Inn parties is twofold. She wants to get people out of their homes to socialize and meet new people, but also plans to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. 

One of Ekwall's daughters, Angela Ekwall, died from the genetic disease in 2003 at the age of 20, and her 22-year-old grandson Richard Eddleston also has cystic fibrosis, and is scheduled to have surgery soon.

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, an estimated 30,000 adults have the disease in the United States. People with cystic fibrosis have a defective gene, which causes the body to produce thick mucus that can clog the lungs and obstruct the pancreas often leading to life-threatening infections.

Ekwall said the head of the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be at the October Fun at the Inn event, and she hopes to pack the place.

Fun at the Inn

Last month about 50 people enjoyed a savory buffet lunch prior to the afternoon entertainment. Some sipped glasses of wine while catching up on the latest news or gossip.

"We're always looking for new things to do," said Craig Tennison, while he and his wife, Kay, chatted with people seated around them.

Tennison, who recently retired, said he worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for many years and now devotes much of his time to playing the piano and organ -- a passion he's had for much of his life.

"JoAnn said, 'Hey guys I'm going into this new venture' and we are glad to support her. I may play here at some point, if she'll have me, we'll see," he added with a laugh."

One of the Klondike Kates, Judy Nelson, said they had a blast performing for the group.

"We're excited to be here for (Ekwall's) first event. We're setting a precedent here," she said. "This, of course, is a dangerous job, but someone's gotta to do it," she joked.

The lively performers took to the floor and wowed the crowd with several cabaret-type numbers, which drew applause.

Ekwall said at one point in the show, a balding man was attacked with kisses from the Kates, which left him with lip-shaped lipstick marks all over his cheeks and head.

"I think they were a hit," Ekwall said with a grin.

She already has October and November's Fun at the Inn events planned. Oct. 15 will feature a buffet lunch and live music by the local bluegrass group Blue Hazard Band. And Nov. 19 will bring the sounds of Smooth Bryan Bassett, who plays popular dance songs from the '50s, '60s and '70s.

Ekwall said she is hoping for a bigger crowd next month. The event center can seat up to 300 guests.

"You better believe I'd like to see that partition come down and have as many here to have a good time as possible," she said enthusiastically. "I hope people have fun with this.

She added that once people retire, their days are less busy and they often miss the camaraderie they had with their work friends. They find they need to develop new friendships, and she hopes the once-a-month get-togethers at the Lake Elmo Inn will help them do just that.

"Everyone needs a day out to take a breath (away from everyday routines). And part of the fun is meeting new people."

Ekwald said the staff of the Lake Elmo Inn was very accommodating and helped make her first event a success.

"They have been really sweet and great to work with."

Chris Schiltz said it was a pleasure having the group meet at the event center and the restaurant looks forward to future dates.

"I think it's just a wonderful thing she is doing. For her first event I think she has done really well," Schiltz said. "Whatever we can do to help her make this successful, we will do."

Ekwall is working with the Schiltzes for ideas on a special Christmas show. In the meantime, Ekwall said she hopes people will come down to the Lake Elmo Inn Event Center to check out a future Fun at the Inn event. She added that she's currently on the hunt for a good Elvis impersonator.

To make a reservation for Fun at the Inn, call JoAnn Ekwall at 651-436-5900 or 651-271-7807. The event is held the third Wednesday of every month at the Lake Elmo Inn Event Center, 3712 Layton Ave N., Lake Elmo.

The cost is $37 per person and includes lunch and live entertainment.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7822.


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