Fun fact: Trivia competition is popular at Glenview retirement community
National Trivia Day, a symbolic celebration, was marked earlier this month by those who enjoy the challenge of recalling random factoids, trifles, and obscurities on demand.
And as has become their custom, residents at Vi at the Glen are not letting someone else tell them when it's trivia party time.
Four afternoons a year for the past seven years, eager residents at the Glenview retirement community team up to test their memories in a trivia contest that is collegial, fun, and brain-bending all at the same time.
"It's great brain exercise," said Rosaleah Goland, an ebullient 96¾-year-old, one of 48 seniors among 13 teams who took on 55 questions in the specially designed holiday-themed contest last month. "It's really good for old people to think a little bit. It brings up some of our old memories; things we knew from years ago."
They didn't all remember which company first used Santa Claus in advertising (Coca-Cola). Or that the King of Mice was the Nutcracker's main enemy Tchaikovsky's iconic ballet. Or that "Jingle Bells" was actually written for Thanksgiving. But most of the teams did nail what kind of Christmas Elvis was going to have (blue) and that "Gift of the Magi" was written by William S. Porter, best-known by his nom de plume, O. Henry.
While the contest fires up participants' memories, it also engages their spirits.
"I love competition, and I love to win," Lynd Corley said with a smile. Corley has played in every contest, and finished near the top in this one.
The quarterly contests are designed and run by Henry Schwenk who, at 98, can tell you in a flash that John Agar was Shirley Temple's first husband, Asta was the name of the wire-haired fox terrier in the six "Thin Man" movies in the 1930s and '40s, and "Four Corners" is the spot where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet.
"Everybody loves these contests," said Schwenk, who had the help of six other residents to create this Christian- and Jewish-themed holiday event. "I walk down the hall, and they say, 'Henry, when's the next trivia.'"
The secret to their popularity, he revealed, is their accessibility. "I gear my questions to the residents," said Schwenk, adding that he has created nearly 2,000 trivia contest questions. "I try to design a trivia event that is fun. I don't want to stump anybody. The perfect question is one where 50% of the people know the answer and 50% think they know the answer."
A particular point of pride for Schwenk is that he has never used a trivia question out of a book. "I read papers, get ideas during chats with friends. I see or hear something and I write in down in my notebook before I forget it."
"This is how I keep my mind sharp," said Schwenk, a retired engineer who helped develop the nation's first nuclear power plant, developed a rocket engine test cell, and wrote the groundbreaking book "Nuclear Power Engineering" in 1955 that is still in print.
Winners of Schwenk's trivia competition get a bottle of wine. Runners-up get small prizes. And naturally, there's a trophy, which appears in the Vi's mail room for a week, along with the names of the winners. Winners can also take it home to display for a brief period if they wish. "You'd think the trophy was the Holy Grail," Schwenk said, laughing.
To contestant Louise Reighard, however, everybody feels like a winner.
"It's more fun (after the contest) to see what the answers are because a lot of us couldn't remember a particular question," she said. "You feel more rewarded than when you came in.