CountryHouse makes a ‘half-court shot of a dream’ come true
CountryHouse Residence of Dickinson took 81 year old Marilyn Wert to on a trip to Bozeman, Montana to see her granddaughter play basketball. We spoke with CountryHouse staff to find out more about the emotional adventure.
DICKINSON — There is no surprise more magical than that of being loved. For one grandmother and granddaughter duo, that loving surprise would take place center court of a basketball arena more than 450 miles from home.
Two CountryHouse senior living facility staff members and 81-year-old resident Marilyn Wert traveled to Bozeman, Montana, this week so that Wert could surprise her collegiate athlete granddaughter.
To say grandma is Gabrielle Jung's biggest fan would be an understatement.
Amanda Wilson, life enrichment coach at CountryHouse, said the idea was conceived after a trip to Pizza Ranch in Dickinson where Wert was shooting hoops in the game room. Then Wilson found out Wert’s granddaughter, Jung, played guard for the Eastern Washington University Eagles basketball team — an NCAA Division 1 school in the Big Sky Conference.
“Her daughter Lori posted a picture of them side by side on Facebook. I said, ‘Now we all know where Gabby gets it from.’ At that point I was like, I have to get Grandma to a game,” Wilson said.
Disappointed in discovering that Cheney, Washington, was more than 13 hours away from Dickinson, Wilson sought another solution. Wert hadn’t seen her granddaughter play since early 2019, and Wilson was determined to make a half-court shot of a dream come true.
CountryHouse Executive Director Tessa Johnson suggested Wilson check out the team’s road game schedule.
“Sure enough there was a game in Bozeman. So we got on the school’s website, ordered some Eagles apparel and headed West at four o’clock in the morning yesterday,” Wilson said in a phone interview with The Press on Friday.
Wilson made a game plan with Gabby’s coaches. Before the Eagles came out to do their pregame warmups, her grandmother was already out on the court shooting baskets.
“She was very surprised. She cried, and there was not a dry eye in the whole gym. At first she didn’t even recognize her and she said, ‘Grandma I’m Gabby.’ Then in that split second she knew who it was,” Wilson said. “It was so special. At the game last night no one around us could tell she had dementia. She was clapping, cheering and singing the words to the songs… It was amazing.”
Jung also said it was an emotional rush.
"It was just kind of like a surprise and a lot emotions right away. Definitely brought me to tears to see her... No one knew besides my four coaches, they all kept it a secret," Jung said. "I mean, growing up she's always been there and we would always go out and see here because she lived on a farm. So it was just awesome to see her again, to have her come out and surprise me because I probably won't be home again until summer."
Wilson added that it was a truly rewarding experience, and that CountryHouse does everything possible to enhance the lives of their residents.
“This was by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my job… At CountryHouse we try to grant wishes and do special things for our families. We just go above and beyond,” she said. “Her family never expected her to be able to attend another game, let alone six hours away from home. One of our goals is just to make sure they live a normal life.”
Wilson explained that the endeavor took a great deal of effort, but witnessing the joy it brought to Gabby and her grandmother was priceless.
“It was a lot of work but we got through it. We’re headed home now. We created memories that the family will never forget, so it was all worth it,” she said.
Wert was worn out from all the excitement of the 460 mile trip.
“She was very exhausted this morning. She slept in until nine and I pretty much had to force her out of bed,” Wilson said. “We got a cute little Air BnB in the mountains. It was breathtaking.”
Wert’s daughter, Lori Jung, said she was also surprised to find out about the trip and said she’s overwhelmed with gratitude for everything CountryHouse has done to ameliorate her mother’s golden years.
“CountryHouse is so amazing,” Jung said.
In the game , the East Washington Eagles defeated the Montana State Bobcats, for a final score 76 - 69. Gabbrielle Jung played varsity basketball all four years during her time at Dickinson High School, and averaged more than 19 points per game in her senior year. Jung is majoring in biology with career plans to become a veterinarian.
Wert has a total of four children and 13 grandchildren. Athleticism runs in the family, as her grandson Eli Jung , also a DHS alumnus, was a left fielder for the University of Minnesota Eagles at Crookston and the Badlands Big Sticks.