Viva Las Vegas: Evergreen residents have lifelong wishes granted

Assisted living facility duo from Dickinson fulfilled New Year's wishes with a wild weekend in Las Vegas, complete with a shotgun wedding, scooter accidents and more — proving age is just a number.

Karen Harper, 70, and Jim Semrad, 64, were given the surprise of their life as their New Year's wishes were granted by Evergreen assisted living facility.
Photo courtesy of Evergreen.

DICKINSON — Step aside, Wolfpack, there were two new party animals in town! Two senior residents from Evergreen Assisted Living Facility in Dickinson have just returned from a wild weekend in Las Vegas that rivals the antics of the hit movie "The Hangover." During their trip, the two residents experienced a fake shotgun wedding, harmless scooter accidents, an arrest prank and even tried their luck on the slot machines — all while taking more than 40,000 steps along the way.

Thanks to the generosity of Evergreen staff, the duo had a weekend filled with unforgettable moments and endless laughs, forming an even stronger bond along the way — showing that age, when it comes to the Sin City and having a good time, is just a number.

In January, the company had their residents fill out their New Year's wishes or goals and both Karen Harper and Jim Semrad dreamt big, not knowing the words they wrote would soon become a reality.

Harper's wish was to go to Las Vegas and finally let loose, while Semrad, a lifelong Minnesota Wild fan, wished to see his favorite team play live.

“I'm 70 years old. I’ve never been and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and I wanted to see if it lived up to its name and it did,” Harper laughed.


“I’m a Minnesota Wild fan. I’ve been a hockey fan since forever and I thought maybe they would take me to a game in Minnesota because that's only eight hours away. But flying to Vegas and watching a game is over and above,” Semrad said.

Abi Rohrer, Keala McCluskey, Jim Semrad, Karen Harper and Tessa Johnson enjoy a Minnesota Wild game courtesy of the Badlands Big Sticks.
Photo courtesy of Evergreen.

The two thought they were in trouble as they were called to the chapel room by executive director Tessa Johnson who was accompanied by her corporate boss, senior living consultant Abi Rohrer and life enrichment leader Keala McCluskey.

As Johnson puts it, there is no wish that they don’t try to accommodate for their residents.

“'s such a cup filler for us, coming back and being like ‘oh my gosh’ that time that we had there together, we'll never forget…” Johnson said.

The group put together and laminated two fake Evergreen airline tickets that they slipped into envelopes and surprised the pair of residents with.

“We didn’t believe it. We were in awe because we thought we had done something wrong and we were going to the principal's office,” Harper said.

After the shock settled, the group of five packed their bags and made their way to Bismark to embark on their Vegas journey, which for Harper was the first time being on a plane in 40 years.

The duo tackled the Vegas strip, Harper in her electric scooter and Pina Colada in hand and Semrad toting an ear to ear smile.


Two full days and 14 miles of steps in, the group packed in as many things as possible from extravagant buffets with towering milkshakes to classic Vegas shows and even a spot in the high dollar room.

“There wasn't one moment on this trip that wasn't that wholehearted perfection,” Rohrer said.

Harper mentions that many people think that because you’re old that you don't want to do anything she said, though she has a different philosophy.

“Live as long as you can, enjoy it while you can,” Harper said.

Living her own advice, Harper felt she was finally able to let loose during this trip, something she has never had the chance to do.

“It felt wonderful just to be ourselves,” Semrad agreed.

While they were themselves, they were also their Las Vegas alter egos named by the group as Cinnamon (Karen) and Powell (Jim), nicknames that have stuck with them through the 1,200 miles back home.

Semrad and Harper enjoy a cruise along the Las Vegas strip.
Photo courtesy of Evergreen.

While at times the trip was a lot to take in, Harper enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of people and nationalities along with the street performers, one of which did a flip over Semrad at one point.


“It was a blast,” Semrad said.

Passersby often stopped the pair asking for pictures together whether they were lounging in the pool or walking the strip.

Rohrer noted that age was not a factor in this trip at all, mentioning the stigma around senior living and how this story is a testament that senior living is the beginning of a new chapter for many of their residents.

“This is a brand new chapter where they get to live and do things and we just get to help make that happen. And the right people in the right positions that have that passion and drive for it make those dreams come true,” Rohrer said.

“Well I will say this, when I came here they changed my life for the better,” Harper said.

Semrad echoed the same message noting that at 64, he didn’t know what to anticipate before moving to Evergreen, but has found it to be a great place to live.

“It's family,” Harper said, mentioning that Semrad is like a brother to her.

That kind of bond is what the trip boiled down to for everyone involved, and aside from the awe of the trip itself, was everybody's favorite part.


“It’s just love. That would be the word just because of how much we were able to grow together and enjoy all those moments of love,” McCluskey said.

Semrad and Harper describe the trip as a blast and a blessing, a level of appreciation that Johnson is grateful for.

“Truth be told, not everyone is as grateful as Karen and Jim are. I mean, it's a hard job and [them] being grateful is something that fills my cup because not everyone always is and these two are two of the most deserving grateful humans we have here,” Johnson said.

Harper (left) and Semrad (right) clink glasses as they enjoy the sunny Las Vegas weather.
Photo courtesy of Evergreen.

With the combination of community support and the hard work and connections of McCluskey, the trip far exceeded all expectations.

The group's rooms were taken care of by Wynn Las Vegas which also offered free show tickets, credits for the resort, and it wouldn't be the full five star experience without limo transportation too.

Between support from Aloha Tan and Onyx + Ivory Boutique, the duo was gifted outfits, sunscreen, pool bags and even a new custom-fitted suit for Semrad along with a new dress for Harper so they were able to enjoy Vegas dressed to the nines.

“It was sad to leave because it was just so full of joy and life and love that we weren’t ready to come back,” Rohrer said.

Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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