CarDon & Associates, an Indiana-based senior living organization with 20 communities across the Midwest, is an eclectic family full of employees from all walks of life. They draw from their diverse experiences to connect with a wide range of residents. Kurt Messick carries a bevy of stories in his backpocket that make him quite a crowd-pleaser at CarDon’s Bloomington community, Bell Trace.
Outside of serving as the chaplain for the community, Messick is an associate professor of astronomy and Earth science at Ivy Tech Bloomington, and he’s enjoying a new role as a celebrity interviewer. He recently treated residents to a video message from MASH star Jamie Farr in which the actor shared an anecdote about pranking co-star Alan Alda by nailing his character’s combat boots to the floor of the set.
How did Kurt get the Hollywood hookup? It all started with comedy icon John Cleese. Being a comedy fan and former stand-up comedian, Kurt jumped at the chance to see Cleese’s online show and enjoy a virtual meet-and-great afterwards. During the show, Kurt’s ears perked up at Cleese’s mention of science philosopher Karl Popper, and they went on to talk about their mutual love of science.
During the conversation, Kurt felt compelled to share Cleese’s thoughts with his astronomy students, so he edited the recording of the talk and surprised them with the video in class.
“They went wild for it,” he said. “They were like, ‘Oh my, you’re talking to John Cleese!’ When I got class evaluations back, more than half of my students referenced that video as a highlight of the class. So I thought, ‘Well, we have to get some more of these!'”
After sending out requests via GalaxyCon and utilizing personalized message services like Cameo, Kurt now has 55 videos featuring appearances from and interviews with a variety of celebrities. Among the biggest, brightest stars are William Shatner (Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek series), Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy) and LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow), who joked that he’s “practically family” since he married a Hoosier. Additionally, Kurt had Tom Welling (Clark Kent/Superman from Smallville) deliver a message about appreciating free time and keeping calm amid COVID. Comedian Kristin Key wrote and performed an amusing song about the importance of learning science. Kurt even has a video from Snoop Dogg reminding students to read the class syllabus.
Kurt says these stars light up when they find out their appearance is for educational purposes.
“When I told William Shatner that I wanted to share his video with my students, you could see his face change and it became even more important to him,” Kurt said. “As soon as I tell any of the celebrities about my classes, they become very enthusiastic.”
Kurt posts these videos on his YouTube channel, so now residents and fellow Bell Trace staff members can enjoy them as well. He’s currently working on getting more celebrity appearances, not just for his classes but for the Bell Trace community, too. He has been the chaplain there almost since the foundation of the community 22 years ago, so the residents and employees are truly like family members to him. And they’re thrilled to see the path he’s on these days.
“The way Kurt has made his online classes more fun during COVID through celebrity appearances is a testament to the creativity and compassion of our CarDon staff members,” said CarDon Chief Operating Officer Gregg Gormal. “He serves as an inspiration for us as we come up with new ways to keep residents engaged and active during this time of social distancing.”
This month, Kurt will be starting in-person chapel activities for the first time since March. Who knows which famous faces might show up alongside him?