Puzzles have helped Larry Smith through the pandemic.
The 72-year-old Good Samaritan Society-Forest City resident used his love of building 3D puzzles to persevere through many COVID-19 challenges in the past year.
An Algona resident of nearly 40 years, Smith became a resident of the Good Samaritan-Forest City care center in February 2020, shortly before the pandemic began.
Before COVID-19, he enjoyed frequent visits from family members, including his step-daughter Stacy Dyslin of Forest City and dog and best friend Charlie, who she had taken into her home.
Stacy and Charlie visited Larry frequently, but when COVID-19 hit everything stopped. The nursing home patients were quarantined for nearly a year and could only communicate with family and friends by telephone, video chat, or letters.
Additionally, Smith endured but overcame a tough bout of COVID-19 himself in August 2020. He said he struggled with the sickness for at least a month.
“I was so sick,” Smith said. “My whole body ached, I had no appetite, and I lost 20 pounds.”
Three-dimensional puzzle projects that he began during isolation helped him overcome COVID-19 and keep his mind active while staying positive.
He said his initial 3D puzzle, Notre Dame Cathedral, was the most difficult because it contained more intricate pieces had to be designed to open and close.
Other 3D puzzles included the Roman Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, a globe of the world, and many others. He said he completed a dozen puzzles in less than a year by spending about an hour per sitting for three or four hours on most days.
Smithy’s interest in puzzles first began about 25 years earlier when he constructed a miniature model of the White House that was comprised of foam puzzle pieces.
“I needed something to occupy my time here in quarantine,” Smith said. “I spent a lot of time with this. With quarantine, nobody could come in or out of here.”
He credited Forest City GSS activities director Tiffany Thomazin with helping him get started and continue his growing hobby. Forest City GSS assistant activities director Tina Perry also assisted him with the puzzles.
“I was his helper, but he’s done most of the work himself,” Thomazin said.
Forest City GSS administrator Holly Brink noted that Smith has a real talent for the puzzles.
“The time and effort he put into these puzzles has been great, but the end result has been something that everyone at the nursing home has enjoyed,” Brink said. “I don’t know how he gets them put together so well. I’ve been administrator here for about 90 days and the day I started, he introduced me to his puzzles.”
Smith said he has purchased some of the 3D puzzles himself, but his brother, David Smith of California, gave several of them to him as gifts. Smith’s only other sibling, Dennis Smith, also lives in a warm-weather state (Hawaii).
The rest of his large family stems from his companion of about 40 years and wife, Kay Smith, who passed away in January 2020 just prior to the family deciding that residency at the Forest City care center would be beneficial for Smith.
“I have 20 grandchildren and most of them stay in touch,” Smith said. “We have always done a lot of everything together as a family. I would do anything for them.”
Smith has shared Facetime with them on his phone daily through the pandemic. Since February, with precautions, Forest City GSS is again allowing family and friends to visit. Stacy and dog Charlie have been to visit Smith.
“That hurt me when I could not see Charlie,” Smith said.
He is a native of St. Josephs (Joes) between Algona and Humboldt and a graduate of Twin Rivers High School. He served in the United States Air Force prior to working as a farm laborer and then a sanitation worker in Algona. He provided his time and talents to being a crossing guard for the school children in both the Algona and Bishop Garrigan Schools for several years.
His hobbies include reading (lots of mystery novels), making plastic canvass (yarn and needle) creations such as coasters, and spending time with family. On February 22, 2020, his daughter Stacy had a baby girl.
Smith enjoyed seeing his beloved granddaughter grow quickly during the pandemic via his phone. He also looks forward to seeing and hearing from his four other surviving stepchildren, which include Penny of Forest City, Todd of Mason City, Holly of Cedar Rapids, and Brian of Indianapolis.
Family and friends who are again able to safely visit care center residents are reveling in Smith’s artwork.
“He has them displayed throughout the care center,” Brink. “Since families have come back in, they’ve really admired his work. It is bringing joy to a lot of people.”
Smith is ready to move on to another project. With family and friends coming to visit again, he may not have quite as much free time for a new hobby.
“I’ve got a lot of 3D puzzles,” he said. “Now, it’s time to do something else. I think I’m going to start Legos now.”
Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.