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Oakdale Seniors Concept Hand Hugs Goes Viral
hand hug
Sharing joy, one hand at a time, Joanne Parker, left, greets her gym mate Patty Cuthbert with a hand hug. Inspired by her husbands Parkinsons to continue a heartfelt connection, Parker has hopes of making the hand hug viral throughout the community of Oakdale. - photo by Teresa Hammond/The Leader

Joanne Parker is on a mission.

The 87-year-old Oakdale resident is taking it upon herself to bring something new to the community with one simple goal – to spread joy. Her mode of distribution is both simplistic and cost effective ... the ‘hand hug.’

Her motivation, however, is where the true story lies. Joanne uses the hand hug as a way of connecting with her husband of 67 years, Bill Parker. Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s several years back. According to Joanne, as his condition has worsened, simple things (such as hugging) has become more difficult.

“Since he uses a walker and couldn’t straighten up to do a regular hug, we’ve been doing this hand hug thing,” Joanne said, demonstrating grasping the hand of another and then giving a squeeze by taking the free hand on top of the two.

“You’ve got to have that squeeze,” she said. “And it makes him so smiley and then I smile and we do it all day.”

Before Bill became ill, the couple made a trip to Fitness Plus a part of their daily routine. As the Parkinson’s has progressed, Bill’s needs have become more, his independence gone. Joanne continues to visit the gym twice a week. It was there that the idea of taking the hand hug viral first took root. The 87-year-old gym buff noted she thought why not share the joy with others. She said she’d love to see Oakdale become the “Smiling Capital of the World,” as well as the “Cowboy Capital.”

“I introduce it to people at the grocery story, around town, the gym,” she said. “If I’m speaking with someone I just say, ‘I’m starting something new in Oakdale. Would you like to see it?’

“They always say sure or yes,” she continued. “So I say, this is it, this is the hand hug. They laugh and they smile … they love it.”

As Joanne shares her story of interacting in a positive light with strangers, she becomes emotional.

Wiping back tears she said, “It gives them a little joy. Even if just for a moment.”

Each Tuesday and Thursday, the senior arrives to her fitness class a bit early so that she may stand at the door and greet each classmate with a hand hug. It’s a gesture she shared all her classmates seem to enjoy, just as much as she does.

“I’d like everybody that I show it to, to show it to someone else,” Joanne shared. “Then all of Oakdale will be smiling.”