Serving Up A Fresh Batch of Smiles – Happy Days Garage

On The Road

“Taylor and I have had so much fun bringing these positive stories to KELOLAND. Many times they make you smile. Well today we’re in Wilmot, SD to introduce you to a woman who makes people smile every day in ways you can’t imagine,” said KELOLAND On the Road host Mike Huether.

“Every morning I wake up thinking, ‘Ah, what am I going to do today?’  And I don’t know, I just try to be a happy person,” said Paula Thaden, President of the Wilmot Care Center Auxiliary. This perpetually happy person is Wilmot, South Dakota’s smile generator. Her story was referred to me by her good friend, Rolene Schliesman.  “I think it’s her deep caring for people. She genuinely likes to see other people happy. And she does that with baked treats. She does that with a kind ear. She does that by visiting nursing home residents, have coffee at the café. She’s lovely,” said Rolene Schliesman.

Paula has been volunteering in Wilmot since the 60s, including 30 years as the President of the auxiliary of the Wilmot Care Center.  Life-long Wilmot resident and friend Faith Sandbakken, has seen Paula’s impact firsthand. “She has done so much for that care center, you know, between directing the kitchen band and pie for the auxiliary, and they serve pies she’s made. I don’t know how many pies!” exclaimed Sandbakken. “I don’t know, she’s just very good to those residents,” said Sandbakken.

So, what is this talk about a kitchen band? “The kitchen band is lovely. It’s… it’s a group of women who get together and they choose wonderful songs. And usually Paula is the person who chooses it. And they entertain the residents with great songs so that they could sing along with or… and it’s, it’s fun,” said Rolene Schliesman.  And of course, Paula has everyone in the kitchen band dress up for the occasion, just as she dressed up in a poodle skirt and saddle shoes for Taylor and I. It was like being taken back in time.  “I like to entertain. And, we built this Happy Days Garage for my 70th birthday. Harold said, ‘Oh let’s do that.’ I envisioned a black and white floor with our beautiful ’59 Chevrolet. And it just sort of grew. We never had a plan for anything, but you can see the finished product,” said Paula Thaden.

Yep, you are seeing what Wilmot calls the “Happy Days Garage.” Richie, Joanie, Potsie and the Fonz would feel right at home here; as does everyone in town. “If I put my little sign out that says ‘Come on in’, people do come in. And then they sign my guestbook and I offer them an ice cream treat or a cookie. Coffee time is anytime at my house,” said Paula Thaden.

However, this welcoming setting is not just for Paula’s adult friends, more importantly, it’s also for the young people in Wilmot, too. “There’s not a place in towns and cities really across America that’s kind of that safe place to go. Get a cookie, get some juice, from a kind or caring neighbor. But that happens almost every day here, said Huether. “Yes, it does. Yes, it does. And she invites the children over.” said Rolene Schliesman. “In the same way that she listens to all of the adults, she’s listening very intently on all the… to all the children and she just has a great time with them. She laughs with them and, and she tells little jokes, and she engages them,” said Rolene Schliesman.

Paula has had some big challenges in her life too. She finds inspiration from all of them. Her youngest son Eric was born with a debilitating disease. After Eric’s 30 years of love, care and impact amongst countless others, Paula’s beautiful boy passed away. “If he met you once, he would remember your name. And, he passed away suddenly in November 8th of 2008. So, he’s been gone 10 years now. But he was just that sort of spirit that, you know, the smile all the time, never unhappy. You know, he inspired me to be a better person,” said Paula Thaden. “I think it made her stronger and she knew he’s in a good place now, and, and she just goes on you know. And this place has helped her I think an awful lot you know,” said Faith Sandbakken.

Paula not only embraced the challenges of a disease that took away her son, but now she is facing a disease of her very own. “It’s called “retinitis pigmentosa” and it’s a degenerative eye disease. And I’ve lost my peripheral vision. And I’m not able to drive anymore or to read. And I can still see some, so I want to keep doing as much as I can for as long as I can,” said Paula Thaden.

Nothing will stop her from going.  Or smiling.  Or baking.  “Paula is magic. That’s, that’s all I can figure out because, here is, is a cream puff that she’s made and, and I can’t as a sighted person make that (laughter),” said Rolene Schiesman. “She’s not going to give up, no matter what. No… and I would, I mean, it would be hard to go on I think, but Harold’s a very big help, too,” adds Faith Sandbakken.

Paula’s loving husband Harold and his beautiful bride of 20 years make one heck of team. Their connection was powerful. “He’s really a truly, truly good man. When I have an idea, my eyesight is leaving me now, but when I have an idea, he makes it come true for me,” said Paula Thaden. And the two of them take their 1959 red and white Bel Aire, Paula’s poodle skirt, along with Harold’s freshly-pressed white sport coat all across KELOLAND, too. You, too, can share a smile with Paula. “So, the Happy Days Garage is really on the road,” said Mike Huether. “It’s on the road, just like you,” agreed Thaden. “Just like…” said Huether.

Paula Thaden’s son Eric was the winner of the Captain 11 Look-a-like contest at Dave Dedrick’s 30th Anniversary Show.  Here’s another interesting fact for you: Before the Happy Day’s Garage was built, the towns people of Wilmot were alerted to a fresh batch of baked goods that was ready for tasting whenever Paula would put up a smiley face in her kitchen window. She’s also known for her root beer floats. It sort of makes me wish I was back in Wilmot right now.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Continuing The Conversation

Trending Stories

Don't Miss!

More Don't Miss


More Contests