Senior citizens who survived without air conditioning say youngsters can, too

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Darryl Enriquez
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
— Indoor and automotive air conditioning was once the stuff of science fiction for Marilyn Kingston and Jim Rasmussen.

“We’d have to take it, and that was it,” Rasmussen said of life before AC.

Kingston, 67, and Rasmussen, 76, said electric fans, open windows and sleeping on porches were the only alternatives during heat waves. Both now live at Walworth County’s Lakeland Health Care Center.

“When I was a young kid, we lived in Chicago,” Kingston said. “We had a floor fan, and we’d sleep on the floor in the living room around the fan. Or we’d line our blankets up on the porch and sleep there.”

Kingston grew up on Chicago’s south side, and she couldn’t image children sleeping on open-air porches in today’s rough-and-tumble world there.

The way a young Rasmussen stayed cool on hot Walworth County days was to put cold water on a fan and blow it onto his face.

“We slept in the house at night with windows open and fans going,” Rasmussen said. “Our cars didn’t have air conditioning.

“We’d go to school, and each room would have one 16-inch fan. To a lot of the old timers here, this isn’t that bad. Young people make it more of a factor. We don’t make an issue of this weather.”

Although the mercury climbed into the 90s on Monday, Dan Wedige, owner of Wedige Automotive in Elkhorn, said he had not yet to see a spike in business.

His shop usually fixes four to seven units daily. Repairs to weak and broken automotive air conditioners usually run between $300 and $500, Wedige said.

Some vehicle owners can get away with a simple $60 recharge, but others face a wallet-busting $1,700 to repair leaky units and replace major parts, Wedige said.

Rasmussen’s attitude of taking what the weather brings is tempered by the Lakeland Health Care Center nursing staff, nursing director Wendy Kujawa said.

They are taking the heat wave that is forecast for the rest of the week seriously, she said.

Nurses check residents who are outside every 15 minutes, and residents are limited to a maximum of 30 minutes outdoors, Kujawa said. They are told to sit in shaded areas with breezes.

Residents and staff are encouraged to drink fluids and wear lightweight and light-colored clothing, Kujawa said.

Lakeland’s procedures can be applied to elderly who live in their homes, she said.

“Check on older neighbors,” Kujawa said.

Last updated: 5:52 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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