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Billings musician gives memory care patients chance to relive life through music



Billings, Montana – In addition to his many accomplishments in life, Tom Blankenship, a former FBI investigator, Stillwater County sheriff, and Navy veteran, is now receiving recognition for his musical contributions to memory care facilities in the Billings area.

“They’re never gonna remember your name, but they’re always gonna remember how you make them feel,” said Bridget Whitman, the life enrichment coordinator and friend of Blankenships at MorningStar of Billings, a senior-living facility Blankenship frequents as talent.

Since he was seven years old, Blankenship has been involved in music and piano playing. The significance of it was so great that the performer said it prevented him from dying in combat during the Vietnam War since it was needed for intelligence gathering.

“Well, what I was doing was intercepting Morse Code; well, that was my ear for music. I thought everybody could do that,” said Blankenship as he reflected on his time in the Navy.

He claimed that his original decision to enlist in the Navy was a youthful act of defiance against his parents. The GI Bill and his time as a musician around Billings paid for his scholastic experience, which Blankenship claimed ultimately matured him to the point where he believed he could excel in college.

These days, Blankenship collaborates with drummer John Cooke to compile a collection of songs spanning the decades from the 1930s to the 1970s that he has named “Memories Through Music”.

“They are very grateful to have time away from the facility in their minds … they’re back in a happier time and happier place,” said Cooke as he reflected on the duo’s memory care work.

Whitman characterizes Blankenship as a passionate performer. Blankenship described the experience as amazing, believing he gets ten times as much positive energy back as he contributes.

“She looks at me, eyeball to eyeball, and says, ‘Tom, you don’t understand. When you play that music, you make me feel like I’m 17 years old again,’ … I had tears in my eyes,” said Blankenship as he reflected on an encounter he had with a memory care patient.

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