The group of eight women toss jokes back and forth across the table at Joe Jitters in Moose Lake. They laugh as they crack jokes about the name and origin of their singing group, Autumn Voices.

One said she was asked if they were going to change it to "Winter Voices" when autumn morphed to winter. She explained the name was about the singers' point in life, not the season in which they were singing.

"We are in the autumn of our lives," Rita Baresh said to the group.

Another laughed and noted all of the group members are way past the summer and spring chapters. Several agreed good naturedly that life is still good, but not what it was in their prime.

"It's a glorious over and now we survive," Baresh said.

The singers range in age from 70s to early 90s. Baresh is quick to note that it used to have younger members, but people are not joining like they used to.

Autumn Voices was created by Velma Knutson in 1977 when she retired at age 66 and moved to Moose Lake to be near her sister.

Knutson was born in 1910 in Ohio. Her family moved to Hibbing for her father's work. She joined the Navy WAVES in 1944. Music was always an important part of her world.

As a high school student, she saw the famous American composer and conductor John Philip Sousa direct a marching band.

In 1958, she married a professional piano player in New York City who died of cancer years later.

Knutson wanted to share her knowledge and love of music with others in the community when she moved to Moose Lake.

One of the current members and piano player, Elaine Zwickey, was one of the first people to join Autumn Voices. She has been playing piano since she was 5 years old.

"It was the best thing my mom ever did for me," Zwickey said.

"There's nothing she can't play," Baresh added.

Several members remembered the "kitchen band" Knutson also started at that time. They played using kitchen utensils, pots and pans. According to several of the women, the band was good.

"She (Knutson) was a very brass woman and if she liked you, she liked you. If she didn't, she would tell you," Zwickey said. "She had the most beautiful alto voice, and she liked me, so I was in."

Knutson continued to sing with the group until she went into a nursing home at 95 years old.

The women drifted away from the table one by one during the conversation and on to other volunteer duties and obligations of the day.

The 50 or so Autumn Voices members come from Esko to Sandstone and towns in between.

Many of them are snowbirds, so they aren't around for several months of the year. The singers perform at several retirement and nursing homes in Carlton County and the surrounding area, especially around the holidays.

"We put the music out there and they come alive," Baresh said.

They also sing at the Memorial Day ceremony in Moose Lake, as well as at the Historical Society as well as other local functions.

Over the years, several members have noticed the reaction from some nursing home residents who have had strokes. The strokes affect the left side of the brain, leaving some unable to speak. One woman said she has seen residents who have not spoken in years mouth or sing along to the songs as the group is performing.

Beverly Manty, a retired Moose Lake kindergarten teacher a member of Autumn Voices, suffered a stroke years ago. After her stroke, she was told to sit next to other people in the group who can sing.

Manty speaks clearly as she tells her story.

"I joined because I like to sing," she explained. "I was told to sit next to someone who can sing, so I chose Betty and I chose Rita because I can't sing."

"You can sing because it uses both sides of the brain, but you can't talk," Baresh said. "Isn't it amazing?"

A few of the local facilities pay Autumn Voices for their performances, but many do not. The singers do not charge a set fee, but gratefully accept donations to their music fund to help buy new music and cover other costs.

After longtime director Tim Hobaugh died recently, Ron Eastman and JoAnne Flynn stepped up to help.

"You don't have to be old, just retired, to join Autumn Voices," Baresh said. The women nodded in agreement.

The group is looking for new members. They would like to see more men join the group.

The group practices Mondays from 10-11 a.m. at Moose Lake Senior Dining. Yearly dues are $24.

For more information, call Rita Baresh at 218-380-0804.