ANACONDA — The smell of chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes filled the cafeteria at the Metcalf Memorial Senior Citizen Center in Anaconda.
Before Don Vucasovich sat down for lunch, he sat down at the piano facing the back wall. Big-band standards played to the crowd, by memory, from the man who otherwise cannot see the sheet music in front of him.
Blind since birth, Vucasovich, 68, began playing piano at age 3. He now regularly volunteers his stylings at the Metcalf Center, as well as Friday night dinners at the Elks Lodge.
Better known as “Donny Vu,” Vucasovich is recognized as a veteran disc jockey who spent nearly 30 years at local stations — most recently KANA-AM and KGLM-FM, before they converted to automated playlists.
Vucasovich grew up embracing radio, absorbing what he heard and mimicking his favorite melodies on the piano. He estimates that he can play about 200 songs.
“A lot came from listening to the radio,” he said. “That was my source to a lot of music.”
Mimicking more than just the music, Vucasovich used to drive his mother crazy playing DJ on his phonograph.
Radio was a central part of Vucasovich’s childhood, when he spent much of his time at home. He did not go to school until he was 15, when his parents finally allowed him to attend the state school for the blind and deaf in Great Falls.
“They couldn’t see me leaving them on my own at that time,” he said. “I was always home, so radio was my life.”
Vucasovich earned his high school degree at 21 and soon after got his first professional DJ job.
He stayed in the business until 1991.
The more Vucasovich kept up with music on the airwaves, the more he learned to play on piano. He does not remember why he continued with the piano, or why he even started in the first place. To him, it is not important.
“I walk, I eat, I breathe and I play piano,” he said. “It is my life. Even if I’m in a bad mood, music will always pick me up.”
The upbeat, toe-tapping tunes have a way of picking up the other seniors at the Metcalf Center, director Jo Lynn David said.
Vucasovich approached David about six years ago and asked if she would mind his playing before lunch.
“Donny Vu” has since become a feature attraction, David said.
“The people really took to it,” she said. “They miss him if he’s not here.”
JoAnn Lindquist, 65, eats with Vucasovich after his performances. They share the same taste in music, she said, and he can play all the Elvis Presley songs that she requests.
“We all know ‘Donny Vu,’ and we all appreciate when he is playing,” she said. “He is character we all love.”
Vucasovich plans to keep on playing whatever he can keep on pulling from memory.
“I’ll be there, as long as my fingers hold up and there is an audience,” he said.