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Seniors tell life stories of seniors

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Gage Cruce reads Adeline Johnson’s biography while Crystal Baker and Connor Pascoe wait their turn at North Woods Place Senior Living Tuesday afternoon.

ESCANABA — North Woods Place Senior Living residents were treated to a unique visit recently. Escanaba High School seniors read biographies they wrote about the residents after visiting with them on three separate occasions. The biographies were the culmination of the visits between 101 Escanaba senior students divided into groups — and 18 North Woods residents in October.

Students were able to get to know someone they had never met before and write about that person’s life. Senior student Rianna Anderson and her group met with resident Marvin Kaski.

“I got to interview Marvin and from what he told us … from way back, life was tough,” said Anderson. “It was really cool to learn his back story and what life is really all about. It was a really good experience.”

The program called Seniors to Seniors History Project, started four years ago after Escanaba High School English-Language Arts teacher Tammy Wiles read a book entitled, “The Life We Bury.” The novel written by Allen Eskens is about a student who receives an assignment to write a biography about someone who has lived an interesting life. In the story, the student interviews a nursing home resident. At the time, Wiles knew an employee at North Woods and she asked the employee if any residents would be interested in being interviewed to have a biography written about them. It was a big hit, according to Wiles.

“Students and residents have commented on what they have learned from the other generation and how they enjoyed the time during their visits,” said Wiles.

Senior student Ashley Casey interviewed Jeannine (Mary) Upton with her group and Casey thought Upton did a good job explaining how life was, and how weird it was to hear how much things have changed over the years. Casey was inspired by the stories Upton told her group.

“She gave us a lot of cool stories about where she’d go camping … makes you want to go outdoors and get out there and just enjoy life the way she has,” said Casey. “I feel the whole project itself is a really good learning experience for everyone. Even if you didn’t want to do it, you got forced into doing it. Basically everything I’ve heard is they (students) don’t regret doing it and it’s a very … it’s not really life changing, but makes you see things differently. Not many people go and think ‘let me go interview a stranger and learn about their life’, but it’s actually really a cool experience and I’m glad that it’s something the senior class gets to do.”

It was the first time Upton participated in the project and she enjoyed it and would do it again she said.

“I had five students in my group. I asked them a few questions as they came in. They presented themselves and gave their names and I knew why they were there. I would do it again next year,” said Upton.

She felt the students were interesting, talkative and very polite and nice.

In interviewing the residents, students learned to listen and have the opportunity to have face to face conversations with people outside of social media. According to Wiles, the students benefit by becoming more involved in the community and the project gives them an authentic opportunity to write, practicing their skills.

Senior Gabby Beauvias interviewed Mary Larson and took to heart the advice Larson gave her.

“She gave us a lot of advice that I wouldn’t have even thought of from back when she was younger,” said Beauvias. “She said to be more thoughtful.”

North Woods resident Jeannie Rose enjoyed her first time participating in the Seniors to Seniors History Project.

“I found it very interesting. I had three students the first visit and then I had to miss one and then the next visit were four (students). My interviewers didn’t have so much to say themselves, the second visit I had to miss because my husband was in the hospital, but they gave me follow up questions for the day I wasn’t there so I could give answers that way,” said Rose. “They were much more interested in, was I from here, where did I meet my husband, where did I go to school, the personal side rather than what did I do with my life after I left Escanaba. And I thought that was interesting especially since my husband and I have been together for 54 years and both did go to Escanaba High School. We see the differences. My kids went to school here too.”

When asked if she would do it again, she said she would.

“I would definitely do it again. I think I would ask more information out of them, to find out what their interests were and what they expected out of the older generation. We could be their grandparents,” said Rose.

Kaylee Casey, a senior in high school, felt a connection with Pat D’Arcy, the resident she interviewed with her group.

“I had Pat D’Arcy and … she is an amazing woman. She was a teacher in Chicago and Gladstone and after speaking with Pat it made me want to become a teacher too … after she told us about working with kids, I feel like I had something in common with her,” said Casey.

Senior Tyler May enjoyed the experience of the project in total, would like to interview more people, and at a later stage in life, be interviewed himself.

“I learned a lot from other people. I’d like to interview more people and when I get older be interviewed by younger people,” said May. “It was fun.”

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