By Gillian Needham
Special to The Free Press
---- — MANKATO — The wisdom of elders is sometimes overlooked by younger generations. Filled with stories of a time many will never know, senior citizens have a gift to offer their families about another time in history.
Linda Good began reflecting on these ideas and was inspired to bring people together to begin recording their memories and stories. Good, a retired professor from Minnesota State University, opened a seniors’ Memoir Writing Group at the Summit Center in Mankato in June 2013.
Good and her friend Carole Petersen began discussing the opportunity after Peterson attended a memoir class elsewhere. Bringing back ideas and enthusiasm about what she had learned, Peterson shared her experience with Good and the two began pursuing a similar class in Mankato. Good then contacted VINE Faith in Action about the possibility of creating a course for seniors.
“This class is bringing history to life for us,” Good said.
With the group's age range spanning three decades, the stories are endless. Every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., participants sit around a table over coffee and baked goods, discussing the stories they've prepared for each session.
The course is used as an outlet to create writing discipline and reminisce on experience. There is no specific way that Good expects the members to create stories and she makes it clear to her pupils that she is not grading their writing, but giving them the guidance and drive to continue writing for themselves.
“Some write through a stream of consciousness and others write more technically,” Good said.
The class has fostered deep friendships and relationships are built on trust. Though the stories are kept confidential, participants welcome as many people as their small meeting room can hold.
Eileen King said, “I’ve been telling everyone I run into about this class.”
King is using the class as a way to maintain consistency in her writing.
“I enjoy writing and I need the discipline that this class offers,” King said.
After a story is shared, the group discusses individual feelings about the reading, gives feedback and critiques one another. As members of the group share their stories, the process often triggers memories and related experiences for other participants.
Many of the members focus their writing on tracing family history and genealogy while some are there to preserve the stories of their own lives. Still others participate in order to retell the stories they were told by their grandparents.
“I feel like I have some kind of mission to keep these stories alive,” Cheri Guentzel said.
A majority of Guentzel’s family has lived in the Mankato area since the 1850s. She is using the class to dig into her lineage after being inspired by stories she was told by her grandmother and her great-aunt Hattie.
Also tracking her family’s history, Barbie Lamson uses the class to understand relationships her family had with others. After finding a picture of her confirmation day where she was posed with a young man, she began tracking her relationship with him.
It just so happened that the young man’s mother was very good friends with Lamson’s mother and knew many stories of her grandmother.
“I think it’s important to start questioning the role those people played in our loved ones’ lives,” Lamson said. “Other people have pieces of your life and you don’t even know it.”