Grover Beach Life Story Class

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Students Gather Around as Phyllis Sims, age 80, reads from her life story on Oct. 24, 2007, at the Grover Beach Community Center, San Luis Obispo County, California.  From left to right the students include Olivia Scholz, Jessie Stone, Cheryl Hagopian, Gary Simms, age 81,  Mary LeBlanc, Instructor Myla Collier, Sara Medzyk, Arnie Dowdy, Phyllis Simms,age 80, Susie Tacbas, and Chester Johnson, age 84.  Pictured is the Grover Beach class.  Classes are ongoing in several other locations as well. Student Kristi Gott took the photo.

 

Voices from the Past, Gifts for the Future

by Kristi Gott

Anthropologist and Instructor Myla Collier, Cuesta Community College Adult Emeritus, San Luis Obispo, California, teaches a Life Story Writing Class with the motto, “Voices from the Past, Gifts from the Future.”  Each week students enjoy sharing several pages from their pasts of adventure, drama, the sad times, the happy times and the funny events. 

The life stories represent a priceless treasure because these tales include details of a world that has disappeared forever.

Seniors are traditionally the storytellers in society who preserve the family history and pass down experiences and wisdom to the next generation. 

By writing a chronological narrative, starting with birth, the students create a timeline of their lives.  Myla provides Memory Joggers to help bring back experiences that took place 50, 70 or more years ago.  Students bring photos and family memorabilia to the class and these, too, help people to retrieve memories.

At my class in Grover Beach we have become almost like a family ourselves, as we share stories of growing up and the historical events we have experienced.  Phyllis Sims, 80, and husband Gary Sims, 81, are prolific life story writers and genealogists who keep the class entranced each week when they read their stories.   Life story writer Chester Johnson, 84, is a naturally skillful and talented storyteller, and his stories of growing up in Louisianna have many interesting facts about a time and place from the past.

People often say, “I wouldn’t know where to start” when thinking of writing a life story.  Linking the life experiences to the details of historical events, and proceeding chonologically, makes organizing the huge amount of data easier.  The Memory Joggers, which include questions such as “How did you feel about your first day of school?” make retrieving the memories easier.

A Seniors’ Life Story Writing Class provides an excellent opportunity for seniors to continue education, learn new skills, acquire a new hobby, and meet friends while preserving the family history in writing.  People agrees it’s good mental exercise, too. 

Everyone always has a wonderful time, new friends are made, and at the end of class the students leave smiling and laughing, until the next week rolls around.  Then the life story sagas continue, and students can find out “what happened next.”

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