Rochester seniors, grade-schoolers connect
Nira Flaten gives her third-grade pen pal, Adline Kaska, a hug as they meet for the first time on Wednesday at Gramercy Park Cooperative. The two have been exchanging letters since November. “I love it,” said Adline.
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Some of the questions that 82-year-old Gene Flaten fielded from his Elton Hills Elementary School pen pal were especially cute.
The third-grade girl asked in her letters what Gene would do during recess when he was in elementary school (in the 1930s) and what the name of his favorite teacher was.
A favorite question, though, for the resident of Gramercy Park Cooperative had to do with technology.
“She asked if we used computers when we were in elementary school,” Flaten said.
Flaten was matched with a pen pal through a Catholic Charities program called “Reasons to Write.” The program promotes intergenerational connections, in addition to helping children improve their writing skills, said Guthrie Capossela, who is coordinator of the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.
Catholic Charities agencies around southern Minnesota work with elementary schools to arrange pen-pal partnerships between seniors and second- through fifth-graders. The pen pals exchange four letters during an eight-week period, then they meet each other during a get-together. In Flaten’s case, the get-together was in the dining room at Gramercy last week.
The program has been in the Rochester area for several years, though this past year has been the most successful, said Heather Weller, administrator at Gramercy Park Cooperative. The cooperative has been the most active in “Reasons to Write,” although seniors at Shorewood Senior Campus and Meadow Lakes Senior Living also have participated.
In addition to answering his pen pal’s questions about computers, Flaten described other highlights of his growing-up years in Granite Falls. He told his pen pal about milking cows by hand and about the 1931 Model A Ford he owned that had three antennas on it but no radio (he’d attach squirrel pelts to the antennas and let them blow in the wind as he drove).
But in answer to the question about activities during school recess, Flaten wrote they’d play marbles, and they’d also sneak across the street to a penny candy store.
Weller said the seniors at Gramercy clearly enjoy the pen-pal exchange.
“These letters would come in, and they would just light up,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the looks on the seniors’ faces.”