Durham Middle School history students from Thomas Panter’s eighth grade classes embarked on a project several weeks ago aimed at telling the remarkable stories of Cobb’s seniors.
The volunteer assignment, which won’t be graded, pairs groups of Panter’s advanced students with senior citizens from Sterling Estates, a West Cobb senior living community. Some of the subjects include veterans of World War II and the Korean War, a lifelong teacher’s advocate and a captain of the University of Georgia’s 1953 football team.
They shared their life stories with the students, who are putting together a package called “Our Community Heroes” they will present to the subjects and their families in February.
Panter said the purpose of his project was to give his students the chance to tell some of these moving stories and document local history before it’s too late, but connections they made ended up giving the students a new-found appreciation for the generations before them.
The assignment was well-received by the older Cobb residents, who opened up and built friendships with the youngsters neither group will soon forget.
Other cultures around the world hold their older generations in the highest esteem, Panter told his class Wednesday afternoon, gesturing above his head to drive home his point.
“And for some reason, we don’t. We’ve lost that. And we need them so desperately now. We need their wisdom, especially their humility,” Panter said.
Panter, who is in his 16th year teaching at Durham, said there is a disconnect between America’s seniors and what he refers to as “the selfie generation.”
“Just watching their faces, some of them were in tears,” he said of his students, who ended up spending hours learning everything they could about their new-found friends. “You can see a connection was made between a humble generation and a generation that posts to social media every second of the day.”
The general theme reported back by the students during their progress update Wednesday afternoon was that the older people they spoke to were so humble it was often difficult to get them to open up and speak freely about themselves and what they accomplished.
They wanted to talk about others, the students said. They wanted to highlight the accomplishments of those they knew rather than brag about themselves.
“She never wanted to talk about herself,” Brooke Warner said of Helen Campbell, a 98-year-old Marine veteran who served for two years in WWII. “She was so selfless. She didn’t join the war for herself. She did it for others. She wanted to help everybody else.”
Campbell said Thursday she was delighted to meet the young ladies who interviewed her and get to know them.
She had completed college in San Francisco and was working full time as a fifth grade teacher when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. formally entered the war, she said. She and a friend walked past a series of recruitment flyers one day, and something compelled her to enlist. She served from 1943 until 1945, reaching the rank of sergeant and even met her husband while in the military.
When asked why she chose the Marines instead of another branch of the military, Campbell replied: “Because they’re the best — and also the best looking.”
Students Claire Hintze and Hannah Ferris spoke to Lloyd Menin, an 85-year-old Korean War photographer. They said they were amazed by the quality of his work, which offered behind-the-scenes glimpses into the lives of the American soldiers fighting in Korea.
“Talking to him, it was different than anything I’ve ever done before,” Hintze said. “I’ve always been a very shy person, but being able to talk with someone from another generation — from another world, really — was a very awesome experience to have.”
She said she learned quickly that those raised in Hintze’s generation had vastly different values than the ones held by her and her friends, who she said were often selfobsessed.
“We’re all so focused on what we can do,” she said. “Talking to someone who has lived through all these amazing things was like talking to a piece of history.”