Two seniors met for the first time at the Broadmead retirement community cafeteria Oct. 7. One was Libby Murphy, 83, a longtime Roland Park area resident, who has lived at Broadmead in Cockeysville for almost two years.
The other was Mackenzie Gerrity, 17, of Stoneleigh, a senior at Friends School.
Gerrity, wearing her Friends lacrosse jacket, was there as a biographer, to tell Murphy's life story in two or three pages for a nonfiction creative writing class project, or as Murphy explained, "to put it in black and white."
"It's all in my head," said Murphy, wearing a sweatsuit and sneakers. "How long it'll be there, I don't know."
She joked that Gerrity was "helping me write my obituary."
Gerrity was one of 15 juniors and seniors at Friends, who arrived in two school buses and were paired with Broadmead residents for the first of a series of three one-on-one interviews in coming weeks. The final interviews are Oct. 29. Then, the students will write biographies in lieu of term papers for the writing class.
On Nov. 12, the students will read excerpts of the biographies at a reception for seniors and their families at Broadmead and will present hard bound copies to the seniors for posterity.
The project started in 2009, when Linda Chick, director of community services at Broadmead, a Quaker-based institution, reached out to Quaker-based Friends School, looking for intergenerational programming opportunities.
She teamed with Helen Berkeley, who teaches the creative writing class, and the two have been organizing interview sessions during most Friends School semesters ever since.
"It's a good challenge for the students and the relationships are really powerful," Berkeley said.
She said it forces students to think about what they are writing, who their audience is, and what to leave out for fear of offending seniors or family members.
"Most of the time, we come up with a list of questions as a class," Berkeley said. "Some of the questions that seem off the wall are actually hilarious to the residents."
She and Chick said some students are nervous about talking to the seniors at first because the students often don't have close relationships with any seniors other than their grandparents, and also worry that talking with the seniors might be sad.
But Gerrity and Murphy hit it off right away. They talked about Murphy as a mother, who raised seven children, one of whom married a man from Sweden.
They talked about her late husband, John L. V. Murphy, a safety engineer for the now-defunct insurance company USF&G and a former pilot during World War II
And they talked about "a big old barn of a house" that the family still owns in Cape May.
"I gave it to my children because I didn't want to fool with it anymore," Murphy said.
"Have you gone on any life-changing vacations?" asked Gerrity, which sent Murphy's mind off on a remembrance of trips to Europe, including southern Italy and Ireland.
"They were just wonderful trips," she recalled.
By the time the hour-long interview ended, Gerrity felt like she knew Murphy.
"You're meeting a complete stranger, and I know so much about her already," Gerrity said.
Also bonding quickly were Friends senior Justin Garcia-Bunuel, 18, of Mount Washington, wearing a tie-dyed Jerry Garcia T-shirt, and Clyde Shallenberger, 86, of Rodgers Forge, wearing a Hopkins T shirt from his years as a chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"I think it's amazing to hear a (life) story that's so complete. It's enlightening," Bunuel said. "It's a very cool project."
Shallenberger felt about Bunuel the way he felt about the people he used to help as a chaplain.
"It feels good because I feel I've helped somebody," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun