Pickersgill Biographies

(L-R) Loch Raven seniors Kim Kern and Devin Herlihy stayed after the program ended to talk to the subject of their biography, Josephine Neville, a 91-year-old resident at Pickersgill. (Jon Sham/Patuxent Homestead / May 24, 2012)

Kim Kern, a senior at Loch Raven High School and member of the school's English Honor Society, braced herself for the worse when she was told of the assignment to interview residents at Towson's Pickersgill Retirement Community and write their life stories.

"I expected it to be really boring," she said candidly.

But she and fellow student Devin Herlihy got much more than they bargained for when they were paired up with Josephine Neville, 91.

"She's our new granny," Kern said.

On Thursday, May 24, students from the school came to Pickersgill to share the results of the writing project, which began earlier this year when Loch Raven English teachers Tracey Hanley and Gail Shaffer learned that Pickersgill wanted to document the lives of people in its skilled nursing area.

Lenore D'Adamo, volunteer coordinator at Pickersgill, said an administrator thought it would be nice for staff members and nurses to learn about the patients they were caring for.

After the biographies of 35 residents were read to the gathered group, Kern, Herlihy, Neville — and Neville's daughter, Joannene Maynard — chatted in the back of the room long after many other students had left.

The biography written by Kern and Herlihy told of Neville's life growing up in Baltimore, how she loves her family, giraffes and teddy bears, and is "secretly a party girl."

Neville said the two made no errors — high praise from the 26-year English teacher, though these students had clearly found a special place in their biography subject's heart.

The two students had researched their subject over a pair of interview sessions, and returned a third day for lunch at the center's "Pickersgrille" with Neville — where the Pickersgill resident gave the girls necklaces as gifts.

They both wore them to the reading Thursday.

Maynard said she had already heard all about the two Loch Raven students before driving from Kingsville for the event.

Her mother, she said, "talked so much about the girls and how great they are. She really looked forward to their visits. It was great that Pickersgill did this."

Kern and Herlihy weren't the only students who thought they'd lucked out with their interviewee.

Nathaniel Cohen, 17 of Towson, Brad Franke, 18, of Glen Arm and Nick Belkoff, 18 of Baldwin, teamed up to interview gregarious nonagenarian Bill Bailey, who was heartily enjoying the stories as they were being read.

In their biography, the group noted Bailey's love for John Wayne movies, trains and Food Network TV star Rachel Ray. After the interviews were done, they bought him a train to add to his collection.

"He was the best guy we could have asked for," Franke said.

The stories were framed in plastic to be posted outside of the residents' doors, so visitors could better understand where the residents were on their life journey before they arrived at Pickersgill.

In Bailey's biography, his scribes urged anyone who "loves chicken or just wants to have a charming conversation" to check in on Bailey.

Others had similarly rewarding experiences in writing about their subjects, even if the process of getting their stories was much different. Hailey Lynch and Christie Moyer, both 18 of Towson, teamed up to document the lives of Jack Creighton and Nadine Sanborn.