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Students learn from 'local legends'

Lin-Wood High School

June 25, 2009
LINCOLN—Getting ready to embark on their own journeys to colleges around the country, the four students in Heather Krill's AP Language and Composition class at Lin-Wood High School recently completed their school year by learning and writing about some local folks who had plenty of experience to share.

The four students—Nikki Donahue, Gabby Walker, Britta Haley and Meagan Shamberger, met with some residents of Lincoln, who Krill deemed "local legends." Through a few days of interviews and note-taking, the students crafted a feature story for a living legacy writing project, presenting their final work in front of a group of peers and the subjects themselves during a recent reception at Lin-Wood.

"We're a small community, but we have vast resources of people that have great stories," said Krill.

With meetings taking place at the local senior housing complex and the local bagel shop, Krill said the teenage students and their subjects "chatted like they were old friends," something she said was "wonderful" to see.

Before Krill let her students present their final work during the reception, she thanked the subjects for spending time with them.

"You've all had such varied life experiences. The fact that you're willing to sit down and show that is really wonderful," Krill said.

She went on to say how the girls didn't want the interviews to end and "they got to know fascinating people in town where they grew up."

Though most of the subjects were interviewed in person, one was on the road throughout the project, communicating with the four students through e-mail.

Bill Hallager, who was traveling throughout the country during the interviewing process, made it a point to keep in touch with the girls via e-mail. He was able to download attachments and send messages and had no problem, something not too common for an 83-year-old.

Through his writings and the reading of Hallager's biography, "Fifty-seven Years of Love," the girls paired off, and each group wrote a feature on a man who had strong admiration, dedication and love for his wife Jean. He told them it is more important who you spend your time with than what you do. Hallager is originally from Sweden, was in the U.S. Navy and graduated from Dartmouth College. He gave the girls a different perspective on looking at America, saying, "'yes, there may be things wrong with America and its people, but we will overcome our weaknesses.'"

Through his writings, Hallager became a teacher and role model for the four students.

Student Nikki Donahue spent her one-on-one time with 93-year-old Audrey Vickers, who just had her license renewed around the time of the interviews. Donahue picked up on Vickers's "youthful energy", as the woman still takes walks, goes to senior aerobics and even went on a motorcycle ride when she was 90. Donahue said she was hoping to take some of the qualities Vickers portrayed with her to college, such as being strong, fearless and energetic.

Gabby Walker also had a strong, independent woman to write about and learn from in Dot Lovati. Lovati, it turned out, loved the "uncertainty and excitement of gambling" and showed that it is not a bad thing.

Walker described how Lovati said straight up that she doesn't drink, smoke or go out with men, she just gambles. It was through this medium and trips to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun that Lovati met Tony, who Walker said is a "partner, friend and a co-captain in love" for Lovati.

Meagan Shamberger also had love echoing throughout her piece on Helen Gilman, but love of a different kind. Gilman, 73, is a lifelong resident of Lincoln and when Gilman's mother and father were divorced, her mother raised Gilman and her three sisters on her own, instilling in Gilman love and independence, something she passed along to her six children.

She also shared her strong will with others, as she started the GED program in the Lincoln-Woodstock area and continues to work in youth ministry.

Shamberger described Gilman as a gardener, as she "planted the seeds of independence, confidence and love…"

Last but not least, student Britta Haley also met up with a confident individual in Nora Shamberger, Meagan's grandmother.

To Haley, Nora's leadership and responsibility roles were evident in how she looked after her friends, the three other subjects. Nora spent her adult years raising children and working, but always found—and still finds—time to help out where she can.

This enthusiastic woman may have been the youngest of the subjects at age 65, but her words of wisdom to Haley were profound. "'Why do something if you are not going to do it the best that you can?'"

Realizing their subjects grew up without cell phones, ipods, and Internet crazes such as Facebook, the girls found they still had a lot to offer and they hope to keep in touch with them.

Meagan, speaking for the group of four, said, "We were anticipating something different, lots of lag time." But their experiences were the complete opposite and she said now the four of them have some hilarious stories to tell about some interesting people they met.

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