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Students Document Life Stories

Legacies project matches student writers with local elders for rich experience

When Sallyann Siira began meeting with Beulah Oksiuta as part of the Life Story Legacies project, she would find a closed door upon arrival. The two met once a week for one or two hours, with Sallyann asking Beulah questions about her life, with the intention of compiling the assembled stories into a coherent narrative. Regardless of how well Beulah’s story turns out, it will not be the most gratifying part of the experience for Sallyann, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“Now, when I arrive, her door is wide open,” she says. “This is an indicator she enjoys my presence and anticipates having conversations with me, which has been so rewarding. She brings a lot to the table. I learn so much from her and would hope she’s taken away something from it, too.”
Life Story Legacies is the creation of Lynn Ludwig, assistant professor of English at UW-Stevens Point. Ludwig conceived the idea as part of an advanced writing course she taught at St. Cloud State and continued it upon arriving in Stevens Point. The service learning project allows students to extend their writing footprint beyond the classroom and reach across generational borders, by entering the world of the elderly.

Students are matched with local elders, and capture interviews on digital recorders before transcribing drafts of the story. Elders review sections of the draft to suggest revisions, corrections and additions, before a final draft is submitted. After Ludwig conducts a final review, UW-Stevens Point Printing and Design contributes a cover, layout and proof. Multiple copies are printed for the elder and family members, the student, the care facility and UW-Stevens Point and Portage County Library Archives.
“It is important to provide writing opportunities outside the traditional classroom that unite college students with local elders,” Ludwig says. “The project has remained true to those initial goals, and I have expanded my personal skill set to support the students in end-of-life education and bereavement counseling, when necessary.”
When Brittany Falk was assigned to work with elder Jean Hamm, she was excited, but admits to being “overwhelmed – I knew there was a lot of information to sift through.” Yet, by meeting with Hamm regularly and preparing diligently beforehand, Falk has uncovered a compelling story she is eager to tell.
“Jean’s a spitfire! She’s very intense,” Falk says. “She has a lot of great advice. As I kept asking her questions about what kind of person she is and what she would have done in certain situations, the way she answered them is how I approach those kinds of situations, so I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process, too.”
Ludwig’s students partner with residents from Portage County Health Care Center, Harmony Living Center, Brookdale and Atrium Care, and other elders living independently. For information on becoming involved with the Life Story Legacies project, contact Ludwig at

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