Athey Creek seventh-graders bridge generations, interview elders and write biographies of their lives
by: Cindy Garrison, 
Octogenarian Nellie Arndt expresses surprise and joy when she receives the biography written for her by Ashley Garashchuk, left, and Cassandrea Swigert, both seventh-graders at Athey Creek Middle School.

A lot has happened to 81-year-old Nellie Arndt since her birth in 1926.

The task for two seventh-graders from Athey Creek Middle School was to condense Arndt's life-journey into a book - a colorful reflection of her life.

The result is a bright and cheery informational book made by Ashley Garashchuk and Cassandrea Swigart that Arndt can share with friends and family.

'I like it,' Arndt said. 'I'm real proud of it. I'm excited to show my kids.'

The two seventh-graders were joined by all of the seventh-graders at Athey Creek, who talked with elders at five area retirement homes. They bridged the generation gap and wrote biographies, making them into books and reading them to the residents who had lived the lives the young writers described.

Although there's a big age difference between the students and the elders, they all felt a special connection.

'(Arndt's) family means everything to her,' Ashley said. 'And my family means everything to me.

'She would do anything for her family. And I would do anything for my family.'

The book the girls made for Arndt showcased other important points. For example, the girls found a picture of Shirley Temple and Eddie Arnold - celebrities Arndt remembered from her childhood.

One thing Arndt said that left an impression on Ashley was to 'think about things before rushing into them.' Arndt said that with careful thought, there's less chance for regrets.

Arndt took on the role of mentor to the girls, and was very approachable.

Ashley and Cassandrea chose Arndt out of the group at River Valley Landing Residential Care Facility in Tualatin because at the time they met her, she was laughing.

'We thought she would be a fun person to interview,' Cassandrea said. 'She's bubbly like us.'

Once they chose Arndt as their subject, the two met with her and asked her many questions about her life.

'I thought I would have to ask her questions to get into a conversation,' Cassandrea said. 'In my family (the elders) keep to themselves.'

The girls found Arndt to be very open and cooperative while talking about her life.

'I felt like she was my grandma,' Ashley said. 'We would always hug her.'

The students said they noticed similarities in both generations.

Although Cassandrea can't duplicate her favorite story about Arndt, she still could relate.

According to Cassandrea, when Arndt was young she wore bloomers. She had a lot of different colored ones, and Arndt and her friend liked to do cartwheels in front of people to show off their pretty bloomers.

'(Arndt) lived during the Depression,' Cassandrea said. 'She quit school in eighth grade and became a nurse. I thought it was really cool that she chose to do that.'

Both girls thought that was honorable.

Not only did the girls learn about history and their new friend, but also they learned about new foods.

One of Arndt's favorite foods is barbequed ribs. Cassandrea had never tried them, until recently. Her grandmother brought her some, and she liked them, too.

One of the highlights of Arndt's life was going to Jerusalem to see where Jesus had lived, she said.

Because God and Jesus are important in her life, her trip to Jerusalem was important too.

'I want to give God the glory for my life,' she said.

Arndt told stories about how she made it through a life that had its share of difficulties.

'We got to see what people go through,' Cassandrea said. 'People now are just like they were then.

'It made me think about being a nicer person - to be more open-minded. We don't know people's background.'

The project also helped Cassandrea work on a science project in which she had to interview her grandparents and ask them questions about their lives.

Ashley thought the book would be beneficial to Arndt as a keepsake.

'I would love for someone to do a biography about me,' Ashley said. 'That kind of thing doesn't happen every day.'

Aside from finding out about Arndt's life, the students gained a friend.

'I want to create a pen pal and write to her because I think she's a really cool person,' Cassandrea said.

The compliment was returned by Arndt.

'I think they're doing a great job,' she said.

Cindy Garrison is employed by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and often writes articles for the Tidings.

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