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'Voices of Our Elders' unearths personal stories

by: PHOTO BY: KONSTANTIN MOSKALENKO - Pictured working together on the Voices of Our Elders project is Rex Putman High School junior Amy Loynd and Helen Reasoner.Many of their stories begin at Oregon towns and cities: by: PHOTO BY: KONSTANTIN MOSKALENKO - Rex Putnam High School junior Colton Merris is working as the scribe to tell the stories of Irma Morisky. Baker, Molalla, Oregon City, Woodburn, Portland and Monitor. Partnering with residents 60 years-of-age and older who live at Homewoods on the Willamette in Milwaukie, volunteers recruited by the nonprofit Well Arts Institute have melded history with the human story.

This writing-for-theatre workshop (Well Arts has done several in Oregon) provides basic and intermediate creative memoir and poetry writing skills. Professional actors are auditioned to work with elders to put their stories on stage. The goal is to capture individual stories that shape Oregon’s history and culture.

The Clackamas County performance, “Come Home” will be presented at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 8, at the Rex Putnam High School Blackbox Theatre 4950 S.E. Roethe Road, Oak Grove. Admission is free. The collaboration with the “elders,” the residents of the nonprofit retirement community Homewoods on the Willamette, with an all-volunteer scribe team, includes two juniors at Rex Putnam High School, Amy Loynd and Colton Merris. The writing workshop team of over a dozen scribes, elders and facilitators have spent many hours together creating the stories that will be performed on stage.

The stories are individual and diverse. Irma Morisky, born in 1921 has focused with her scribe Anet Ris-Kelman on childhood memories of the Great Depression.

“I had lots and lots of cousins and no one complained,” Morisky said. “I was raised mostly by my grandmother who always said, ‘Honey, you have to make do.’”

She remembers one Christmas when the only present for her and her cousins was a used sled repainted bright blue. But she says that sledding with her cousins that particular year is one of the sweetest memories of Christmas she has.

by: PHOTO BY: KONSTANTIN MOSKALENKO - Well Arts Institute founder and writing-for-theater workshop leader Katy Liljehom is facilitating the beginning of the writing session, when there are 10 minutes of exercises writing prompts that help the group get started. Sometimes it is a list of words, or music, quotes from famous novelists or poetry. Loynd volunteered to act as a scribe for the project on top of a full schedule of International Baccalaureate courses.

“I was always raised with stories of my grandmother. Helen has given me questions and things to think about in the stories she has told me. Things that happened before I was born have come to life for me. I like knowing about the heroes that you never know about,” Loynd said.

“I’d like to see how this project turns out,” said Helen Reasoner. “There are so many activities at Homewoods on the Willamette and I’ve missed several because we are doing this. This has been a big time commitment for me and Amy.”

But for Loynd, this experience is one that she would gladly repeat despite a tight eight-week schedule leading up to the June 8 performance. Well Arts Director Katy Liljeholm or Sandra deHelen who has been a Well Arts volunteer for 10 years facilitate the one-hour writing sessions. Other members of the volunteer scribe team include Anet Ris-Kelman, Farrah Thekkedom, Cherie Panek and Ann Singer who travel to Homewoods from various locations in Portland, and Matt McCoy who is business office manager at Homewoods on the Willamette and lives in Oregon City.

McCoy is the scribe for Frank Reasoner. “It has been a blessing to know Frank and his story. I’ve known Frank for years, but hearing the details makes me feel really connected,” McCoy said.

The oldest of 12 children, Reasoner has focused his writing on the places he has been, from his childhood to his service in the Korean War, to pulling green chain lumber as a way to work his way through college.

Reasoner, with McCoy as his scribe, has told the story about how he first met his wife, Helen, when they were working in a strawberry field and she was 15. Helen and Frank Reasoner have been married for 53 years. Frank’s other written memoirs include the years of their romance to celebrating their 50th anniversary at the Molalla church where they were married.



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  • 16 Sep 2014

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