Upon walking through Patty Ruger’s living room, out to her back yard patio, one will notice a series of beautiful paintings adorning the walls of her residence.
A former resident of New York, Ruger now lives at Frasier Meadows Manor Retirement Community in Boulder. A magnificently charismatic woman, Ruger has recently interacted with CU student taking the class “Story Telling and Civic Engagement” at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Jim Sheeler, a scholar-in-residence at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, currently teaches Story Telling and Civic Engagement at CU.
In an online document, Sheeler outlines the underlying cause for the objectives of the course. It consists of two sections, an in-class lecture and the “wider classroom” of interaction with Frasier Meadows community members and is based, largely, off the stories told by the community members. The class will also be working with students from the “digital newsroom” class to provide content for a public Web site that will display the students’ work in the program.
“This class is the final class and I designed it as kind of a capstone class where really I wanted to involve students from all the sequences in the journalism school and teach them how to tell stories across platforms,” Sheeler said, adding that he intends “to introduce the community to Frasier meadows through the eyes of students and through the words of the residents.”
He noted that this style of highly involved reporting can lead to a more involved thought process for reporters which can enhance their stories.
“The best part so far is seeing what the students have learned about themselves by spending time with people who are so many decades older than them – they’re interviewing people who are 70 years or more older than they are,” Sheeler said.
“They’ve been able to find people that they wouldn’t have found otherwise – stories that they wouldn’t have been able to tell and in turn they’ve found lessons that are not only teaching the students but also teaching me,” Sheeler said.
“I like getting young people’s opinion,” Ruger said, “because everybody’s different you kind of have to go with the flow.”
Intergenerational conversation is interesting to Ruger, who says that she has a mutual understanding with the students, but that some things she doesn’t like to see happen.
“I like their reaction to me whether it’s positive or whether they’re shy and not going anywhere,” Ruger said. “They understand me and I understand them. I don’t like people to be afraid. I don’t want people to be afraid of me or in awe of me.”
In regards to the students Ruger spends time with, she says she likes the ones who present themselves the right way.
“I like the ones who are prepared and have their act together,” Ruger said. “They’re talented and they know what the hell they’re up to.”
Kym Hansler, the Program Coordinator at Frasier Meadows, points out that the Frasier Meadows community members benefit from the opportunity to tell some of their life stories.
“The elders take a lot of pride in seeing the finished product from the students. They like having their life story told,” Hansler said. “I’ve seen a reengagement in their current state of life based on telling their life stories and that’s priceless.”
Hansler says that the class has provided Frasier Meadows community members and students a chance to establish significant connections with each other.
“As far as what I’ve seen there’s been a beautiful relationship connection between the elders and the students,” Hansler said. “Meaningful relationships are essential to life and so that’s been really neat to see.”
Hansler says that the students have grown from the experience as well, as she points out the value in getting students to step outside the boundary of the CU campus.
“I’ve seen the students grow from being these nervous little pups to just laughing and very casually talking to their new friends who just happen to have 70 years on them,” Hansler said. “There’s value in the life lessons that these college age students are learning. There’s value in the aspect of the community engagement the students are getting outside of the college.”
“It gives them a chance to think about life and death and love and really how to live and when they are doing that deep thinking it really shows in their stories,” Sheeler said.
CU Student Kylie Bearse, a 20-year-old senior broadcast news major, said that she enjoys the opportunity to be a part of the more intimate reporting found in this class, noting that her favorite part of being enrolled in the class is “the opportunity to get to know someone on such a personal level.”
Bearse explained that her experience with the retirement community is enhanced through Sheeler’s guidance.
In working with the retirement community, Bearse said that she appreciated “the chance to have someone like Jim show [her] how to shape their story into words.”
Jim Sheeler is known, in part, for winning the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for a Rocky Mountain News series titled “Final Salute,” an up close and personal depiction of a U.S. Marine’s job of notifying the loved ones of service members killed in action in Iraq.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ben Vallier at Vallier@colorado.edu.