When I was 16, I was involved in the office education program at my high school. My first office job was in the district office working for the superintendent, district administrators and all of their assistants. I made fast friends with the dozen or so secretaries in the office. All of them were old enough to be my mother. Some were old enough to be my grandmother.
I enjoyed the conversations we’d have and valued the advice they’d give. We’d plan field trips on our days off and go out to dinner as a group. I ended up working in the office after graduation for a dozen more years and these ladies were—and still are—some of my best friends. One of those friends, Jeanette, bought me the jewelry I wore to prom and made my flower girl baskets when I got married.
Another friend, June, stood in as grandma in the hospital after my first and second sons were born when my own mom was recovering from surgery and couldn’t visit. June sat by my side and comforted me as we took turns holding my little guy in the neo-natal unit.
Barb shared her crafting talents with me and introduced me to her daughter, who was my age, and who I got to be friends with. Her daughter then died at a young age while carrying a son, who being born at about 25, weeks didn’t survive.
Jeanine taught me how to cook the Polish specialties she grew up on and Fran, a fellow country music lover, and I have attended many concerts together.
I’ve seen these ladies go through a lot and I still keep in touch with them and am so grateful for the friendships with them.
Kenneth Orze, marketing director for Hartsfield Village in Munster says that he sees the positive impact on residents when they interact with those of younger generations and that many experts on aging note the benefits of intergenerational relationships on the elderly. Even if not developing an ongoing relationship, being around young visitors seems to infuse a little energy into residents. “Some people come to visit and are worried about bringing a child with them, but the residents love to see toddlers running down the hallway,” says Orze.
While he says there have been programs in the past where area elementary students would make weekly visits, there is not a current program in place. He did note that there are various visiting groups, like the Munster High School Choir, that will sing for the residents and then stay and talk to them over coffee and the residents get much enjoyment from that. “They appreciate the energy and enthusiasm from the students,” he says.
According to Orze, it also benefits the teens who discover how much knowledge and wisdom can come from talking to the residents. “They may talk to someone about what life was like after World War II and they learn that it’s not just history in a book, but that these people lived it,” he says.
Judy Kuzemka of Lansing developed long-lasting relationships through work with women of different generations. One is 13 years younger, one is 18 years older and another, Marge, who just passed away in December, was 30 years older. “Marge taught me patience, love, kindness and understanding,” she says. “We all met while working at the same insurance agency in different capacities but became fast friends. We went out for dinner together every other month, we all took turns having dinner at our houses-inviting husbands, children, grandchildren. From each of them I learned different things.”
It’s not just women that benefit from such relationships. Patricia Stepp, whose 96-year-old father is currently in a nursing home, says that he has had a long-lasting friendship with a younger man in his early 20’s named Grant who he met at church. “He’s a real nice kid and used to drive my dad to church after he couldn’t drive any longer,” she says. “They have known each other for about 6 or 7 years and Grant comes to visit him every Sunday. It helps my dad. It gives him something to look forward to and Dad enjoys having the company.”