From left, Jill Hansen, Harold Croft, Kate Hansen, and Andrew Ruimerman await their ice cream sundaes. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Students take elders down memory lane

By Eleni Collins - June 15, 2006

Since November, second and third graders from the Chilmark School have been paired with Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center residents who used to live in West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. The project is called "Growing Up Island," and the group met weekly to share photographs of different scenes taken by the students.

The idea for this project began with Betsy Burmeister of Chilmark who is the recreation director at Windemere. "It was for up-Island residents, mainly to show Windemere residents what life is like there now," she explained.

Windemere resident JoAnne Smith enjoys a visit from Brigita Larsen and Peter Ruimerman.

The Martha's Vineyard Permanent Endowment Fund gave the program a $1,000 grant, and the Chilmark School PTO donated $400. The money was used to buy the children their own cameras and film to take photographs of whatever they chose.

Eight-year-old Andrew Ruimernan of Chilmark and his partner, Kate Hansen, eight, worked together with Harold "Herky" Croft, 76, formerly of Falmouth.

Both Andrew and Kate thought the project was fun. "I took pictures of mainly my boat, and I took pictures of Menemsha a lot," Andrew said. "My favorite was my boat." Kate said she enjoyed taking photographs of her uncle's cows.

Along with playing in Mr. Croft's electric wheelchair, the two children shared their photographs and entertained him for an hour a week with their artwork. "These kids have been so much fun for me, especially when they bring their good-looking mothers," Mr. Croft joked.

Chilmark School students stand outside of Windemere with the gifts they received during their last session with the residents.

In addition to providing entertainment for the residents, the project was a learning experience for the students. They learned how to use a camera and take creative photographs with help from local photographer Alison Shaw.

"At first, we gave each kid a camera to take photos of any up-Island scenes," said Jack Regan, Chilmark School second- and third-grade teacher. "We saw that about one out of 10 shots would come out good, because their fingers were in front of the lenses." Ms. Shaw gave them a lesson on technique as well as creativity, such as different ways to frame an object, and their photography soon improved.

While the students were very excited to receive their own cameras, they soon learned they were giving a lot back to the residents. "They realized these people got to see what they miss most about living up-Island, such as animals and children," said Mr. Regan. "It was a very mutual giving process."

The students also learned to grow accustomed to the Windemere environment and the process of aging. "It was scary at first for the kids. They'd see oxygen tanks and tubes, and now the kids without elderly grandparents can learn to have a greater understanding for their relatives as they age," Mr. Regan said.