Hawkins Co. students gather life stories of senior adults, publish book

(Photo: WJHL)

HAWKINS COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- A group of senior adults now have their life stories published in a book thanks to a group of eighth-grade students from a Hawkins County middle school.

In March, 23 Surgoinsville Middle School students had the opportunity to meet the adults.

“I couldn’t wait to go talk to these people to see what stories they had to share with us,” said Jacob Haynes.

Each student interviewed one person living at Church Hill Health Care Center. They gathered their life stories and have now published them in a book.

Teachers Angelina Hensley and Cody Saucemen came up with the project and received a $1,200 grant from Utrust in order to make it possible. Utrust believes the project will make more of a difference than any project it has ever funded.

“I got to talk to a World War II veteran, Mr. McConnell, and it was just absolutely amazing to hear all the stories that he had,” Haynes said. “He had the medals that he received, his medals and his insignias and he had three medals and all of them were of very high honor.”

Haynes said the story he heard is one he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

“Definitely the bravery that he had…he actually went into the front lines and broke through the front lines and that takes tremendous amounts of courage and bravery,” Haynes said.

“He received a Purple Heart and the silver star and a combat medal and he has those in a display there and he’s very proud of his service and I wanted the kids to see that pride,” said Hensley.

Hensley said it’s a project that made connections and bonds across generational lines.

“It’s very eye-opening to see some of the struggles they faced and how different their lives were from lives today,” said Ava Beggs.

Through Beggs’ interview, the history lessons she’s learned about women’s rights issues came to life.

“She had only went through the eighth grade which kind of surprised me…she had worked at the same place at the same position for her entire life,” Beggs said.

“Some of the girls realized that some of them in there couldn’t vote and it boggled their mind to actually talk to somebody,” Hensley said.

She said it’s helped her students learn the connection between their generation and the Greatest Generation.

“I had one student tell me that he was wanting to go back up there and play checkers with the one he interviewed and I thought well that says it all,” Hensley said.

Now their stories are bound together in a book called “Long Before Us.” The cover, drawn by one of the students, shows the residents’ names on the roots of a tree with the leaves bearing the students’ names.

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