When Fred and Esther Hendrickson retired, they moved to a senior community in Plymouth, Indiana near their hometown. The community was created by a man who took six blocks of blighted real estate, tore it down and built brick buildings with sliding doors that opened into a courtyard in the middle. The goal was to provide seniors with a comfortable place to retire.
In 72 years of marriage, the Hendrickson’s raised a family, survived the Depression and a World War. When they were married in 1919, cars were just being developed. There were no televisions, microwaves, computers, calculators, icemakers, or washing machines. They didn’t even have indoor plumbing in the early years. It was a different world.
In retirement, Fred liked to sit in his La-Z-Boy and tell stories to his grandchildren.
He was old and bald, his granddaughter Sharole Beckman remembered. He was funny, witty and smart. He painted a picture of wherever he was in his mind, she said, recalling her childhood. I would rather be with him than my friends.
Forty years later, the experience of listening to her grandparents share the wisdom they gained throughout life inspired Beckman to create a project so that other children and grandchildren will have an opportunity to get related to their families in a way that will live on for generations to come.
People often die with their song unsung, Beckman said. We live life; work hard, get it all figured out and then we get old, retire and die. [Often] all that experience, knowledge, wisdom, and insight is never shared. I see an incredible resource of information, wisdom, and love that needs to be tapped.
As part of her participation in Landmark Education’s Team Management and Leadership Program (TMLP), Beckman created Life Legacies, Generations Connected, a game that will give people the opportunity to sing their songs and tell their stories.
It’s a big game with a lot of players. I am enrolling friends, colleagues, senior agencies, said Beckman, who is in her first quarter on Team 1. She intends that by December 2012, there will be a Life is a Legacy presence in every state.
She has assembled a team to create an interactive web site called LifeIsALegacy.com. For a small fee families will be able to access user friendly templates and create their own stories that will profile and showcase the lives of seniors as well as future family members and the difference each one has made. It also will serve as a social networking site allowing families to stay in touch out.
Her team is conducting interviews of seniors, profiling their lives, dreams, wisdom, and advice. They are encouraging seniors to share their victories as well as heartaches, demonstrating that experience is the best teacher. No matter how challenging life can be, the human spirit is victorious.
The provoking questions on the templates bring seniors present to the value of their lives as they recall and share. The questions and answers are designed to enrich the lives of the family members and create a role model and foundation for the youth, however two of the questions may have the greatest impact on both the storyteller and the reader.
The first question, As a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up? is designed to connect people to their dreams and gain awareness to the value and legacy of the life they did pursue and that it’s not over till it’s over.
The next question, Did you ever realize that dream? looks at how easy it is to get off track from what our heart really desires, settling for something less in the name of being realistic.
What we want to look at here is the possibility that the life we created and the choices we made, that took us in another direction, were just as valid and had an impact, not only in our lives, but others – like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, said Beckman.
Her goal is to have future generations enriched with the
knowledge and lessons from their ancestors through this virtual story book of memoirs that the entire family will treasure for generation to generation.
What everyone has to show for life is who they’ve been that can leave an impression on generations to come. All too often children’s dreams become short lived. With the Internet, mobile phones, and 24-hour news cycles, children are much more aware of, and concerned with, problems facing our society. Beckman believes that many children skip the magical childhood adventures that come from creating something from nothing.
Today’s children jump from babies to adults. They are not allowed to be children anymore, said Beckman. A generation or two ago, parents and grandparents taught us to create. They taught us ways of being – they taught us to say please and thank you, to be civilized.
Today’s family members operate more independently than in the past where everyone ate together, prayed together, played together, and parents knew the parents of their children’s friends.
The team has marveled at the answers children give when asking, ‘What do your grandparents do?’ Often the answer is, ‘They shop and buy me things.’ The Life is a Legacy project will transform that point of view.
They don’t know who their grandparents are, Beckman said. I want children to experience some of the joy that I carry with me, my strength, integrity, self esteem, and ability to dream — I inherited it. The vision my parents and grandparents instilled in me was a result of getting to know them and spending time. Through LifeisaLegacy.com, they’ll be able to visit and re-visit the rich history of loved ones and truly see the contribution as a legacy.
The ultimate goal of this project, is Life is a Legacy Living Centers, communities that allow seniors to retire comfortably and lead active lives contributing to the community, like the community her grandparents lived in when she was a child. The best stories from LifeIsALegacy.com will be published in a book. The proceeds from the website and book will go to subsidize the living centers.
The experience of creating a team to connect generations has left Beckman inspired by people’s willingness to be generous and selfless as a result of sharing a cause that is greater than one’s self.
There is no end to resources that are out there if we keep asking, “What’s next?”
For Beckman, what’s next is completing her game of allowing people to share their legacy with generations to come. And by playing this game, she will add a piece to her legacy as well.