There were emotional scenes at Ryman Healthcare’s Grace Joel Retirement Village this week as residents finally got to meet the young penpals that they had been writing to all year from nearby St Heliers School.
Seeing 8-year-old Harry Hanson exclaiming ‘Bruce!’ before running over and giving resident Bruce Anderson a huge hug was enough to trigger tears from the village team members hosting the special event.
Being the culmination of months of letters, cards and artwork being exchanged through the mail, the excitement from both the Year 4 class and the residents was real and the room was abuzz with chatter!
- Letters from schoolchildren make residents' day
- Grace Joel gets an original Grace Joel for 20th birthday
Teacher Sarah Mill said: “They have been counting down the days.”
The children sat down patiently in the village lounge to wait for their resident penpals to arrive and for Activities Coordinator Avrill Burchell to call out their names.
One by one, the greetings took place, some enthusiastic like Harry’s, some more formal like Oscar Dobson who held out his hand and bowed when he met Sally Warwick.
Sally Warwick receives a formal greeting from Oscar while Margaret Anderson gets a hug from her penpal Carolina.
Two of the children were accompanied by their mothers, including Debra, mum to eight-year-old Haslett Savage, who has been writing to Annette Wilson, 89.
“It’s so lovely to meet Annette and to put a face to the letters Haslett’s been receiving,” Debra said. “He’s going to do some more writing and pictures for her over summer.”
Annette, a retired teacher who helped out with reading at St Michael’s School in Remuera Road until she was 82, said she shared a few things in common with her young penpal, including art, and she was impressed with his writing abilities.
“I was very glad to have a penpal who could write so well and who could spell!” she laughed.
Haslett and his mum Debra are thrilled to meet resident Annette Wilson, who holds the latest card written by her penpal, while Dorothy Keightley catches up with Arnold and his wheelchair escapades (below).
Dorothy Keightley was one of the few who had met her penpal, Arnold Kostygin, previously. Being a former student of St Heliers School herself, Dorothy joined three other residents in a visit to the school back in April which was covered by TV3’s Newshub programme.
This time, their meeting saw Arnold turning up at the village in a wheelchair, having had surgery on a stress fracture to his femur. While wheelchairs are not an uncommon site at Grace Joel village, the user doing wheelies is perhaps not quite so typical, but Arnold certainly impressed the room with his wheelie skills!
His first impressions of the village?
“It’s a lot more fancier than I thought!” he said.
He also had a tip for the team behind the bar: “I think they should add Sprite Cranberry – for Christmas!”
Arnold wasn’t the only one impressed by his surroundings, particularly the colourful Christmas adornments.
On seeing the inflatable Santa, snowman and elf, Ryker Christian, eight, exclaimed: “I wasn’t expecting the decorations to be as stunning!”
Ryker said Christmas plans were one of the topics he had been discussing with his penpal, resident Faye Torrance, 83.
He admitted that writing the letters had been tricky at first.
“It wasn’t easy to write, it takes a while to think about information.”
Faye had been impressed with Ryker’s writing progress, however, and noticed the initial four lines had extended to a couple of pages by the end of the year.
“I found his letters very good, and he keeps writing back, like a revolving door, and his letters have expanded and developed.”
Above - Faye Torrance with Ryker, and below, Jim Espie at his computer to prepare another letter for his penpal Jackson who was away on the day.
While the expectation may be that the older generation are more familiar with handwriting than word processing, resident Jim Espie, 97, has written all his letters to penpal Jackson Pateman on his Apple computer, proving to be a neat contrast to the children putting pen to paper to write theirs.
Meanwhile, Peggy Barrett, 95, enjoyed a lovely meeting with her penpal Jemma Keightley-Wills, nine.
They marvelled at their differences – Jemma is an only child while Peggy was the fifth girl of six siblings – and also their similarities, with a shared love of music, singing and dancing.
“I have enjoyed hearing that she’s been in the choir here and that her parents came over here on a boat,” said Jemma.
Peggy said: “Jemma’s letters are wonderful. I really enjoy receiving them and I think it’s a wonderful project.”
Peggy’s daughter Joanne happened to be visiting from the Hokianga and was delighted to meet Jemma, who she had heard so much about.
“I think it’s wonderful, I really do. For both sides, the kids and the residents here,” she said.
Not everybody got to meet with their penpal however.
Sadly, resident Les Cresswell recently passed away so his wife Margaret took over the letter writing and came to meet his penpal Jack Palmer at the special afternoon tea instead.
Jack had been told the news beforehand and had a lovely conversation with Margaret about Les.
“Les loved getting Jack’s letters,” said Margaret, whose grandchildren also attend the school.
Peggy Barrett (above) was delighted to meet with young Jemma, whose Grandma Dorothy is also a resident at Grace Joel and Margaret Cresswell (below) took over penpal duties with Jack Palmer after her husband Les passed away.
Jack added: “We talked about how he went to the rugby down to one of his son’s and he went past the place where he was a principal at Waihao Downs and she told me how the cat keeps coming into the room to look for Les.”
As the time drew closer to 3pm the children left with a beautiful farewell which brought smiles to everyone’s faces and were treated to a knitted Christmas decoration plus a handmade spinning top each by resident Tom Pearson to remember their visit by.
Their teacher Sarah said the following day that the children had been overwhelmed and delighted by the visit, especially the amount of food available and the spinning tops and Christmas bells they received.
“They’ve already written their letters and they used words like ‘unexpected’ and 'incredible'."
Sarah was thrilled with the improvements in writing that she had seen over the year but also the inter-generational friendships that had blossomed.
“The lockdown had a huge effect but because of this, the writing has gone from strength to strength and I know a lot of the children will keep it up in Year 5. There’s definitely two way benefits from this,” she said.
Joceline Wilson with Honor (left) and Rod Warwick with Rosalie (right).