Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Toledo students look at past to help find key to happiness


Jared Barnhill, a sixth grader at Grove Patterson Academy, may just be holding the key to happiness in his hands.

herrallong / toledo blade Enlarge

For Lorin Williams, happiness will not rest solely on how much money she makes or the material things with which she surrounds herself, but by her ability to help others and set goals for herself.

That outlook is one that the 11-year-old sixth grader at Grove Patterson Academy has formed from the responses to questions about the pursuit of happiness posed in letters to people from all walks of life - 55 years apart.

In 1953, a sixth grade teacher at the school, Gwen Estell, had her students write letters to people asking them to share what guided them in their pursuit of happiness.

They sent the letters to a diverse group of people, including governors, business and community leaders, even Eleanor Roosevelt and the Duchess of Windsor.

Many of those people wrote back, and the students compiled the responses in a booklet.

"Take time to love," one virtue read.

"Read widely," another suggested.

This year, Grove Patterson sixth graders are continuing the quest to define happiness by writing letters to local, regional, and national role models asking them to share how they have achieved that target.

"With the presidential thing right now, everybody is talking about change. With all that is going on in the world, let's see if the pursuit of happiness has changed in 50 years," said Gretchen Bueter, principal of the school, which serves more than 320 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The resurrection of the project happened this summer.

Mrs. Bueter received an e-mail from a woman in South Carolina, who is the daughter of the late Robert Shelton.

Mr. Shelton helped consolidate the Waterville, Whitehouse, and Monclova school districts into Anthony Wayne Local Schools in 1950, and had corresponded with Grove Patterson's sixth graders in 1953.

Since his 1989 death, his daughter found the booklet compiled by the elementary students in the 1950s and gave that to Mrs. Bueter.

Poised to celebrate 10 years since the school reopened, Mrs. Bueter thought continuing the project could help connect students today with those from the past.

"Our hope is to tie this into Character Counts," said Christine Smeltzer, who teaches sixth grade at the school. "It gets them to realize that what they do now affects them later in life."

Since the students started writing letters earlier this school year, many have received responses.

Some of the responses have been in writing while other community members have spoken to the students directly.

"It has really touched a nerve with some of the people," Mrs. Smeltzer said.

Corbin Hill, 11, took delight in having one of the recipients of his letters - Emmett Beavers, who oversees computer system security for Toledo Public Schools - come to the school to speak. Especially since Mr. Beavers is in a career that Corbin wants to pursue - computer technology.

"I like to write to successful people," Corbin said.

Another thing he has learned from the project is to find happiness in what you're doing in life.

The correspondences past and present will be displayed on a bulletin board near the school's entrance.

The letter writing project is one of at least two things the school is doing to learn from past history of the school that was named in honor Grove Patterson, the nationally known Blade editor-in-chief who worked at the newspaper from 1910 until his death in 1956.

When the school was being built in the early 1950s, Mr. Patterson placed a time capsule inside the foundation of the original building.

The box contains photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Patterson along with a copy of The Blade.

Mrs. Bueter said she plans to open the box during a school assembly in late November.

"I hope to learn from more people how to get happiness and have a wonderful life experience," Lorin said. "I hope it passes down [to other grades] and teaches them about the pursuit of happiness."

Contact James Joyce III at:


or 419-724-6076.

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