Helen Zimmerman, from left, Ethel Kissel, and Katie Sanders work on valentines to be traded to pen pals who are third graders at Elm Street Elementary School.
WAUSEON - On Valentine's Day, Austin Brown will find out in a letter that his pen pal's favorite food is fish.
Special handwritten notes and homemade cards will be delivered to Austin and two dozen other third-grade students in Cindy Frey's class at Elm Street Elementary School in Wauseon. Since last fall the students have been pen pals with a group of Fulton County senior citizens.
Last week several senior citizens warmed up a winter's afternoon as they created valentines for their young pen pals. With stacks of stickers, colorful construction paper, ribbon bows, and frilly doilies, the older people fussed over the cards, paying great attention to detail.
When they started to write notes to include in the cards, they reminded each other that the youngsters haven't yet mastered cursive writing. "We have to print so they can read what we write to them," said Leilah Ledyard of Wauseon. In a note to her pen pal Ellie Hayati, Ms. Ledyard wrote that her favorite color is blue, her favorite food is steak, and that she was a nurse before she retired.
"Ellie sent me two Christmas cards. We've been corresponding for quite some time," said Ms. Ledyard, adding that she's lucky.
"I have two pen pals," she said. Her other pen pal is Jacob Newlove; Ms. Ledyard knows the Newlove family. "Jacob asked for me to be his pen pal. I'm 85 years old, and he asked for me. Isn't that something? That's really wonderful."
As they snipped with scissors, they quipped with words. Ladies outnumbered the gentlemen around the craft tables at the Fulton County Senior Center in Wauseon, but Carson Dixon and Martin Gerken, who are regulars at the center, held their own, just fine, thank you.
When asked what she did before she retired, Marian Schultz laughed. "I never retired. I was a mother," she said. Every letter received from her third-grade pen pals has been saved. "Everything they made me, I saved. My kids are all grown. They don't make me anything anymore." Well, someone jokes, they make babies. Ms. Schultz says she has eight children and 21 grandchildren. Her 38th great-grandchild is due to be born in July.
Each fall for the last few years, Mrs. Frey and her students walk to the senior center where the pen pals meet face-to-face. During that first session, the pen pals sit down, talk, and get acquainted. "Some of the kids don't have grandparents in the area or don't have a relationship with any older grandparent-type figure," the teacher said.
In the spring, the youngsters return for lunch and a program. Lunch food varies, said Connie Sperry, activity director at the senior center. Sometimes the students eat what is served at the center. Sack lunches, however, show up when the center's menu includes liver and onions.
Relationships develop with the pen pals, the senior citizens said, but they are careful not to invade the youngsters' privacy or overstep boundaries. No home addresses are given out for the participants. Handwritten letters; birthday cards, and little gifts, such as candy or hand lotion at Christmas, are delivered by Mrs. Frey or Ms. Sperry.
Marc Robinson, Wauseon superintendent, said the pen pal project provides a good opportunity for students to create relationships with senior citizens. On the classroom side, the project gives students some extra, valuable practice in writing letters. "It meets a lot of needs. It's just a neat thing."
With Feb. 14 drawing near, the third-grade students soon will make valentine cards for their favorite pen pals - folded paper hearts with friendship tucked inside.
Contact Janet Romaker