April 28, 2011

Assignment: Capturing History in Words, Sound and Pictures

CWRU Multimedia class
Emily Hoffman documents the Wii action at Eliza Bryant Village.
Photos by Susan Griffith.

Ludel Dennis is one heck of a bowler.

Not one bowler in their red Eliza Bryant Village Wii Bowlers shirts has yet to match her perfect 300 score, but they keep trying on Thursday afternoons.

And Jim Sheeler’s multimedia journalism students are there to catch the action with their Flip video cameras, as they sit in on practice in the television room at the retirement village on Wade Park.

Sheeler’s students—Molly Drake, Emily Hoffman and Jonathan Monreal—have spent class time capturing the life stories and activities of these residents who live in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood. They plan to create a Web-based repository of these stories, audiotapes and images.

“The residents are so excited to have these students interview them,” said Larie R. Goggins, Eliza Bryant’s director of housing.  She helped Sheeler’s students connect with the residents.

Jonathan Monreal
Jonathan Monreal films a bowling practice.

The idea for the Department of English journalism course grew out of Sheeler’s reporting for the Rocky Mountain News. There, he wrote narrative obituaries about what made each individual unique—in what, for many, would be the last chance to have their stories told.

Sheeler, who now holds the Shirley Wormser Professorship of Journalism and Media Writing, said visiting the home takes him back to his reporting days.

“This class has turned into more of an internship for the students,” he said, adding that he likes being able to monitor, coach and teach interview techniques as they take place.

Just how important the students’ work is was a lesson learned.

The levity of the bowling overshadows a sense of loss for Sheeler’s students. Early in the semester, they encountered Andrew Bailey, 78. The resident, who appeared healthy, suddenly died in the middle of their project. His legacy is a story of a loving husband who cared deeply for his frail wife, Ethel.

Molly Drake
Molly Drake gets to know more
about the residents.

On foot, Mr. Bailey made more than a dozen trips daily from his apartment to visit her at the adjacent nursing home facility and comfort her by holding her hand and helping with physical therapy exercises.

On Thursday afternoons earlier this semester, Mr. Bailey sat down and talked about his life with Drake and Hoffman, until the day he suddenly died in late February. 

“If we had not been there for the month and a half before his death, that story would have been lost,” Sheeler said.

Through their classroom work, the students have preserved his story to share with others who may never have encountered this everyday man and this love story. 

It’s the kind of life story that won Sheeler a Pulitzer Prize for the article, “Final Salute,” about a Marine casualty notification officer and the people he touched while delivering the news that every military family dreads.

“The minute I walked into Eliza Bryant, I knew this home was a place to start the class project. It is teeming with stories and storytellers who have the time to tell them,” he said.

Posted by: Emily Mayock, April 28, 2011 08:52 AM | News Topics:

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