Oral Histories Project has young people learn from older generations

  • By Katya Yefimova Herald writer
  • Tuesday, August 28, 2012 7:31pm

EDMONDS — Jo Ann Rossi’s long-ago childhood started coming to life in a cramped office at the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce building Aug. 25 as soon as two Edmonds-Woodway High School students pushed the recording button on their digital camera.

Rossi, 79, of Edmonds, smiled as she shared her memories of growing up on a poultry farm in Alderwood Manor. The farm stood where the Lynnwood Transit Center is now, the famous Interurban Car roaring by right at the edge of the property.

Caitlin Maury and Sydney Ohly, who are about to enter their senior year, both wearing gray “History Starts Here” T-shirts, asked pointed questions from a prepared list they held in their laps.

History club

The two are part of the history club Edmonds-Woodway High School Assistant Principal Geoff Bennett started last fall with the goal of getting young people interested in history and learning from older generations.

Students in the club have spent the year visiting people at Brighton Court retirement home and recording their stories. For the summer they teamed up with the Edmonds-South Snohomish County Historical Society to interview people during the Saturday farmers market.

People who share their stories get a digital copy of the interview.

Bennett, a former Everett High School history teacher, started the club hoping a handful of students would sign up. He got 25.

Students have since recorded more than 50 stories as part of the Oral History Project.

“I grew up in Edmonds and have easy access to old-timers in the area,” Bennett said.

Maury personally interviewed about 20 people for the project.

“Ever since I was small I always hung out with my grandparents, and they are so wise,” she said. “They gave me the most valuable life lessons.”

Her favorite interview was a woman named Grace, who talked about what Edmonds, Maury’s hometown, looked like in the old days.

Sharing memories

Back at the Chamber of Commerce building on Aug. 25, Rossi, whose maiden name is Smith, talked about walking more than a mile to Alderwood Manor School when she was a first-grader.

“I’m sure you don’t relate to any of this, but that’s the way it was in 1937,” she told the interviewers.

She showed the students a sepia photo of her class, and another one with some of the same people 60-some years later.

The farm’s previous owner built a pool on the property, a novel sight in the area. Local authorities in the early 20th century advertised Alderwood Manor as the place to be “a gentleman farmer,” Rossi said.

She teared up as she talked about first falling in love with her husband of 57 years and laughed as she recalled going with her father to Chinatown in Seattle to sell chickens.

Next up was Gary Crymes, 78, of Lynnwood. The interviewers sat wide-eyed as Crymes reminisced about all the trouble he got into when he was a boy.

“When I was 14, I got a speedometer for my bike,” he said. “It went up to 50 mph and there was only one place in town where I could get it up to that speed – the Main Street hill.”

And sure enough, Crymes managed to do so.

He shared serious memories, too, like the one about two young Japanese-American women who were friends with his sister and were taken to an Idaho camp during World War II.

Crymes took many dives off the Edmonds ferry dock and other local spots in his years as a competitive skin diver and spear fisherman.

He also said he took some of the first color underwater photography in the Puget Sound.

The late Frances Anderson, a longtime Edmonds educator and namesake for a local community center, was Crymes’ first grade-school teacher and later principal.

Getting a peek into how people used to live has given students a perspective beyond their high school years.

“Us teenagers, we are all about homework, high schools, colleges,” Maury said. “Talking to people who are older, they just show us that we don’t need to stress out as much, and life will go on.”

Talk to us