Never forgotten: Victoria High School, FHSU, St. John's partner to preserve past for future generations

Like a misty valley struck by the first rays of sun, time-clouded memory clears as residents of St. John's Nursing Home tell tales of friends, family and battle-brothers. Five seniors from Victoria High School eagerly record these stories of the past for generations of the future.

Brenton Hoffman, Blake Klaus, Gus Pfanenstiel, Cole Robben and Jordan Robben interviewed St. John's residents Adelinde "Linda" Bollig, William "Ed" and Delores Froelich, Perry Kippes, Alfred Rohr, Donald Sander, Wilfred Sander, Josephine Trowbridge, Ivan Vanaken and Celestina "Sally" Ziegler. The students had nothing but good things to say about the interviews.

"At first I didn't really want to do it; I wasn’t sure what it would be like talking to them," said Klaus. "But once we got started talking, it was a really interesting experience."

The Oral History Project is a collaborative effort involving St. John's Nursing Home, Victoria High School and the Department of English at Fort Hays State University. Its goal is to turn oral histories of World War II into written stories to be protected and preserved so their lessons are not lost to future generations.

"It's not just only veterans, but any U.S. citizen who had a supporting role in the war effort," said Linda Smith, instructor of English at FHSU. "It's a brilliant research opportunity to have all information archived in one place."

Oral history differs from academic history because the past is presented through the voices and words of people who lived it.

"The greatest danger humanity faces is to walk away from its history and past," Smith said. "We need to embrace that and carry it with us. I think that's part of our role as stewards of our society."

"The Oral History Project is important on so many levels," said David Karlin, CEO of St. John's. "The participants have done their part to ensure that the life stories of the individuals are preserved for future generations. To have missed this opportunity would have been a tragic loss."

The project has been so well received by all parties involved, it will most likely turn into an annual event with more participants. The goal of the project is to begin archiving audio, video and transcripts of these interviews with the National Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.

"I don't know who profited more from this program, the residents of St. John's or the students of Victoria High School," said Pam Wellbrock, activity director at St. John's. "The students were appreciative of the stories and what the residents have been through."

The students not only learned about World War II, but they also heard stories about the Victoria area during that era.

"You hear stories about the Depression and the dustbowl, but it's completely different hearing about it from someone who was there," said Klaus. "Listening to them talk about the area and building the church I go to was really cool."

"They're really tough!" said Jordan Robben. They lived through some hard times, but they stuck it out and made it through."

The students hope it becomes a tradition so other students may have the same experience, and now they feel like they will have some stories to tell when they are old.

"We will be able to tell kids when we're old about the things happening now," said Klaus. "I'll want people to record my stories so what happened to me in my life isn’t lost."

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