NORTH LIMA -- Since January, 112 pupils from South Range schools have been corresponding with old friends they've never met.
Wednesday, the kids finally got to meet their pals -- residents of Glenellen Senior Suites and Villas on Market Street.
The four classes of fifth-graders, accompanied by their teachers, visited with 40 residents and enjoyed refreshments at Glenellen Wednesday.
"I just think it's wonderful for the kids to see what lives they led," said Jean Doyle, activities director for Glenellen.
According to Doyle, this is the first year that South Range pupils and residents exchanged letters.
"Next year I hope to get a lot more [residents] to write," she said.
"We wrote about what we did in school, what we liked, what sports we played and what we want to do when we grow up," Amber Sabo said.
"They talked about where they lived, what their job was when they were younger and what they did when they were little."
Star residents: Doyle said many of the kids were especially excited to meet Charlotte Benker, who is 111 years old -- 100 years older than most of the pupils.
"I remember one child wrote, 'I can't believe anyone can be that old. I don't mean that in a bad way. I just can't believe that anybody would grow that old," Doyle said.
Another one of the children's favorite pen pals was Paul DeWitt. DeWitt was in the Navy during World War II, and a picture of his ship was brought down from his room for the kids to see.
After reading about DeWitt's time in the Navy, one pupil looking forward to meeting him was Chris Nichols.
"I learned that war is not all about fighting but also about helping out people when they're in trouble," he said.
Kortney Kersten said the residents "showed us what their life was like when they were in school. We learned what hardships they had to go through."
Phyllis Lamb, a retired Newton Falls teacher, was one of the senior pen pals.
"They wanted to know what school was like when I was in school," Lamb said, adding that she began school in a two-room school with no indoor bathroom.
"We looked forward to getting the [children's] letters. I think it's a great project Mrs. Miller and her fellow teachers had."
In the beginning: Teacher Karen Miller said the classes started writing letters "because kids hate history and social studies. ... The best way to learn is through primary sources."
Miller said that hearing the first-hand experiences supplemented what the pupils were learning in class.
"They loved the letters," she said. "It opened up a reality to these kids."
Doyle had planned to serve refreshments outdoors, but poor weather brought all 110 youngsters inside.
When everyone was settled, Doyle showed off the book where she placed all the letters and pictures the kids sent.
A table at the front of the room was arranged with old dolls, pictures and other objects belonging to the residents.
Doyle and Lamb performed a short skit for the kids, and then some of the pupils read poems and stories to the residents.
Afterward, they mingled.
"It's nice to see them all," said Virginia Needler, 88, a retired postal worker.
"They're so full of life and pep."

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