Finding Out Who is Penn Yan

A group of Keuka College students interview residents at Clinton Crest Manor

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

For students taking ENG 125 Literature in the Wider World with Dr. Jennie Joiner, associate professor of English at Keuka College, the class is much more than its name suggests.

Instruction is more than what the students learn in the classroom. It’s more than methods of studying literature, how literature represents the human experience, and the special attention given to teaching and learning English.

For the last five years, students taking the class have conducted a project where they go out into the “wider world” and gotten to know some of the people who call Penn Yan home. The project, titled “Who is Penn Yan?” pairs Keuka College students with members of the Penn Yan community. The students interview residents of the community, and write a story about them.

“The students talked with residents of Clinton Crest Manor to learn their stories,” says Dr. Joiner, who also chairs the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts. “They met with their partners three times to get to know each other, take notes, and write the story. Then, they read what they wrote to those they interviewed, make changes as needed, and ask additional questions.”

The students take this project quite seriously, adds Dr. Joiner, and they see a lot of value in what they are doing.

“The residents of Clinton Crest have taken notice of this,” says Terry Test, a member of the Keuka College Class of 1973, who helped Dr. Joiner begin the project with students in her fifth grade class at Penn Yan Elementary School.

“It’s fun at this level, seeing the excitement of the senior citizens, and hearing them tell stories of their past, and sharing memories,” says Terry. “It’s been a phenomenal success.”

One of the success stories is the trio of Sue Goodrich, Keuka College Class of 1954, and two members of the Class of 2020—sophomores Bethany Pendl and Zeruriah Tisdell. The three were matched together, with Sue recounting her story to the students.

“I told them no question was off the table, and there was no limit on the questions they could ask me,” says Sue. “These little rascals did a great job.”

And for Sue, calling the students “little rascals,” is a term of endearment, which Bethany particularly liked.

“Sue made me feel at ease, which made our conversations extra nice,” says Bethany. “I’m glad we did this project. It got us off campus and into the community to meet some of the people in Penn Yan.”

Zeruriah appreciated Sue’s openness, which factored into her story on Sue.

“She told us about her family, and how they taught her love, care, and sympathy—it reminded me of my own family,” says Zeruriah. “Like when Sue’s parents, who lived in Watertown, N.Y., would host soldiers returning from war to their house for dinner.”

“When Zeruriah and Bethany read to me what they had written, I was in tears,” says Sue. “They were happy tears, the little rascals.”

Sometime in the spring, Zeruriah and Bethany, and the other members of the Literature in the Wider World class will return to Clinton Crest Manor and read the final edition of their stories to the residents. And before the end of the spring 2018 semester, each member of the class and each resident will receive a copy of a printed book—complete with each of the resident’s stories.

“The senior citizens grew up and worked in a completely different era from these students,” says Terry, “and I think it is important for the students to hear about their experiences, and keeping these memories alive. Their memories and stories are special and need to be shared.”