'I've had a good life': Surgoinsville students present seniors the stories of their lives

Jeff Bobo • May 19, 2017 at 4:00 PM


CHURCH HILL — Nursing home patient Max Hyder said Thursday he’s had a good life, and now he’s got the book to prove it.

On Thursday, Surgoinsville Middle School eighth-graders presented 24 residents of the Church Hill Care and Rehabilitation Center with the stories of their lives, as documented in the newly published book “Long Before Us.”

In March, students from Angelia Hensley and Cody Sauceman’s SMS classes interviewed CHCRC residents to gain a better perspective on mid- to late 20th century history from their elders who lived through it.

Those stories were then written by students and recorded in the book.

Hyder, 88, of Surgoinsville shared his story with eighth-grader Andy Davis, whose adaptation of Hyder’s story is now a page in the book.

Hyder was born in Stoney Point, was his high school valedictorian and served as an Army tank commander near the DMZ toward the end of the Korean War. He later studied transportation at UT-Knoxville, moved to Chicago to work for a transit company, and retired back to Hawkins County 32 years ago, where he brought back with him a love of the Chicago Cubs.

“My dad had a country store where the road goes down to Phipps Bend, and it burned in 1940,” Hyder said. “I spent three years in the Army and had three older brothers. I had a good life. My wife and I lived in Skokie (Illinois), and we enjoyed life on the North Side (of Chicago), and we were Cub fans. I guess I’ve seen the Cubs play 250 times.”

Hyder said he feels good, but can’t walk, and he doesn’t expect to ever get to leave the CHCRC. He still enjoys life, however, watching sports and reading the newspaper, but he’s ready to move on when his time comes.

Davis said his experience interviewing Hyder has changed him and given him a different perspective on life. One particular piece of wisdom Davis won’t forget was some advice Hyder offered.

“He has a quote, and it was something like, ‘You never know everything, so always ask,’ ” Davis said. “He said he’s always lived by that, so I’ve been living by that the same as he has.”

The entire book can be read in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.

Hensley said the “Long Before Us” project came about after the eighth grade took a field trip to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va.

She recalled that Surgoinsville native resident Ubert McConnell, 98, was a decorated WWII veteran who participated in the D-Day landing. McConnell is a resident at the CHCRC while he recovers from a broken leg.

“I was wishing he could come to the school and talk, and then I knew that wasn’t possible. So I said let’s take the school to Mr. McConnell,” Hensley told the Times-News Thursday. “From there it just escalated into this. This was during a time when the media was focused on women’s rights. I wanted to take the boys to talk to some of our military veterans and take some of the girls to talk to some of the ladies here who can talk to them about how women’s rights have changed over the years.

“I said let’s not just write their stories. Let’s publish them in the books and give them back to them, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Sauceman said the residents’ stories mainly focused on the differences between past generations and the current generation.

“We had some residents who never went to school, we had some who only went to eighth grade and we had some who went to ETSU for college,” Sauceman said. “We had some who were athletes, and we had some who were stay at home moms. This a chance to share their legacy. Whatever their life was, this is their legacy. Something for them to be able to remember and something for their family to remember for years to come. And we think it’s an experience the students will remember.”

Although they delivered 24 books, there were 25 stories. It was an emotional experience for one student to learn that her story subject had passed away since the interviews took place in March.

Hensley noted that was an unexpected learning experience for her students as well.

But a fact of life young people eventually learn is that when one generation departs this world, the next generation picks up the baton and carries on.                             

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