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EU cadets adopt grandparents at The Commons
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Ernie Hoetz, 90 on January 23, chats with East Union cadet Mileena Nelson about what has been important in his life. - photo by GLENN KAHL
The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at East Union High School is about building character and teaching respect for others – especially for the older and wiser senior citizens.

Cadets and senior citizens met face to face for the first time Thursday afternoon at the Commons at Union Ranch retirement center in the JROTC program’s “Adopt a Grandparent Day” organized by U.S. Army Sergeant (ret.) Karl Knutsen.

The high school military instructor has led the program at East Union for some eight years turning out students better prepared to meet the challenges of the everyday world with insight and preparation that they might not otherwise enjoy.

Students paired off with the seniors in an opening orientation where they interviewed them with a series of questions that were designed to break the ice and open dialogs between the two groups that are generations apart.

The seniors were open to the personal and social chatting between their counterparts with often more than 75 years separating them.  In some cases there would be one-on-one teams in addition to one session where a married couple had three cadets at their table in the recreation room near the lobby of the facility.

Each group found a comfortable place to exchange their past, present and future hopes whether it was at a break table or by the fireplace off the main dining room that had already been set in hotel fashion for the evening meal.

In an opening get together in the smaller dining room to the rear of the facility everyone sat in a circle with each introducing themselves.  It was clear that everyone was a little uncertain about who they were going to meet and really what they were going to talk about together.  There were obviously some anxieties in the room.

It took about 10 minutes before the ice had been broken between the ages and rich conversations were the order of the day.  At first blush, it was obviously going to be a successful program with teens who demonstrated they really cared about reaching out to their “adopted grandparents.”

Cadet Hannah Bylow and her senior counterpart Julia LaFrano talked like they had known each other for years.  Hannah talked about her dream of being an aviator in the U.S. Navy, and her “adopted grandmother,” about her past where she worked on the docks that were torpedoed in Pearl Harbor.

The Hawaiian native said her work group had been given the Sunday off when the attack struck the island.  They usually worked seven days a week except for December 7, 1941.  She said she witnessed the attack on the U.S. ships and aircraft.

The cadets are being urged to keep in contact with their new grandparent friends by calling them, using emails where possible and dropping them friendly notes to keep their dialog alive.

The series of questions the cadets asked in their interviews were a way of getting to know the seniors.  They asked their name and place of birth as well as wanting to learn about their growing up from their childhood years.

They wanted to hear about pets they might have had growing up and whether they had any siblings they would like to talk about together.  Family traditions were another query the cadets put forth as well as asking about their favorite games and activies as a child and teenager.

“What did you dream of becoming when you were a child?”  That was another ice breaker in the program.  “Does your family have any traditions, and what were your first job and maybe your favorite job?”

The cadets also asked about poetry, art, music and writing as well as their favorite book or story.  All the questions were designed to open conversation that would serve as valuable insights to both generations – and that it did.