The power of storytelling to connect us all!

In 2006, I was working as an administrator in an Assisted Living community while simultaneously working on my Masters degree. I had finished all of my class credits, and in order to complete the degree I had to write a thesis. This seemed a daunting requirement, and I had no ideas for a topic let alone how to even begin. I found myself floundering and wondering if I would ever finish the degree.

Then one day from my office, I overheard a 98 year old talking about what it was like when he was a boy working on their family farm. I was captivated by his stories that day as he recalled things I could have never known since I was 65 years younger than him! As one of humans’ most basic and effective forms of communication, storytelling connects us all, and I certainly made a connection that day.

With little more than the beginning of an idea, I began to research storytelling and oral history in hopes of finding a suitable thesis topic. During this research, I came across the quote that would not only help me complete the thesis, but from that moment on filled me with the passion to preserve the stories of elders everywhere. The quote is attributed to an African Proverb:

“Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”

For reasons obvious to anyone who works in our industry, this quote resonates deeply. We are surrounded by elders every day, all with wonderful stories and recollections of their past that they so willingly share. I began to think that if we somehow saved those stories, we could save their library!

My dreaded thesis ended up being one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I spent hours interviewing and recording one special elder: my grandmother, Irene Hosteter, who raised seven children on little more than faith. Together, we saved her library for those 7 children, who have grown to also include 15 grandchildren, 33 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren!

Yes, the thesis project was big, but what I learned along the way is that preserving the wisdom and stories (their legacy!) of our elders is easy!

  • All it takes is a recording device (found on most smart phones these days)
  • a willing storyteller
  • an engaged listener
  • and a little bit of time.

That’s when the magic of the story takes over, connecting the storyteller and listener, allowing both to find aspects of themselves in each other while preserving the storyteller’s legacy forever.

Grammie died a few years ago at the age of 95, but her legacy remains with us. We can still listen to her stories, in her voice, anytime. As the holiday season approaches and families gather, consider sitting down with one of your cherished family members, start the recorder, and ask them to “tell me about that time when….”

You will have created a priceless keepsake.

Below is one of Grammie’s stories.  She would be honored if you decide to create one of your own!  Help us save the libraries and preserve the legacy of all elders!

About our guest Author:  Carrie Gallahan, Director of Operations – Midwest Region, Compass Senior Living

carrie-headshotCarrie lives in Peru Indiana.   She is the founder of  Saving Libraries, and she has partnered with Compass Senior Living to create a signature program entitled Tiny Stories, which is a legacy collection of elder stories  in print, recorded and video formats.  Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They imprint a picture on our minds. Not only do people love to tell stories, people love to hear stories!

2 thoughts on “The power of storytelling to connect us all!

  1. Hello, my name is Zach Pettit and I am the maintenance director at woodland palms and am part of the compass senior living family. Im not sure that this is where I post my story, but here it goes. We have a resident who was/is extremely mechanically inclined, but at his age is feeling obsolete. I collect old cars and have a 61 Pontiac tempest, a 65 dodge stepside with a 225 slant 6 and 3 on the tree, and also a 66 gmc pickup. I once ran into a snag with a cone type inline fuel filter which also doubles as the seat for the needle valve on the carburetor. I broke the housing and it was pot metal so nearly impossible to weld, and even more impossible to find. Our resident told me exactly how to bypass it and get it working!! His knowledge at the time was invaluable to me! Along the way he has also asked me questions on schematics diagrams as he never learned to read them. If you know how to read schematics, you can pretty much fix anything. The man has 2 of my life times worth of experience and is always willing to let me pick his brain when needed. I honestly believe that the elders should run the country as they say, history repeats itself. In short, the things we are trying today have been tried in the past. We can learn from their success and their mistakes so they are not repeated. I truly have a passion for being around the elderly and enjoy being around them. Ever since I saw fried green tomatoes, I have always wanted to hear their stories! Its a shame in a way that I am always too busy working to sit down and actually hear more of them. They are truly one of the greatest untapped resources of our society and lives.


  2. Every year, my son and I celebrate Mother’s Day by doing something we both love…camping, kayaking, just being-in nature and experiencing things together for just 24-36 hours a year! This year-after work-we headed up to Door County- it was a dark and rainy evening…we arrived at our campground by Rowley’s Bay, WI. The wonderful ladies who checked us in told us everything we needed or wanted to know about what was in the area where we could grab a great meal….unfortunately, we didn’t think we would make the renowned Fish Boil and performance that was just down the road via a trail through the woods….after settling in, we decided to head down the trail (the rain had stopped for us) and at least get the dinner if we missed the “performance”.

    We arrived at the Inn, walked inside and quietly joined the crowd that was intently listening to the story that was being told….in the center of this crowd was a man sitting backwards on his roller walker….we caught the last third of the story, but we looked at each other and knew—we had stumbled into something really awesome and special….this story telling gentleman was filling the room with his rich voice and using is hands to help envision what he was sharing….my son and I became instantly enthralled with his story and his large capable hands that showed all the signs of an experienced, full life. He had a long grey beard and suspenders. He told the story of the history of the bay and surrounding area–he was a descendant of the original family who settled the area…he told the story explaining the beginnings of a fish boil and what to expect once we all gathered outside around the cauldron… I don’t remember how old he said he was…it didn’t matter…what mattered was my son and I were able to have this memorable experience together–witnessing the amazing gift of a wise and talented story teller…way up north at the end of the Door County peninsula, at a campground—in a Yurt. Now this unforgettable elder is part of our story.



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