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

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”– Rudyard Kipling

The Power to Transform

Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Our storytelling ability, a uniquely human trait, has been with us as long as we’ve been able to speak and listen. Not only do people love to tell stories, people love to hear stories!

Listen to this tiny story of Betty Meeks, who lives at Peachtree Village in Roswell New Mexico.  What a wonderful tiny story from Mrs. Meeks’ library of her lifetime! (read the transcription below the story)


Betty Meeks, storyteller

Rusty, Dusty, and the shoe

I named the story “Rusty, Dusty, and the shoe.”

Betty Meeks Tiny Stories-page-001[1]I taught first grade and one day, while the children were out playing during the lunch hour I was in my room grading papers. One of my little girls came in crying and I asked her what was wrong. She said, “Rusty and Dusty got my shoe and threw it over the fence!’

So I went out with her and I went over into the vacant lot and got her shoe, brought it back and gave it to her. I was not saying a word to the boys. They had seen me come out, so they knew that I knew what had happened.

So I let them play, and when the bell rang to come in and resume classes I brought my children in, got the rest of the class seated, and assigned them some spelling words to work on. Then I took the two little boys, which were identical twins down to the Principal’s office. They stood before the Principal’s desk, and I stood beside them and told the Principal what had happened. Then I stepped behind them because I wanted him to have their full attention.

So he said, “Did you really do that to Julie?” One little twin said, “Oh we didn’t, we didn’t,” and the other one popped in and he said, “Oh yes we did!” I was so shocked and amused that I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

Well, the Principal went ahead and reprimanded the children, and I think he gave them a swat. Then he said, “You boys go back to your room and sit down and get to work, I want to talk to your teacher.” And so they left, and the Principal said, “Mrs. Meeks, in the future, when you bring children down, please do not stand behind them and laugh. Couldn’t you tell how hard it was for me to keep a straight face?” I said, “Yes, I saw it.” Well, we both had a good laugh and I went back to my class.


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

The Elders are truly ‘human libraries’  with stories ripe for harvesting! I just got back from a community in Illinois and was captivated by the tiny stories I heard.

We have a unique opportunity to harvest the wisdom, the humor, and memories we hear every day. We are in relationship with elders who have journeyed almost a full century on this planet. Through their stories, we connect with one another while giving our resident storytellers the opportunity to reconnect with what was once taken for granted. We give them the opportunity to share their memories for generations to come. And, the tiny stories can be preserved forever in digital media and libraries.

Through the simple process of capturing these adventures, challenges, and wisdom acquired on their life journey –  we create a profoundly enriching experience for both the storyteller and the recorder.


To hear more tiny stories from Elder Storytellers around the United states go to the Tiny Stories Page, and get ready to smile, and be filled with the legacies of elderhood preserved here.

If you are interested in preserving your own tiny stories, or the stories of someone you love, please contact me, and I will be happy to help you save your library of tiny stories too!


About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

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!