PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — One has to wonder who enjoyed a recent writing project the most: the 10-year-old girl who was the reason for the project, or the 44 senior citizens who went back in time to write in vivid detail about what their lives were like when they were 10?
The girl is Julia Aglieco, who is fighting a childhood cancer. The senior citizens are independent living residents at EagleCrest senior living in Roseville, Minn., including Eugene Kennedy, s longtime Pequot Lakes resident and good friend of the Thiede family.
The project is titled “Stories for a Special Young Girl, from friends who have walked a good mile.” It encompasses two volumes totaling 44 stories from Kennedy’s fellow EagleCrest residents, written especially for Julia.
Volume 2 includes a note from Julia and a poem by her grandfather, Paul Thiede.
“Eugene Kennedy and I were talking one day about it,” Thiede said of his young granddaughter’s health battle. “In our conversation it came up that he lives in a facility with 100 some residents. He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could put together stories from some of these residents when they were 10 years old?’”
The idea took off from there, resulting in stories from people in their 80s and 90s who reminisced about their lives so many decades ago. Most stories are a page long, and some are much longer as residents share memories that remain so vivid in their minds.
" Eventually, we’re hopeful the results of her treatment will be good and eventually they can meet her. That would be a blessing. "
— Paul Thiede.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed them,” Julia's mom, Elise Aglieco, said of the stories. Elise grew up in Pequot Lakes and now lives in St. Paul with her husband, John, and their children. “We read them out loud in the hospital. We read them at home sometimes for the other kids.”
The stories from times when people didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing or telephones have sparked interesting conversations among the Aglieco family.
“It’s beautiful what they did,” Elise said. “I think it’s so much fun what other 10-year-olds went through and the fact they still had hardships.
“Fortunately, no one is talking about childhood cancer. But there’s some really beautiful things they’ve shared,” she said.
Through Elise, Julia said the writings have brought her so much joy and something to smile about and think about other than the hard work she is enduring as she undergoes cancer treatments.
Like those senior citizens who have been somewhat isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, Elise said her daughter also has felt isolated when in her hospital room, unable to meet other patients because of pandemic restrictions.
That’s another level of bonding between her daughter and those senior citizens, Elise said.
Kennedy, who at age 94 shares a story in Volume 1, said he is a pseudo grandfather to Julia, whose paternal grandfather is deceased. The Kennedys and Thiedes have been friends for nearly 50 years, he said.
“We were welcome at their home and they were welcome at our home,” Kennedy said, noting both families were large and they had a lot of good times.
After talking to Thiede about the idea to have residents write their stories, Kennedy mentioned it to fellow resident Margery Jaschob, "a dynamo at organization,” Kennedy said.
He said residents’ average age is 88, and they are “quite alert.” Many wrote in long hand so Jaschob had to decipher what they had written. Kennedy’s daughter-in-law, Mary, then typed the stories.
" Every Bible study or prayer group, they remember Julia in prayers. It’s almost like the entire building adopted this child. "
— Eugene Kennedy.
Kennedy said one 98-year-old woman was just thrilled to see her story in print. Some residents had never put their childhood memories in writing.
“Even though they’ve never seen the girl, they basically adopted her,” Kennedy said of Julia.
The residents’ stories are full of well wishes and prayers for Julia. They are always asking how she is doing and follow her CaringBridge page.
“Eventually, we’re hopeful the results of her treatment will be good and eventually they can meet her. That would be a blessing,” Thiede said.