For some HWS students, such as Ryan Young ’11, a classroom assignment to visit an assisted living facility has grown into a year-long friendship. As a student in Professor of History Maureen Flynn’s “Life Cycles: the Family in History” course, Young and his classmates were assigned to visit Geneva General Hospital’s adjunct Living Center. “I had the students work with senior citizens as well as children to remind them of the social, cognitive and emotional changes that occur in the human developmental cycle,” Flynn explained.
However, for Young – a 6’5″ forward for the Hobart basketball team, biochemistry major and well-known campus leader – visiting the Living Center was never an assignment; it was an opportunity to find out how much he has in common with the most unexpected of friends.
“In the fall, I came every Monday and Wednesday around lunchtime and visited Bernard McCarthy and one other resident here at the Living Center,” explained Young during a recent visit. “I called it ‘Lunch with Bernard’: I would come in, sit down and we’d just start talking then before we knew it I had to go, unfortunately. But we both knew that it would only be a few days until I’d be back: something that we both looked forward to.”
Sitting beside Young in his wheelchair, McCarthy – an outspoken, quick-witted man – agreed without missing a beat. “I always look forward to when Ryan stops by,” he said. “From the very beginning we hit it off great: we’re interested in many of the same things, such as books, so it’s always easy to find things to talk about.”
Young encouraged McCarthy to talk about his book. Asking McCarthy if he’s been working on a book, he described the history he’d been writing about his family’s house. A farmer by blood, McCarthy is the youngest of eight children and the only living child of Depression-era farmers whose house still stands two miles northeast of Victor, N.Y.
McCarthy explained that the farmland surrounding the house has since been sold, but he still wants to fund a monument for his family on the southern side of the house. A goal he isn’t sure if he’ll be able to achieve in his lifetime.
But there are lighter moments in the conversation. When asked what they talk about during their visits, Young unexpectedly added, “Bernard has taught me a lot about milk. I drink at least three glass of chocolate milk every day, and I always thought that it was regular milk with chocolate added in. But Bernard was a dairy farmer, and he told me that chocolate milk is made using a special powder that’s added by the farmer to the regular milk.”
They look at each other, smile and laugh. Young goes on to explain other milk-related lessons he’s learned from McCarthy, such as the actual difference between whole milk, one percent and two percent.
But amid the laughs and natural bond between these two men who are generations apart, the question still remains: what has motivated Young to keep stopping by after the semester ended in Flynn’s class? “I enjoy talking to him,” Young answered immediately.
Katherine Salotti ’09, one of Young’s classmates from “Life Cycles,” agreed. “I feel that many of the residents at the Living Center just want someone to talk to. I was very close to my own grandmother when she was alive; she loved visitors.”
Heidi Bamatter ’09, another peer of Young’s, added that, “There’s a real personal experience that happens when you get to know the residents here. It’s so much more than you can learn in class: you can just talk to them.”
Likewise, for Young, “…it was never an assignment or a chore to come here, even when it was technically for a class. It’s always been like meeting a new friend.”
He added that, “Fortunately, now that my ‘Life Cycles’ class is over, I don’t have to bring along my notepad and take down all the things that we talk about. Now we can just talk.”
As the academic year comes to close, Young and McCarthy aren’t worried about losing touch. Before taking McCarthy off to catch the tail-end of a jazz performance in a lounge downstairs, Young explained, “I still plan on stopping by as much as I can over the summer. My visits just may turn into ‘Dinner with Bernard.'”