By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Author, Activity Professional
Valley Press Books

Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State.  She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of

Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care.  She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials.  Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
To Order Books by Marge Knoth
Putting Reminiscence to Work
in Your Newsletter
by Marge Knoth

Unless you are one of those gifted people who naturally love to write, editing a
newsletter can be a real chore.  But it doesn’t have to be!   You have within your facility
access to fascinating, untapped information, information that your community and even
your nation would greatly enjoy reading.  Just where do you find this information?  It is
hidden in the hearts of your residents. It is in their unique memories of days gone by.  
Their recollections can be a vital link between your facility and the outside world.  Even if
you have never before done a newsletter, here is a way to promote your facility as well
as to win some desired brownie points with your boss.  Once community members
begin to talk about the nostalgic stories and the first-hand accounts of historical events
in your newsletter, they will be hooked.  They will pass it onto their relatives and friends
(often in different states), and your facility will shine.  And you can take the bows!

So how do you access this priceless data?  Begin by listening closely to residents, by
asking the right questions, and by carrying a note pad and pencil as you go about your
regular duties.  You never know when you will pick up a fascination story.  Besides
these accidental findings, what better place to gather copy than a lively reminiscent
group?  There you can quiz residents about quilting bees, the old country store, their
first autos, and having babies at home.  Ask about past Presidents, the Great
Depression, the WPA, and the early days of radio.  As you begin your research, you may
well discover some “celebrities” in your facility.  In a facility in which I worked in the
1980s, I found several “celebrities”.

* Helen, who at just five years old, sat on the lap of the President of Panama and cut the
ribbon at the opening of the Panama Canal. Her father was an engineer with the U.S.
Government, and they lived there at the time.
* Edie’s grandfather took her to the circus and told her to watch carefully because “Here
comes history!”  Edie, looked up to see none other than Buffalo Bill Cody, riding on a tall
horse.  She was over 100 years old when she told me this story.
*  Clarence, a former professor, personally talked with President Truman in the
President’s study.
* Betty attended one of Amelia Earhart’s lectures at Purdue University.  A short time
later, Amelia left from Purdue, attempting her unsuccessful round-the-world flight.
* John was a bootlegger and George was a revenue officer who hunted down
* Henry was a hobo who hopped trains during the Great Depression.
* Joe rode with the cavalry in the First World War.
* Jack’s family boarded Johnny Cash’s horses.
* Sadie’s grandfather fought in the Civil War.
* Lillian personally knew Clark Gable as a boy and said they called him “Stringbean.”

In an assisted living facility where I later worked, a resident from Georgia told of
knowing Jimmy Carter personally.  They had farms close to each other, and she said at
times, he would land on their property in a small plane. Another resident was a cook for
General Patton during the Second World War.  Another was a “Rosie the Riveter”.

The list goes on and on.  You probably have “celebrities” in your facility too.  You will
never know until you seek them out and discover what stories they are harboring, just
waiting to be uncovered.  Naturally before you print them, you want to secure
permission from their families.  Generally families are proud to see their loved one’s
story in print and sometimes even provide additional information. Once you have the
facts, look for the best way to publish it in your newsletter.  Try developing specific
“columns” which run month after month.  Let’s look at some potential ones.  

“Our Special People” might feature funny stories from the residents’ past experiences.  
You can encourage the sharing of these stories by asking residents questions like:
  • What was your most embarrassing experience?
  • What is the most cantankerous thing you ever did?
  • What was the funniest prank you ever pulled?”
  • When you think of your childhood, what most makes you laugh?
  • What is one mischievous thing you did that you never told your mother about?

Be sure to ask them about fun times surrounding weddings and the tricks played on the
newly-weds.  Also, try to capture jokes residents tell, and report the funny side of the day-
to-day happenings involving them.  

One of my residents told of her little Catholic grandmother who was deathly afraid of
storms.  During one storm, the lights went out.  Terrified, she quickly felt her way
through the darkness for the holy water and sprinkled her sleeping children.  When
morning came, the kids were all covered with blue spots.  She had grabbed,
accidentally, the bluing instead of the holy water!  When you put stories like this in your
newsletter, you will find readers eagerly awaiting your next issue.

Most readers are interested in history.  They like to read about famous people of the
30s, and 40s such as Frankie Sinatra, John Dillinger, Amelia Earhart, Charles
Lindbergh, Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, and the Dionne quintuplets.  Present several
facts in your story about a celebrity, or an event concerning them,  and then weave in a
few of your residents’ recollections amid the facts.

Perhaps you are fearful of writing “stories” or “articles”.  Relax!  You don’t have to.  You
can use the nostalgic information, but in a simpler way.  As we said before, take good
notes while reminiscing with residents.  Use these notes along with a little research
and create a column called “Do You Remember?”  This column consists of short one-
liners.  Include 15 to 20 of them in your column.  Here is an example.  
Do You Remember...,
  • ...cylinder records?
  • ...fountain pens?
  • ...the old school bank?
  • bands?
  • ... “Stockings in a bottle”?
  • ...vulcanizing your tires?
  • ...when you paid for your church pew?
  • ...when people pierced their ears thinking it would help their eyes?
  • ...when cars were called “devil wagons?...
  • ...when physical education was called hygiene?
  • ...when margarine was purchased white and came with a little red capsule of

One time I interviewed my residents about what they were doing during World War II.  
What an amazing column it turned out to be!  Many of the men were in the military or
overseas, and some of the women worked in defense plants, or in some way
supported the war effort such as having a victory garden or raising chickens in their
garage.  Children collected old tires or scrap iron for recycling into military items. This is
a column your readers can scan quickly if they like, but will look forward to reading each

Another possible reminiscent column is “Old Time Prices” Your alert residents can no
doubt recall various prices from the 1930s–a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, a pound of
butter, a bushel of corn, or a gallon of gasoline.  They can remember the cost of their
first home and their first automobile (which may have been as low as $395).  With a
little research you will locate more old time prices.*  Then just list the prices in a
column, and your readers will be fascinated.  
Here’s an example:
1930s prices
  • Milk                5-10 cents a quart
  • Eggs                7 cents a dozen
  • Butter                 11-29 cents a pound
  • Coffee                35 cents a pound
  • Bacon                35 cents a pound
  • Bananas        7 cents a pound

“Presidential Trivia” makes a delightful column, too.  Consider something like this:
*   Abraham Lincoln, though always pictured with a beard, did not begin wearing one
until he was 51 and a little girl told him he would look better with one.
* President Cleveland’s baby daughter, Ruth, had the Baby Ruth candy bar named for
* President Taft became Chief Justice after serving as President.
* James Madison was the first President to wear trousers rather than knee breeches.  
At 5'4" tall, he was the shortest President.
* Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President (1877-1881), held the first Easter egg roll on
the White House lawn.         
* President Wilson raised sheep on the White House lawn for their wool which would
be sold and given to the Red Cross during WWI.
* Harry Truman would get up at five a.m. and spend two hours practicing the piano.
* George Bush is distantly related to Presidents Pierce, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt,
and Ford, and also to Winston Churchill.

Not all columns have to be of a reminiscent nature.  You can easily weave reminiscent
material in with other features to make an arresting newsletter.  

“Interesting Tidbits” can feature ordinary trivia and will quickly entice a reader of any
age.  Here is an example:
* The average American consumes 45 gallons of soft drinks a year.
* The 1938 Time magazine man of the year was Adolph Hitler.
* The first woman ever to run for President was Virginia Chaflin Woodhull.  The year
was 1872 and she ran on the People’s Party ticket.  Women did not win the right to vote
until 1919, though they had voted earlier in U.S. history.

Another successful column might be called “Holiday History and Trivia”.  With a little
research from your library, or a quick search of the internet, you can find interesting
tidbits to share about the nearest holiday.  (To save research time, get books from the
children’s section of the library.  You get facts without a lot of fanfare.)

People are always trying to find ways to simplify their life.  Why not do a column called
“Helpful Hints”?   These may include money-saving tips, cooking tips, painting tips,
sewing tips, travel tips, and tips about kids and pets.  

Quotations are a favorite of readers.  They are quick to read and readily available .  Keep
your notebook handy, or spend some library or internet time locating them. Consider a
“Quotable Quotes” column.

I can almost hear you say, “Sure these ideas would make a great newsletter, but I am
far too busy to do research.”  Believe me, I understand.  Activity directors are busy
people.  Research takes precious time, time most activity directors don’t have.  Perhaps
this is the reason so many newsletters remain intra-facility rather than circulating into
their community and beyond where they could be valuable public relations tools.  As a
young activity director, my administrator quickly became sold on the merits of a
reminiscent newsletter and willingly allowed me the time for research.  Our newsletter
brought broad publicity as it circulated in our community, through several states,
Canada, and one even went to Germany.   Your administrator may not allow you the
time.  Take heart!  You can use my research.  Nine plus years of it has been packaged
into one of my books, Newsletters Simplified!* It is filled with most all the above trivia,
trivia you may use in your own newsletter.  There are even completed reminiscent
articles to use.  If you have the time for research, the library offers many books of
quotes, nostalgia, historical data, and other useful material.  If you want to read
additional trivia, check out The People’s Almanac, the World Almanac, and 1993
Information Please.  Other interesting books are Fads, Follies, and Delusions of the
American People, Celebrity Register and a Thesaurus of Anecdotes.  

When putting your newsletter together, remember the average reader spends a mere
five minutes reading a newsletter.  Consequently, you want to provide short features
broken up with lots of headlines.  Use these headlines to lure your readers into the
story or column which follows.  Don’t worry about not being a good writer.  Simply make
your writing conversational.  Write like you talk.  When writing a story ask yourself, What
would my reader want to know?  Then ask who, what, when, where, why, and how.  
Finally, do not let newsletter editing scare you.  Think of it as an opportunity, an
opportunity that will permit you to shine as the professional you really are.  God bless,

* Newsletters Simplified! is packed full (352 pages full) of information to put in your
newsletter, or to use for untold lively reminiscent groups, or for trivia games, or to stump
the staff at parties or gatherings. It is an activity directors one-source reference for trivia,
historical trivia, and nostalgia.  It is written specifically for activity directors.  
It sells for $22.99 and can be purchased directly from Valley Press, P.O. Box 14134,
Bradenton, Florida 34280, or by calling or faxing 941-708-9700.