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Residents tell
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Giving a life
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Five financial risks
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placeholder March 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA

Jerry Andersen, left, holds a copy of his book, created through the Life Story Project at Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland, where Jana Gesinger, right, is director of social services.
Courtesy photo

Residents tell their life story at Mercy Center

Jerry Andersen may be the first writer in residence at Mercy Retirement and Care Center.

Tell the story

Every Life Story needs someone to collect it. Interested in getting to know people and helping turn their stories into books? Time commitment is weekly. About two hours, for about six months. Call Jana Gesinger, director of social services, at Mercy Retirement and Care Center for more information at 510-534-8547,
ext. 304.
As part of the life story project at the Oakland center, Andersen was the first resident to turn his life story — as told to volunteer Lisa Bauer — into a 40-page book, complete with photos, to share with his family, friends and other residents. His book is now in its second printing.

Mercy Center has tried several ways to help residents write their life stories over the years. Jana Gesinger, who is now the social services director, learned about a life story class taught through the Sacramento recreation department.

When the distance became an obstacle to attending the class herself, she was able to purchase a book from the teachers. She enlisted volunteer Lisa Bauer and asked Andersen, who has lived at Mercy for 12 years, to be the first author.

Bauer and Andersen met every week for about two hours. After each meeting, Bauer would transcribe the tape-recorded interview. At the next, the two of them would go over the material, and edit.

Andersen asked Gesinger why he was chosen to be the first author. "We thought you had a lot to offer, as you are a very nice man and you have gone through a lot of experiences in your life." Gesinger said.

Andersen's life story is a colorful tale, from his birth in Shannon, Nebraska, where his father pitched for a baseball team, to his boyhood in Alameda, where he played football at Alameda High School, to his days at the University of California at Berkeley, where a leg injury cut short his football career.

One of the highlights of his youth was a 2½-month trip to Rome, while his father was working for Aramco. He also visited Austria, Germany and Switzerland. "When I got back to Rome, I decided I liked Rome the best," he said.

After graduating with his electrical engineering degree from Cal on June 6, 1956, he moved across the country to take a job with General Electric Co. in Schenectady, New York. After a stint in the Army, he joined Raytheon Co. in Massachusetts.

"My wife and I lived in Brighton," he said. "People often confused it with the Kennedys, who were in Brookline," he said.

Andersen and his wife moved to California, where he enrolled in San Francisco State and got a teaching credential. He taught math at Alhambra High School in Martinez, and computers to younger students. "I didn't know much about computers," he said, "but it was a lot of fun."

Later, he worked as a paralegal in the Alameda County Courts.

His best job? "The thing I liked best was the five summers I spent with the Forest Service," he said. He fought fires in Oregon and Washington. "I should have been a forest ranger," he said.

Andersen, 79, is happy that his daughter lives nearby and he enjoys her company and that of his grandchildren. Telling his life story was a gift for his family. "I wrote it, really, for my family," he said.

After the narrative was completed, Andersen provided Gesinger with a half-dozen photos to illustrate his story. She uploaded them into a publishing program — which took about an hour — she said.

When copies of the book, with a present-day smiling Andersen on the cover, and Andersen as a young football player on the back cover, arrived at Mercy, residents were invited to a reading.

Since that time, two more residents have expressed interest in telling their life stories.

Andersen sent the copies he ordered to friends and family. He also sent handwritten letters, thanking those who helped him put those stories into a book. Gesinger received a letter; she treasures it.

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