GHS: The Obituary Project

By David Fleet
On Tuesday morning, eight Goodrich High School students delivered a project that touched on death, life and a glimpse of community history.

From left Ella Maxwell Cook, Rowyn Mitchell, Molly Powers, Ashley Brown and Katie Benard. Back from left Drew Himmelspach, Patrick Burnett, Jesse Smith and Delanie Carpenter

GHS Teacher Katie Benard directed the Leadership Exploration And Development or LEAD class on The Obituary Project. The class takes on what it means to be a leader in the community and participates a variety service projects. One of those projects was to establish a partnership with the Goodrich/Atlas Area Historical Society and to integrate the students where they had not been before. The students were provided weekly and daily newspapers since about 2004 with published obituaries from the Goodrich area. The students cut out local obituaries and attached them to index cards. The information was then alphabetize and now available to the Goodrich/Atlas Area Historical Society Ladies Library Museum 10219 Hegel Road.
“We came together for the obituary project to help with genealogy and keeping records of the people who lived, died, or had a part of our community,” said Benard. “It was interesting that when the kids came across people they knew or had a connection with we would stop and talk about it a little bit.”
The newspapers included The Citizen, The Flint Journal and The LA View Grand Blanc.
“We had not had a project like this before,” said Carol Powers, Goodrich/Atlas Area Historical Society member. “So it was daunting for us to do this. What a great project to get some help on. We have obituaries all the way from the beginning of Goodrich, just not on cards like this.”
Some of the conclusions from the project students reflected on reading hundreds of obituaries:

Many deceased were not “old” when they died; many obituaries requested donations rather than flowers; the majority of obituaries included a picture which often did not match the deceased age; very few provided a cause of death and the Goodrich Hospice was most often thanked.
Benard said the students would all sit down together in the classroom and read through the obituaries together during the project.
“We would converse while working on the project,” she said. “We all sit down together in the class and it’s very open. At the beginning (of the project) we had a conversation of how death is usually taboo, we don’t like to talk about it or accept it, because it seems like another part of life and we have different thoughts about it. Students were very mature interpreting.”
GHS Student Patrick Burnett reflected.
“Life could end at any minute,” he said following the project.
Similarly, GHS Student Rowyn Mitchell was surprised after reading more than 15 years of local obituaries.
“More people die then we like to talk about, there was just so many young people it was just surprising,” she said. “There’s tragic events happening around us, sometimes we are just not informed about it or don’t know, it’s a realization and a real eye opener. This actually happens more then we think.”

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