A marvelous treasure

Ann’s Choice neighbors create a book of memories

Created date

October 8th, 2019
Memory Project organizer Dr. Nina Haydel with a photograph of her great-grandfather Rabbi Segal.

Memory Project organizer Dr. Nina Haydel with a photograph of her great-grandfather Rabbi Segal.

Among the photographs on a wall in Dr. Nina Haydel’s living room, you’ll find a framed family tree. One of the sepia-toned images is her great-grandfather Rabbi Segal. There is no first name nor any other information about him. 

For years she wondered: Who was this man? Where did he come from? Where did he study? What was his family life like? His photograph, and the questions it raised, inspired the writing professor to undertake a yearlong project with fellow Ann’s Choice community members: compiling a book of personal memories. She emphasizes that these were not memoirs but memories of specific moments in their lives. 

“I realized that if we didn’t put our memories on paper, two generations from now, no one would know who we were,” says Nina. “I wanted my great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren to know me, and I suspected that other residents might feel the same about their own families.” 

The preface to the 150-page book notes: “Together, we residents of Ann’s Choice Retirement Community, between 2018 and 2019, gathered to prevent our anonymity by compiling written accounts of our earliest memories: family adventures, personal and professional accomplishments, fears, disappointments, happy days, naughty and humorous experiences, perspectives on events, interactions with others, and the trials that inevitably punctuated our lives.”

“It was a marvelous experience,” says Nina. “Everyone worked so hard to craft beautiful narratives that will last for generations. We all agree that this was a true labor of love.”

A lifelong writer and teacher

Nina always wanted to be a writer. As a young woman, she worked at a newspaper but recalls ruefully the advice her editor gave her: “Do something else. There are no writing jobs for women in a newsroom.” She says, “You must remember that, at the time, careers for women were limited. So, I took his advice and went in another direction.”

Nina became a teacher, knowing that she could keep writing, both for herself and as a mentor to her students. While she taught, she continued her own education in both teaching and writing. She received her master’s degree and then her Ph.D. She recently celebrated her thirty-fifth year of teaching at Rider University in New Jersey and has no plans to stop. 

A bundle of energy, she describes the most intense period of her professional life this way: “I taught at Rider and Embry Riddle universities during the week. Every Friday after classes, I flew to Central Michigan University, where I ran 11 academic advising centers on Saturday and Sunday. I flew home every Monday morning and started the cycle over again.” 

Nina also has written children’s books and several textbooks. She credits her husband Belmont, a retired diplomat and professor, for making it all possible. “He always did so much; he enabled me to follow my dreams,” she says. Wherever Belmont was posted around the globe, Nina worked as a professor. “Living in different countries and experiencing different cultures was exciting and rewarding. One of the most interesting was a stint in Jordan, where I taught at the university in Amman. We’ve had quite an adventure together.”  

The project

Nina recruited fellow community members for the memories project by posting an ad. The first meeting drew 30 people; the final group was 17, including Nina. “Writing is hard,” she says with a knowing smile. “Those who saw it through have created something truly marvelous.”

The group spent three months free writing and reading their work aloud, sharing suggestions for improvements. Over the next few months, Nina met individually with each author multiple times, editing and refining their entries. Once each chapter was finished, she spent months painstakingly proofreading the manuscript in preparation for publication. 

Both men and women participated, and each created a highly detailed story. Subjects ranged from portraits of a family member to surviving the Holocaust to being given up to an orphanage at ten months of age. Some were humorous, some heartbreaking, but all worthy of preserving. 

A double legacy

In addition to leaving a written record for future generations, the writers are making a more immediate contribution: The $5 per copy donation will go to the Ann’s Choice Benevolent Care Fund, established to ensure that community members who outlive their savings can remain in their homes (full details are in the Residence and Care Agreement). 

“The fund enables us to promise residents that they have a home for life,” says Sales Director Deborah Olcese. “This generous donation shows how committed everyone at Ann’s Choice is to keeping that promise.”