HomeMoorestown NewsMemoir group spans the decades — and generations, too

Memoir group spans the decades — and generations, too

After 20 years, senior group formally welcomes everybody to grab a chair or share their tales

Special to The Sun: The newly renamed Memoir Writers, Readers, Listeners group enjoys the story a fellow member shares with them.

Everybody has a story to tell, and the newly renamed Memoir Writers, Readers, Listeners group is here to give those stories a home.

The group recently celebrated its 20th year and will mark the occasion with a rebranding of sorts. According to longtime member Thomas Hepler of Mount Laurel, the change came from “a need to reinvigorate the group” as it sheds its original Senior Memoir Writers’  moniker.

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“The idea is to get together and write about whatever you wish,” Hepler says. “In recent years, membership’s been dwindling a little bit and we’d like to pick it up. What I suggested, and what we’re doing, is to stop calling ourselves a senior group and start saying we’re a group of writers, readers and listeners.

“Anyone is welcome to join us, if they wish.”

The group has always been welcoming to those outside the senior demographic its previous name suggested, Hepler adds, and the new incarnation just formalizes an unofficial policy of welcoming a walk-in audience during regular meetings at Moorestown’s Barnes & Noble. Registration is never required for monthly meetings that convene the third Wednesday of each month.

“People who are at the Barnes & Noble and just happen to hear us will drop in and keep listening as people get up and read their stories, which is always nice. And sometimes, they even become a member,” Hepler says.

To facilitator Robert von Bargen, the group bucks the stereotype of a generational technology aversion by utilizing modern tools to preserve and share members’ memories and memoirs — as well as curating an active social media presence on Facebook.

“I video the individual readings and then provide a copy to the member at a following meeting,” notes von Bargen, who has been moderating the group for the past seven years. “It is our quest to preserve these memories for our families!”

Hepler and von Bargen agree that the friendship and support to be found in the memoir enthusiasts group are also two reasons why its has endured for two decades, as well as the opportunity to spin a personal narrative for an engaged audience.

“We do not write for publication or critical review: We are a friendly group of mostly seniors who enjoy sharing our life’s experiences,” von Bargen explains.

“I think people are really drawn to the interesting stories others have to tell,” Hepler adds, noting that everything from military stories to school memories to remember when recollections of days gone by to personally significant events are fodder for the group stories.

“It’s about the camaraderie among people, too,” he explains. “People can relate through their stories, and you get to know each other. You almost become like a member of that person’s family as you live through episodes of their past with them.”

And for the senior members of the group, Hepler says Memoir Writers, Readers, Listeners “keeps us alive by getting us out and keeping us busy!”

While each meeting has a writing prompt members are welcome to tackle, Hepler maintains it’s certainty not mandatory, since memoirs are as personal and unique as the storytellers sharing them.

“We have subjects for each meeting, but you don’t have to write about them,” he notes, citing how he once wrote a series of memoirs inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s six-word stories. “A memoir doesn’t have to start 20 or 30 years ago: It can be something that happened yesterday, or about how something that just happened can trigger a memory from years ago.

“You can write about anything you want and however you want.”

By demonstrably opening up membership to all generations, Hepler’s hope is to see the friendships that blossomed over the group’s 20-year history now span generations. And for those who might be a little shy about sharing their life stories, Hepler says that’s just fine and all are welcome.

“It took me three months to finally write something,” he admits, adding there’s never any pressure to read. “Everyone is welcome to just come and listen.

“Everybody does have a story, and hearing them helps us relate to others.”

Memoir Writers, Readers, Listeners will hold its next meeting at the Moorestown Barnes & Noble on Nixon Drive from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.; it meets the third Wednesday of every month. Anyone interested in learning more about the group can visit its Facebook group at facebook.com/SeniorMemoirs.



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