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Falmouth man's 108th birthday brings generations together

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Falmouth man's 108th birthday brings generations together

FALMOUTH — After more than a century of birthdays, presents can get kind of dull.

For Barrett Nichols, who turned 108 on Monday, Dec. 14, a room full of children helping him celebrate last week was a present that really brightened his day.

The students from teacher Amy Farmer's first-grade class at Lunt School brought Nichols more than 108 birthday cards, sang "Happy Birthday" and shared a book they made on historical events and milestones during his lifetime.

Nichols, who still plays bridge weekly, played golf until last year and has been known to chip balls into the couch cushions, grew up in Bath and graduated in 1925 from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where he has the distinction of being the oldest alumnus in the school's history.

His daughter, Sukey Nichols Wagner, who was in town from Connecticut for a family birthday party over the weekend, described him as "very opinionated and self-determined," with a "great, upbeat view of the world" and an ability to "get a lot of joy out of life."

And Nichols appeared to get great pleasure out of the students' visit.

Farmer's is just one of the the classes that participate regularly in the Falmouth schools' intergenerational program that unites students with "senior teachers" at Ocean View.

The program makes an important connection between generations, third-grade teacher Jean Coppinger said Monday. The class she teaches with Suzy Palmer will extend Nichols' birthday festivities when they come celebrate with him later this week.

"They love going over there; they wish they could go more often," Coppinger said.

The regular visits, she said, give her and other teachers an opportunity for integrated learning. Preparing for Nichols' birthday involved social studies skills and Internet and library research on inventions from the last 100 years, and creation of a timeline that corresponded to Nichols' own life. The wide array of inventions the students incorporated included the Slinky, the first artificial heart, bubble gum, the first video game, corn flakes and Mr. Potato Head.

"We tried to find a number of things (Nichols and the students could) relate to," Coppinger said.

The students have also made origami birds they affixed to a poster board for Nichols. Once they present their timeline and sing several songs to Nichols and to the other seniors, they will  gather with their "senior teachers" in small groups and discuss the inventions and what the teachers remember about those days.

Coppinger and Palmer said they are never quite sure what direction these discussion times may take, but that there have been many tender – or funny – moments during their visits, like the time a simple spring activity of making tissue flowers ended up with everyone in stitches as two of the senior men tried to outdo each other by wearing their creations on their heads or as ties.

"The biggest piece is providing service," Coppinger said. "The seniors really look forward to it and it's so great for the kids. It fulfills the needs of the senior teachers, having younger people in; it's a real learning tool for the kids, like living history."

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.