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UW-Whitewater students take away lessons after filming a documentary on WWII veterans

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Andrea Anderson
April 18, 2014

WHITEWATER—Katie Klepper didn't expect to foster close ties with people at least three times her age.

She also didn't anticipate she'd tie-dye T-shirts with Fairhaven Senior Services residents, and come in a day shortly after and find the residents wearing them.

She certainly didn't expect to log almost 40 hours of volunteer time in a semester while creating a documentary on World War II veterans and tackling a full course load. 

Klepper, along with four other UW-Whitewater juniors and seniors, volunteered at Fairhaven, and filmed and edited more than six hours of interviews with a group of five male veterans who live at the senior home. The end product is a 15-minute documentary on the veterans and their experiences before, during, and after the war.

The goal was to capture the stories before they are lost forever.

Three of the students will be presenting the documentary, "A Mission to Honor," on Monday as part of the Fairhaven Lecture Series. The University's School of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education presents the lectures each semester.

Each semester features a different theme. This semester the focus is on legacies and lessons in the age of President Abraham Lincoln.

Professors or experts typically present the lectures, but students with research related to the themes can be invited to lead the conversation, said Sue Wildermuth, Cross Cultural Communications professor.

“It's very rare anyone besides faculty present at that,” Wildermuth said. “I think, again, they were very innovative and wanted the opportunity to share it and bring it into the community.”

What started as service learning for the students' Cross Cultural Communications class turned into an experience that has broadened Klepper's perspective on peace, war, and anthropology.

She plans to attend graduate school for anthropology.

Before, she thought experiencing different cultures meant going outside the U.S.. Now she knows otherwise, noting there are co-cultures, such as the elderly, veterans and the LGBTQ community, right in Whitewater.

“I can experience more than just other cultures," she said. "I can experience co-cultures within my culture and I thought that was a neat experience, and it was a really good learning experience.”

The students were required to log 20 hours of volunteer time for their class and put together some sort of project on the oral histories they recorded. The students were assigned to record the veterans' stories. 

But Klepper, Jarred Donlon, Ashlee Lamers, Carolyn Larsen and Travis O'Gallagher didn't want to stop at just documenting, and they didn't want to write another paper.

“I've written plenty of papers in my undergrad experience, and I didn't want to do that,” Klepper said.

So they made a cultural artifact that will last for years and share a segment of history.

Cross Cultural Communications is the study of contacts and interactions of people from different cultures, according to the course description. Students analyze verbal and non-verbal communication within and between cultures by interacting with people in their environment.

The 32-student class was broken into small groups and sent to volunteer at Fairhaven, a Whitewater adult day care, or with English language learning families.

Wildermuth said the group of five that went to Fairhaven shined and went the extra mile.

“They went above and beyond,” Wildermuth said. “They really wanted to create something for the veterans because they did make those connections. They could have stopped at collecting the raw data … but they wanted to do something more.”

Klepper became close with one veteran in particular, John Klindt.

Klindt became a reverend after being affected by the dropping of the atomic bomb, Klepper said.

The two would talk about religion, war and peace.

Klepper, a senior majoring in liberal studies with a minor in peace and justice, said the conversation with Klindt was natural and valuable.

“I talked to him a lot and spent a lot of time with him so I felt I had a really good personal connection with him,” she said. “It was interesting to hear his perspective and that religious background, and (to see) someone who is actually promoting peace rather than war through religion.”



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