May 15, 2011

Author Honors Greatest Generation at Sunrise Senior Living Community

2011 Ray John Pat

“I’ve read this many books in my life,” Ray Duffault (left) held up the five fingers on his left hand. “But I finished this one in two weeks!” he told the author of Oh, Beautiful (center). “I could not put it down!” Pat Gajewski (right) is now reading the book.


IT WAS A CHANCE TO PAY TRIBUTE to those who have helped make America great.

“This is the first time I’ve been invited to speak to a group of people from the greatest generation,” author John Paul Godges told an audience of mostly senior citizens at the Sunrise Senior Living community in Seal Beach, California, on May 14, 2011. “I’ve been hoping to do so as a way to thank you for having imparted some very crucial lessons to us and to the generations that have followed.”

Godges dedicated his family memoir to his parents “and to the worlds from which they came,” he said. “In honoring my parents, I also wish to honor their entire generation of Americans and specifically the civic spirit of the people of that generation who struggled through the Great Depression and World War II and afterward to make America stronger as a whole—not just for individual or personal gain but for the mutual benefit of the country as a whole.” He applauded the greatest generation for exemplifying how Americans can work together for the common good.

“I don’t want our country to lose its civic spirit, the sense that we’re all in it together,” Godges continued. “That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book. As the story of at least my family illustrates, from one generation to the next, from immigration to assimilation and beyond, life in this country is just not as good or as meaningful without a vibrant community spirit. That is the key to the good life in America. And that, to me, is the greatest lesson of the greatest generation.”

The author read two passages, each offering a slice of community life in America as experienced by his parents in their youth or young adulthood. His parents were in the audience.

The first passage related to the book cover, which is a 1941 photograph of his father in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), that popular New Deal program for unemployed boys and young men. “My dad became eligible for the CCC on his 17th birthday, and he enlisted exactly one week later so he could escape the chaotic situation in his home in the Polish ghetto of Detroit,” said Godges. “At the age of 17 years and 1 week, my dad left home for good. He was deployed to a CCC camp in the Hiawatha National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I think, in some ways, it was my dad’s salvation.”

The author’s second reading, called “Giving and Receiving,” was a combination of two scenes focusing on his mother in her neighborhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when she baked bread “for the whole neighborhood” and received showers of food upon facing a life-threatening medical condition. “We were living in a GI home on a block with scores of other GI homes filled with hundreds of GI kids just like us!” said Godges. “I think these two scenes focusing on my mom reflect how many moms of that era found a community among one another, in good times and in bad.”


2011 Betty John Susan

Author John Paul Godges (center) thanks the gracious hosts, resident Betty Walden and Associate Executive Director Susan DeLazzer, of the Sunrise Senior Living community in Seal Beach, California.

2011 Godges Gang

Part of the Godges gang (Ida, Geri, John Paul, and Joseph) gather to hear tales of Joseph’s teenage life in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1940s and Ida’s young motherhood in a GI neighborhood of the 1950s and 1960s.

2011 Susan Gang

Susan DeLazzer and friends Erin and Bridget Maguire get the inside scoop on the writing of Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century.

2011 Lynn Geri

“This is the story of my family!” exclaimed Lynn Valenziano (left), who grew up in an Italian neighborhood of Baltimore. “And this is one of my favorite characters in the book!” she beamed upon meeting Geri Godges (right). “I gotta have a picture taken with her!”

1967 John Paul Godges

Dorothy Ragland and Lynn Valenziano introduce themselves to Ida Godges, “my other favorite character in the book!” said Lynn. And as Dorothy noted, “I could smell your mother’s bread from your reading about it!”