Teens dive in to bring WWII stories to life

Sunday , April 08, 2018 - 12:00 AM

TX. Correspondent

Students at Venture High School recently had the opportunity to experience the past in a unique way, and now so can you.

The junior class was able to spend a month transcribing and researching letters from the Riries, a now-gone family that resided in the Ogden area during the two world wars. The history class's research was then translated to visual representations of what the letters teach us about the family’s thoughts on war, work and each other.

The exhibit, called “All Out For Uncle Sam,” also features interviews and stories of several other family's experiences with World War II. It was created by Weber State University’s special collections department and currently is on display at Ogden’s Union Station.

The Ririe family was an average family living in Ogden during the first and second world wars. Throughout the course of World War I, sweethearts Sylvin and Flora maintained a connection through letters, and following his return home, they were married and had one son, Dale.

• Real research

Sylvin (who also spelled his name “Sylvan”) spent most of his time during World War I training in California, then followed a campaign through France. Son Dale was a medical technician who spent most of World War II in the Philippines. Dale was injured and received a Purple Heart for his contributions while overseas.

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The family’s importance to a modern historian is that it provides an inside look at what one might consider an average person's life and an understanding of how a worldwide conflict might impact each citizen, even in a seemingly far-flung area like Utah.

To create “All Out for Uncle Sam,” Weber State’s Stewart Library Special Collections spent nearly two years collecting WWII photographs, letters, diaries and other personal items to give a feel for the impact of the war on communities ranging from Davis to Box Elder counties.

The project was imagined and executed by student groups, and as such, it has great importance for the idea of how meaningful a school project can be. For many students, the history assignment provided a unique experience.

“Instead of memorizing facts and learning dates, like some high schools, we actually got to work on actual history,” said Justin Hulme, a junior at Venture High. “We had to gather the data, transposing the letters; analyze the data, formulate a hypothesis or idea based on the data, and generate a medium to display and share our research.”

Indeed, the project’s departure from the norm was what provided the opportunity for singularly deep experiences that truly connected each student to the Ririe family members and their stories.

• Traces of days gone by

Junior Clarissa Brandley said, “After reading the letters and learning about the Ririe family, I started seeing them everywhere (in the Ogden area); I saw their graves, their old work places, the establishments around during their time. I see them now like an important piece to a puzzle I’m happy to belong to.”

The project became personally important to many, and such examples provide an extraordinary opportunity for schools to improve education.

But it’s not just individual students who benefit. Because the WW II stories are shared with the community, many people get the opportunity to experience a conflict in a new way. The Riries were certainly an average Ogden family like many of us, so we can peek into a world that shares a location; and through that connection, we are able to internalize the differences that teach us about our own time.

If we learn about the strife of another time, it’s much more likely we can find our way through our own troubled times, be they large or small. It’s just time we took a closer look.

“All Out for Uncle Sam” will be on display until June 2 at Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave., Ogden. The station is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission to this exhibit is free; for more information, visit the station’s website.

Sierra Clark is a junior at Venture High School. She plays piano and flute and is an avid reader, but most of all she enjoys learning all about new things. Email her at s.siclark@venturelearning.org.

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