ROY -- It wasn't quite the same as opening an historical novel and having famous characters burst out.
Monday's real-world visitors to Cheri Bryan's 10th-grade honors English class at Roy High School were much better.
Five residents in their 80s and one in his 90s boarded a bus from Harrison Regent Retirement Residence for a field trip to Roy High School, to meet their pen pals and to discuss "To Kill a Mockingbird," the Harper Lee book about racial prejudice in the rural South.
The senior readers had personal memories of the era described in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and a few grew up in the South. All were eager to tell their new 15- and 16-year-old friends what the times and issues were really like.
"I grew up with black people sent to the back of the bus and black men stepping off the sidewalk as I passed," said Henrietta Dupre, 83, two years younger than the book's author.
"I was somehow given the grace to know it was wrong," said the Arkansas native who also lived in Mississippi. "Where I grew up was very much like Maycolm (in Alabama) in the book."
"To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960 and based in part on Lee's life, tells the story of young Scout and Jem Finch, and their widowed father, Atticus, an attorney of high moral standards, who is white and defends a black man, Tom, charged with raping a white woman.
The courts of law and public opinion are ready to convict Tom despite proof of his innocence.
"In the book, any white man's word was taken over any black man's, which is how it really was back then," said Dupre, who spoke with vigor and passion despite her need for a walker and an oxygen supply.
"The Great Depression was a unique time, with unemployment at 25 percent. It was terrible times for black people. I can't imagine what it must have been like. I brought home a little black boy once, and my grandma told me I was going to hell.
"All prejudice is about ignorance. If you don't know about something, find that information. Google it," she said, drawing appreciative laughter from students surprised she knew the term.
Nina Tibbetts, an 86-year-old native of Maine, grew up white in an ethnically diverse neighborhood and dated a young man with one black parent and one white.
"It is so hurtful to hold hatreds in your heart, just because someone's skin color is a little different," she said.
Tibbetts added she is not a member of Utah's predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and has felt the sting of prejudice directed at herself and her children.
"Before you make judgments, always take a second look," she advised.
After the talk, students swarmed Dupre, Tibbetts and additional pen pals Edie Gray, 83; Liz Zampedri, 85; Alice Craft, 80; and Bob Burgan, 92.
Bryan said she got the idea to partner her students with the nursing home residents after she spent three years caring for her mother before her death.
"I really got to know my mom, after all those years," Bryan said. "She had so much knowledge and experience to offer, but I didn't know. I had never asked."
Bryan took her pitch to the retirement home, and six residents agreed to read the novel and trade impressions with students reading the same book.
At first, messages were about the novel. Later, students wanted personal information about their new friends.
It was Dupre who suggested everyone meet in person.
"In our heads, we feel like we are your age," she told the students. "We may be 'cute' and old and can't breathe, but we are still the people we always were."
Taylon Johanson, 16, said the book opened his eyes to prejudice and that meeting the residents of Harrison Regent helped him understand how much knowledge he can gain from people of different generations.
Parker Van Eerden, 15, said he enjoyed meeting the seniors and hearing their stories.
"Henrietta is really fun," he said of his pen pal.
Kristen Bull, 16, said it was fun to connect the pen pal letters to their friendly faces.
"They were really interesting and had lots to say," she said. "It was pretty cool."