Both of them have smiles that can brighten a room and personalities to match. They are talkative and friendly and love to tell stories. The only thing that separates these two women is 78 years-the difference in their ages. But when they partnered up in a series of short documentary films spotlighting women who grew up part of Minnesota’s “Greatest Generation,” Annie Wood and Bea Evans learned quickly that age doesn’t matter when you’re sharing the story of your life.
“Bea is a great storyteller. I learned so much,” said 15-year-old Wood of her partner, 93-year-old Albina “Bea” Evans. “She has all this history to share and it is better than reading the facts and figures in a book. Listening to her stories makes history more personal because I am hearing firsthand what things were like when she was growing up.”
And, Wood added with a smile, “I made a friend … “Bea is a warm, happy, people person and it is so much fun being around her,” she said. “She is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
Evans returned the compliment. “She’s always smiley, like me. Maybe that’s why I like her so much,” Evans said about Wood. “She’s a sweet, sweet girl but she’s not afraid to speak up. She’s not bashful and that is also like me.”
The friendship occurred thanks to an eight-month collaboration between the women and the teenage filmmakers, a partnership between TVbyGIRLS and the Minnesota Historical Society. The result is “Minnesota’s Greatest Girls,” a series of eight individual films that range in length from three to 10 minutes.
For these kids to watch these movies and hear our stories, well, it’s better than reading a bok. It’s like traveling-books never tell the full story.”
– Albina Evans
The films focus on everything from peace and war, love and marriage, work and play, to resiliency and friendship. “The girls worked with historical research, images, interviews and film footage to capture the unique lives of their women partners,” said Rebecca Bullen, associate director and mentor for TVbyGIRLS, a nonprofit that uses media to work with girls ages 12 to 19 to develop leadership, critical thinking, collaboration and intercultural understanding. “It was a learning opportunity on both sides-a real bonding between generations.”
Bonding, however, that almost didn’t happen. “When we first started talking to the women, they said they didn’t have any stories to share,” Bullen said. “But as the conversations began to flow, we all realized that their stories were incredible.”
“I heard they were looking for information about the ’30s and I guess they thought an old lady like me would have it,” Evans said. “But for these kids to watch these movies and hear our stories, well, it’s better than reading a book. It’s like traveling-books never tell the full story.”
“We are preserving history through personal stories,” Bullen said. “We inspire girls to develop their leadership potential, imagination, intellect and ability to create compassionate change in the world.”
Evans was raised in Bowlus, a small Minnesota town near Little Falls. As a young adult growing up during the Great Depression, she moved to St. Paul to find work, even though her father thought she would be ruined if she went to the big city. “I met my husband in the church choir,” Evans recalled. “He had a twin brother and I actually liked the brother better at first because he was a talker like me.”
Evans, who was married in 1945, reads love letters her husband, Judson, sent her when he was overseas serving in WWII in the film titled “Dearest Albina.” She is sad people don’t write as many letters anymore. “My husband was gone four years and it was really nice to know that he was still thinking about me,” she said. Wood agreed. “These are incredible love letters-emotional and sweet,” she said. “Because of email and texting, people have stopped writing letters so it is incredible to be able to share these.”
Judson Evans died on August 12, 1968, and Bea Evans still has more than 50 of his love letters kept safely in her book of memories. “We have six sons, one daughter, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” she said. And now she has a new friend in Wood.
The war at home
Sharing stories about surviving a war is also an important piece to their film, especially because of our current overseas situation, Bullen said. “Being in a war today, this film really brings the point home to youth. It’s good to see that things aren’t really that different.”
“It’s important to see a different perspective of that era,” Wood added. “You don’t typically see stories about the people back home during the war. The people making a difference-the people making history here at home.”
Evans agreed. “People today need to appreciate things that happen during the war,” she said. “Some people don’t have any experience with the war and it’s good for them to see and learn.” Evans’ stories were especially important to Wood because Evans’ own grandmother, who struggled for years with Alzheimer’s disease, was unable to tell her about those years.
Wood, a 10th grader at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, has been in the TVbyGIRLS program for three years and thinks strongly that filmmaking could be her calling. Bullen said that Wood’s communication skills are an asset. “Annie has a really amazing ability to connect with people,” Bullen said. “I worked with her before she came into our long-term mentoring program. She has this really natural ability to not only share authentically the individual story, but also to connect the audience to it.”
The TVbyGIRLS team is now working on “Undercover,” a documentary about breaking down barriers and eliminating stereotypes by showing how all kinds of people are truly connected. “We are talking with girls from many different backgrounds-Christian, Jewish, Muslim and nonaffiliated-and having them try on each others’ experiences and see what we can learn from each other.”
The other six
In addition to “Dearest Albina,” the other short films by teenage girls featuring women from the “Greatest Generation” include:
The Work of Play
Thirteen-year-old filmmaker Casey Harstad’s film features a discussion with 75-year-old Rose Marie Wakefield about the differences between children’s play in the 1930s and today.
The Science of Home
Sixteen-year-old Maddy Shaw’s film looks at the life of 82-year-old Ruth Quesenberry, delving into the career of homemaking then and now.
The Wealth of a Penny
Thirteen-year-old Molly Nemer’s film plays homage to Edith Davis, who grew up during the Depression and started Minneapolis’ first school of acupuncture.
Make me a Promise
Sixteen-year-old Rachel Quednau’s film, based on stories told by 83-year-old Lorraine Stewart, explores how love and marriage have changed in the last 50 years.
Lessons from Bette
Fourteen-year-old Jasmin Brent’s film features 81-year-old Bette Allen and focuses on the differences and similarities involved in growing up today and in the 1930s.
Fifteen-year-old Kirsten Nelson’s film about the cost of war features a look at the events of Pearl Harbor from Nelson’s and 93-year-old Jean Jefferson’s points of view.
To view these and other TVbyGIRLS films, go to www.tvbygirls.com and click on “Videos” on the top menu bar.