Grandparents Day unites families

Modern technology makes honoring grandparents and communicating across generations a breeze this Grandparents Day

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Grandparents Day is September 10—a day of celebration that is commonly practiced opposite of the original intention. But new communication media can get the day back on its rightful track!

Grandparents Day originated over 60 years ago in West Virginia by Marian McQuade, a mother who wanted to call attention to many nursing home residents who seemed isolated and sometimes forgotten by their families. She proposed a celebration to honor all grandparents. In 1973, West Virginia became the first state to officially establish an honoring day.

Grandparents Day was recognized as a national holiday 39 years ago to be celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day. The preamble to the founding statute designates the day’s purpose “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”

Where the misunderstanding comes in is that commercial enterprises—such as greeting cards, florists, and gift companies—reversed the intended purpose so that the emphasis was on gift-giving to grandparents and encouraged communications directed to grandparents from their descendants.

Grandparents Day progressively emerged as a time for families to gather together to celebrate family traditions, to share family stories, or to engage in a favorite activity or outing. As generations today have become more geographically mobile with time constraints from busy work schedules, communications have become limited to a phone call or a humorous greeting card off the rack. For a time when people still wrote letters, a few grandchildren sent an old-fashioned letter expressing their thoughts.

The newest formats for personalized greetings are text messaging, FaceTime, Skype, or online conference calls from multiple sources but all hooked up simultaneously in a single, multi-family conversation—like a virtual “face-to-face” roundtable.

Technologies are expanding in applications that enable families to stay in touch. According to Pew Research in 2017, the digital divide among generations is narrowing. The report states that 80% of seniors 65 or over have a cell phone, 32% own a tablet computer, 40% use smart phones, and 67% connect to the internet. Social media is used by 34% of seniors, and 17% of the population over 80 communicates via a social media platform.

Over a dozen countries around the world have officially labeled a day of honoring grandparents, although the day has different names, traditions, and languages. Families today can reach across generations and across continents to connect with descendants.

Six decades ago in California, a philanthropist family, Adrian Glen Wood and Ailene Wood, dedicated a model retirement center to serve independent and assisted living residents. Their purpose was to develop a place—Wood Glen Hall (WGH)—where seniors received quality care with dignity in daily living while providing supportive activities to residents and their extended families as well as engagement with the Santa Barbara community.

As I am currently a resident of WGH where I am recovering from hip surgery, I benefit from the multi-services provided. I participate in Resident Council democracy as a representative resident, attend onsite community college “Vitality” classes in art and music, benefit from health and wellness activities, engage in a “Generational Stories” program, and enjoy gourmet meals in a dining room where local students add energetic service to the menu.

As an individual, I am a card-carrying member of the local genealogy society and the public library and a community member of the “Sandbox,” a model incubator for entrepreneurial collaborative office-sharing center where fresh ideas for start-ups are openly discussed and supported. In the sanctuary of my room at WGH, I have a corner on the world with four computer screens that connect me to family, community, and the web, enabling me to continue to be productive as part of a family business.

On one of the four screens, I can use FaceTime for a three-way conversation, another to connect with selected social media platforms, a third using GoToMeeting for online conferencing with immediate family, and the fourth for Zoom Conferencing for extended family or groups. Or I can gain access to all of these resources on a single mini iPad that I carry in my pocket wherever I go. I have also joined, a national movement “to grow meaningful relationships and rich legacies with their loved ones online.”

So this Grandparents Day, I want to come full circle to the intent of the day by telling my children’s children how much they mean to me, how proud I am of their ambitions and achievements, and to share what meaningful, mindful gifts that I have in my memory bank for the benefit of my nine grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.

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