By Celine Klosterman
MOUNT PLEASANT – As her husband, Dale, was dying in 2008, Joann Mallams sought a way to preserve her memories of his life.
She wasn’t sure of her ability to write, but a writers’ group at her parish of St. Alphonsus gave her the motivation to start putting his stories to paper. Several nights after putting him to bed, she prepared an essay about his time as a farmer, husband, father and grandfather. She then shared her progress with fellow group members, who responded with encouragement.
At Dale’s funeral, a granddaughter read excerpts of the story, Mallams said.
“All the things I wrote, I wouldn’t have gotten done without this group. I didn’t know how to start until I joined.”
Mallams is one of a handful of parishioners who belong to the community of writers called “Remembering Ourselves,” which retired English teacher Caroline Kilbourn started about four years ago. Catholics meet monthly at St. Alphonsus to read their latest work and suggest ideas to each other, she said.
Kilbourn founded the group after starting to pen her memoirs to give to her five grown children. “I thought it’d be nice to see if anyone else was interested in doing this, too.”
Several parishioners were, but hesitated. “Everyone comes and says, ‘I can’t write.’ Someone, maybe a teacher, told them that. I tell them it’s just like talking, only you write it down.”
Her foray into the written word began in 1979 when she wrote a piece for an ecumenical prayer group about Jesus’ power as a spiritual physician. Soon afterward, she began authoring a weekly column in Fairfield about local happenings for the Shopper News. She taught junior high and high school in the 1980s, and today, she and her daughter Monica Hadley interview publishers, authors and editors on the KRUU-FM program “Writer’s Voices” in Fairfield.
Writing helped give voice to Kilbourn’s grief after her husband, Ron, died in 2006. “We had always gone to Holy Thursday Mass together. The first Holy Thursday after he died, I could really feel his presence, so I wrote about that.” She wrote about priests who have guided her, too.
Mallams most recently wrote about seeing Pope John Paul II in Des Moines in 1979. “That’s a moment I’ll always remember. All these people came together, gathered as Jesus’ followers were at the bottom of the mountain to listen to him. I thought, ‘I need to write this down.’ Otherwise these memories get lost.”
Kilbourn recalls how her grandfather impressed on her the importance of preserving history. “When I was a teenager, he was telling me about his family’s past and said, ‘I know you don’t care about these things now, but someday you will.’ And he was right.” She feels fortunate to have letters her ancestors wrote during the Civil War and handwritten recipes from her grandmother. “I hope someday my grandchildren cherish my writings.”
A grandson typed up her handwritten memoirs, which she gave to her sons and daughters for Christmas in 2010. “I’ve had a nice life: my faith, friends at church and wonderful family. There have been many blessings.”