At an age when many people are struggling with memory, ninety-two-year-old Harold Wilder '41 is helping others recover and develop theirs.
Wilder is a volunteer at the Brain Injury Center in Camarillo, California, where he works with people who have suffered strokes or traumatic brain injuries. He urges patients to use the same technique that he credits for his own strong memory: writing a personal history.
When Wilder was in his late seventies, his son Scott urged him to record some of the stories he had told for years—about his years at Kenyon, his experiences as a bomber pilot in World War II, and his sailing adventures with his wife, Rosie. He started writing on a computer and putting pages of stories in three-ring binders, which he shared with friends and family.
Wilder said he was surprised at how the memories began to flow as he sat down to write. "Each memory is like a link in a chain. When you think of one memory, that leads to another memory which leads to another. I was amazed at how writing down these stories from my life improved my memory."
The binders have produced two self-published books: Grandfather Stories and More Grandfather Stories. (Information on both books is available at http://www.grandfatherstories.com.)
Now he is committed to helping others benefit from his experience of boosting memory through writing. "I thought that what worked for me may work for other people, and it has."
Wilder said his interest in memory and the brain began at Kenyon, where he majored in psychology. He planned on going to graduate school "but they were having this war, and that took precedence."
His books include many stories from his time as a bomber pilot in World War II, including the mission in which he returned with a piece of shrapnel in his scarf—a souvenir he keeps to this day as a reminder of a close brush with death.
Kenyon figures prominently in his memoirs as well. For example, there was the time he and his friends learned to "ski" while being pulled behind a Ford Phaeton at Kenyon's airfield. "And I've never skied since," he said with a hearty laugh. "That was stupid scary."
Even after filling two books, Wilder said new memories continue to rise to consciousness. "I wake up at three in the morning with a story just buzzing through my head and I have no choice but to get up and write the damn thing. Then I can go back to sleep. But one thing leads to another in memory."