Giving Back

Brilliant Life, Smart Phone: SAGE Teen Volunteer Teaches 99-Year-Old WWII Veteran How to Use Latest Technology

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Griffin Faecher, left, shows John Wheaton how to use his new smart phone. Credits: SAGE Eldercare
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According to Faecher, 99-year-old Wheaton was a lightning-fast learner. Credits: SAGE Eldercare
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SUMMIT, NJ –  Hayward Wheaton will celebrate his 100th birthday on October 30, another milestone in an amazing life of the World War II veteran and Scotch Plains resident. Visiting Wheaton at his home is like taking a step back -- and through -- history, with the Jersey City-native remembering when he made $60 a month working as an elevator operator,, when the mailman came twice a day, stamps were 2 cents, and when making a phone call required a live operator’s assistance.

Wheaton shares stories of serving in the U.S. Army and working, in part, as a laborer digging graves for both German and American soldiers. The day the Holland Tunnel opened, Hayward walked through it. He can remember life before television and how much he enjoyed using his HAM radio to communicate with people all over the world.

He recalls with gratitude his grandmother paying for him to go to college -- which cost $9 per credit when he began -- and graduating from New York University in 1948. He became a physical therapist and enjoyed a long and successful career, learned to fly planes in the 1960’s and took up golf in the 1950’s.

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Just last year he was awarded “Most Inspiring Player” at Galloping Hill Golf Course in Clark. “Inspiring” is a word that suits Wheaton well. By the way, Wheaton is hoping for a small party and a big chocolate cake when he reaches the century mark the day before Halloween.

Not one to stay idle for very long, Hayward recently decided to turn in his flip phone for a new smart phone. Learning to use it has been a challenge. “It’s smarter than I am,” says Wheaton, “And overwhelming.”

To help older adults like Hayward sort out their smart phone angst, Summit-based SAGE Eldercare has a free program called 'Teen Tech Support', which teams a tech-savvy teenager with an older adult to offer help, including how to place a call, how to text, find e-mail, use FaceTime, load apps and more. 

SAGE Volunteer Coordinator, Amy Stuart started the program earlier this year after a number of SAGE clients told her the trouble they were having with their phones. “One client has a smart phone, but continues to use her flip phone because the process of learning to use these devices can be so overwhelming and intimidating,” explained Stuart.

Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Volunteers either go to the adult’s home or assist in group sessions at SAGE. 

Hayward was tutored at his home by eighth grade Pingry student Griffin Faecher of Berkeley Heights. After two sessions, he said he was comfortable making and receiving calls, texting and taking photos. “He was great,” Hayward said of his 14-year-old teacher.

For Griffin, the experience of working with a WWll veteran was exciting and mutually beneficial. “It was amazing. I was shocked when I went back the second time and he had mastered everything from our first session. I couldn’t believe that someone who is almost 100 would want to learn to use a cell phone,” said Griffin. He noted that of all the community work he has done, this felt different. “Sometimes the work can feel impersonal, but with this I can see the impact of what I’m doing.”

To learn more about SAGE’s Teen Tech Support call 908-598-5548 or email education@sageeldercare.org.

SAGE Eldercare has, since 1954, been focused on "helping to make the communities it serves amazing places to age."  The organization provides a wide array of information, support, and services designed to help individuals lead the most independent and active lives possible, from helping with errands, to exercise classes, community programs, care planning, and home health care.

SAGE’s expertise helps older adults remain independent in their own homes. For more information, call 908-273-5550 or visit sageeldercare.org.

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