A senior citizen prom at Fort Frye High School gives generations the chance to connect

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BEVERLY, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — When Pam Bennett was a student at Fort Frye High School, one of the big events each year was the senior citizen prom.

Students and community members prepared food and music. They decorated the gym just like they would for any other high school dance. And then, the senior citizens of Fort Frye would come to dance and play games with their younger counterparts.

At some point after Bennett graduated, the senior citizen prom stopped happening. That changed last year, when Bennett, now a teacher at Fort Frye, organized a revival with kids in the Students Solving Problems group.

“Our club, for the past few years, has been pen pals with people from the area nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. We felt like something we could do would be to get people into the school and mixing with our kids, and so we decided to bring (the prom) back,” said Bennett.

The second iteration of this new senior citizens prom took place in the high school gym Friday. Seniors got sudoku and coloring pages to occupy them while they enjoyed refreshments prepared by the high school’s FFA and food science students.

A high school student and a senior citizen dance at Fort Frye's Senior Citizen Prom.
Senior citizen Jeannine Snyder dances to “Hound Dog” with high school student Laine Spindler. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB/Report for America]
Among the students helping seniors to their seats was Students Solving Problems member Jaslynn Casto.

“I love seeing the older ladies come in all dressed up, all smiled (sic). They know they’re going to have a good time, and that just really makes me feel good,” Casto said.

Once everyone was settled, it was time for bingo. One student read out numbers while others shuffled around distributing prizes. Classic rock ‘n’ roll hits played in the background.

“The seniors have a great time, (they) love interacting with the kids. Some of them are grandparents of our kids, so it’s really nice to just get them all together,” said Bennett.

One of those grandparents was 88-year-old Donna Tornes, a retired Fort Frye teacher and one of the organizers of the original senior citizens prom. She attended this year’s prom with her 17-year-old granddaughter Jackie Tornes.

88-year-old Donna Tornes walks with her granddaughter Jackie Tornes at Fort Frye's annual Senior Citizen Prom.
Donna Tornes walks with her granddaughter Jackie Tornes at Fort Frye’s Senior Citizen Prom. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB/Report for America]
“I’m enjoying it, and I love to see the kids doing things like this for the older people,” said Donna.

“Oh, it’s the best,” agreed Jackie. “I like that she’s getting to have her own new prom with all of her friends. It’s like high school all over for her again.”

“But I didn’t win bingo,” Donna interjected with a laugh.

High schoolers took up most of the floor when it came to the dancing, but a handful of seniors got up to move when Elvis Presley’s classic rendition of “Hound Dog” came over the speakers.

True to form, the event concluded with the crowning of a prom king and queen, followed by a slow dance to Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

The prom queen for Fort Frye's Senior Citizen Prom poses for a photo with a high school student.
Prom queen Becky Barber poses for a photo with high school student Kianna O’Brien. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB/Report for America]
Bennett said she plans to keep the tradition going.

“We’ve talked about, ‘What did they used to do?’” said Bennett. “We’d like to bring those things back.”