'An Evening with Evelyn': Grandma's recipe for a happy life is now on DVD

News-DemocratApril 28, 2013 

Evelyn Britt Meni was born in Pocahontas, grew up in Collinsville and has lived in Troy since she and husband LaRue built a home there 47 years ago. (He died in 1972.) She celebrated her 97th birthday on April 16.

"Mom is a homemaker who was very involved in our church, First United Methodist in Collinsville," said daughter Billie Jean Simpson, of Edwardsville. "She taught Sunday School for 40 years. She's always on the go. She is very cordial and interesting to be around."

Interesting enough that her family recorded her story.

On a cold January evening in 2012, they got together and grandson Mike Gassmann, of Collinsville, videotaped Grandma Evelyn talking about her life. She shared old photos and showed a gown from a school dance.

"She was able to remember as far back as when she was 3 or 4," said granddaughter Donna Gassmann, of Alhambra. Evelyn told how her family gathered eggs to afford 2-cent ice cream cones.

"The result of that evening was two one-hour, 15-minute DVDs, and a very exhausted beautiful lady," said Donna.

Mike enabled his grandmother to give her DVDs as Christmas gifts. They included a foldout family tree.

"She could give everyone a good recipe for a happy, sucessful life," Mike said.

Evelyn is the mother of two, Billie Jean and Janice Joseph, of Collinsville (daughter Carol Gassmann died in 2008.), grandmother of 11 and the great-grandmother of 18.

Here's how the family put together Evelyn's life story.

How did "An Evening with Evelyn" come about? "It came from my two daughters," said Billie Jean Simpson. "One lives in Pennsylvania. One lives in Denver, They suggested to me that we do this."

What did your mom think of the idea? "She was so excited, very excited. That evening, she talked for 2 1/2 hours including a time period when we had questions from other famly members. We had multiple generations on hand. We even spoke to cousins via Skype. She talked about schools she went to, high school activities (She was a 1934 Collinsville High grad.) and how she wanted to go to college, but my father talked her into marrying him instead. She told us Dad said, 'Well, Evelyn, if you go to college and we wait till you get out, we're going to be old.'"

How did you prepare your mom for the recording? "I sat down with her several times. She talked about her family and then I made an outline beginning with who her parents were, and her great-grandparents. She talked about how old she was when she moved to Collinsville, what schools she went to, what her father did, how much he was making at that time."

Do you have any tips on filming? "Not much skill was required," said Mike Gassmann. "A video camera, plenty of tape, plenty of batteries, and a sturdy tripod set up in a comfortable setting with a pleasant background. Think ahead and have a plan for the evening. Also read up on video composition and framing for interviews and story telling. Video editing on the computer has gotten to where one can produce a professional looking film with not a whole lot of effort."

Billie Jean had the tape converted to DVDs. From the DVDs, Mike made 17 copies and enclosed a family tree, folded up inside.

What did your mom think of her story? "After I got the DVD, I brought her over here and we watched it. She got really tickled about some of the things. When it was over, she said, 'I didn't realize I talked so much.'"

-- Maureen Houston

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