PINE RIVER -- Reuben and Bernadine Syhre of Pine River have proven you're never too old to start volunteering.
When Reuben read in an area newspaper last fall that Pine River Elementary School needed community members to help students become better readers, he told his wife, Bernadine, they should volunteer.
Years ago Bernadine had volunteered to read to nursing home residents at Whispering Pines Good Samaritan Village in Pine River, but other than that, the couple had never really volunteered before, much less in a classroom filled with young children. The prospect may be intimidating to many people.
But the idea was intriguing to Reuben, a retired longtime blacksmith in Pine River.
"I hadn't found anything else that appealed to me like this did," he said. "According to the paper, the kids needed a little help."
Now every Tuesday afternoon since the beginning of the school year, the Syhres ride the community van from their home in Pine River to the elementary school. For a half-hour each week, the couple sits on opposite sides of the hallway and listens to students in Cheryl Miller's first-grade class read to them, practicing their reading skills. Students take turns going out into the hallway to individually read to the Syhres.
The children call them "Grandma" and "Grandpa." Reuben is 89 and will celebrate his 90th birthday June 2. Bernadine recently turned 86. The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in January.
"It's just really special, the kids really like it," said Miller. "It's been really good, it really has. I think it's really broken down some barriers."
Miller said her students look forward to their weekly visits by the Syhres. The children hang up their coats and pull four chairs out into the hallway for them before they begin to read. On Valentine's Day, Miller's students made paper Valentines for the couple and Miller gave them a photo of the entire class.
"I don't know who has more fun, me or the kids," said Reuben with a smile. "It's just fun. Some read so well and some need a lot of help. I suppose it helps keep us feeling young."
"The kids seem to appreciate it," added Bernadine. "They just love us. That's pretty neat."
The other day, a little boy gave Bernadine a shiny white rock he found on the playground, she said with a smile.
"I would like to clone them," said Miller. "It's just been really special for the children."
The Syhres plan to volunteer at the elementary school for as long as they are able. Miller said she wishes more older residents would volunteer their time with the schoolchildren, perhaps listening to them as they learn to read like the Syhres do.
"You're a good reader," Bernadine said to 7-year-old Nicholas Gravdahl as he finished reading a chapter in his book to her last week.
"I didn't realize I was that good," Gravdahl told her, seeming genuinely surprised at the compliment, before he headed back to his classroom.
The Syhres have three daughters, 12 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and 23 first-graders who call them Grandma and Grandpa, too.
JODIE TWEED, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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