Carson City resident Harry Chalekian, 91, on Tuesday shows a birthday gift created by Seeliger Elementary School fifth graders who honored him by expressing what they hoped to accomplish by the time they turn 91. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
Carson City resident and world traveler Harry Chalekian, 91, has celebrated his birthdays in different ways in different countries throughout his lifetime, but the latest gift he received from a classroom of Seeliger Elementary School students “takes the cake.”
The former math teacher and U.S. Army officer was flattered when teacher Susan Lowther’s fifth-graders collaborated and penned their big dreams about what the world should be like as a whole and for themselves by the time they’re 91. They captured their thoughts in words and drawings in a special hand-drawn collection of pages for Carson City resident Harry Chalekian and presented a book entitled “When I Am 91” to give to him as a keepsake and took it to him at his birthday party. The assignment took only about an hour, Lowther said, but they were highly creative.
“He taught for years in Wisconsin, he taught math, he moved out here in the ’80s and he’s been here ever since,” Lowther said. “He’s been to every continent and he’s proud of that. … He’s just one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. He’s always helped others.”
Chalekian stopped by Seeliger on Tuesday to express his thanks, with his daughter Jody Spencer driving him up to the front of the school to meet with the class.
“I’ve been all over the world on my birthday,” Chalekian said Tuesday. “I can’t get over it (the book). I thought it was a joke.”
Spencer, who comes to visit her father frequently from Wisconsin, said the students put a special effort into the book with their thoughts about what the future and their own lives would be like by the time they reach 91.
The book includes the students’ ambitions about owning two dogs that likely will be huskies, having a lot of pets, owning a shop, flying, experiencing what the world will be like by then, seeing the development of the iPhone 30, having traveled to Peru, working at aquariums that house beluga whales, having one’s dream job, retiring from soccer, visiting Legoland, having children and great-grandchildren and finally being able to relax and enjoy life, among others.
Lenny Bagley, 11, who wants to become a lawyer and a restaurant owner, said she enjoyed participating in the project and putting her thoughts into it.
“I like to argue with people and get my point across very clearly,” Bagley said. “I like getting my way, and I’ve been told I should be a lawyer a lot of times, and I really like making food and it’s a lot of fun. So I thought it was a lot of fun and kind of a learning experience. You can accomplish a lot in 91 years.
“So my teacher said (Harry’s) been across the world and all this stuff,” Bagley added. “That’s really cool that he can do that. I know I aspire to not really travel as much and stay in one place. I prefer knowledge over traveling.”
Chalekian graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joined the Reserved Officer Training Corps and went into the Army for three years, where he was sent to Germany among his time and considered it “an extension of my teaching,” he said.
He taught junior high and high school math while he was Clintonville, Wis.
Jack Kneeland, 10, who expressed an interest in history, said he sought to relate to Chalekian’s travels and aspires to see every World War II monument, which was one of his contributions to the book. He also hopes to become an astrophysicist or teach at a university.
“I wrote in the book that I want our world by (age) 91 to be more peaceful,” Kneeland said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect because nothing will ever be perfect. … I either want to teach at some sort of university or I want to work for NASA because my goal is to just reach for the stars and look for everything in the universe. I like solving the mysteries and the universe is pretty much the biggest mystery.”
Lowther thought it was “amazing” to see what the students came up for Chalekian.
“I have a wonderful class this year,” Lowther said. “They have rolled with the punches. It’s nice to see that generational gap come together because 91 seems so out of what they think. Thirty is ancient to them.”
She said Chalekian has enjoyed the students’ gift to him.
“He’s highly impressed by what they were thinking,” she said. “It was very special.”