For more than a decade, a group of local senior authors has been meeting regularly in Perham to share their craft.

Each writer of the Golden Pens group brings a different perspective and objective with each one of their many stories. Founding member Clara Helvig says the group has no bylaws, rules or anything regarding what they write about. Some are writing memoirs for future generations to understand the lives they’ve lived, yet others just do it as an artistic exercise.

Donna Klemond says she’s writing a memoir so future generations, “don’t have to wonder, like I wonder, what it was like.”

For Ann MacGregor, imagining the past is exactly why she enjoys writing. As a devoted genealogist, MacGregor has a record of family trees that goes back generations.

“I love historical research. What I’m doing in this class is telling their stories,” she said. “I can start to put together and flesh this person out more, instead of listing dates. It’s like writing a historical novel.”

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Lawrence Wankel, a musician and composer, says he approaches writing the same way he approaches music.

“When thinking of writing, I’m thinking of form,” Wankel said. “I’ve learned how to put form into both things, writing and composing.”

Each meeting starts with a free writing exercise kicked off by a general prompt. After 10 minutes, the group goes around the room, with members sharing short stories they’ve recently written.

Clara Helvig completes a writing prompt for the Golden Pens writing club. Helvig founded the club in 2006. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)
Clara Helvig completes a writing prompt for the Golden Pens writing club. Helvig founded the club in 2006. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

At the group’s meeting in early September, coffee was poured generously and passed around a table inside Ma’s Little Red Barn. While everyone was settling in, old friends caught up and chatted, while stragglers meandered in.

“I have nine pages with me, did anyone bring lunch?” Helvig asked the group.

As Wankel started to read his story, other members made last-minute adjustments to their pages. Words were crossed out and sentences swapped around.

Even though the newest members have been coming for years, they still get nervous reading their stories out loud to the group.

Wankel says the first few times he came to the meeting he was scared to death.

“I get a little apprehensive, because you’re opening your soul,” Catherine Erickson said.

All of the eight members in attendance said writing keeps their minds sharp as they age.

“We all don’t want to get Alzheimer's,” Karen Chobot said. “They tell you the more you think, the better off you are.”

Editor's note: A version of this story appeared in the September 2019 Generations magazine.