Ex-boxer ‘perfect partner’ for storytelling project at Burnaby seniors centre

Reprinted from Burnaby Now.

Former boxer Tommy Boyce takes a fake swing at St. George’s School Grade 10 student Daniel Teperson during a wrap-up tea for an inter-generational storytelling project at Burnaby's Poppy Residences last month. Photograph By Cornelia Naylor
Former boxer Tommy Boyce takes a fake swing at St. George’s School Grade 10 student Daniel Teperson during a wrap-up tea for an intergenerational storytelling project at Burnaby’s Poppy Residences last month. Photograph By Cornelia Naylor

In many ways, Tommy Boyce and Daniel Teperson couldn’t be less alike.

Sitting in the dining room of his Burnaby independent living facility, 68-year-old Boyce wears faded jeans and a black T-shirt. He sports a gray goatee and faded tattoos on his forearms.

Teperson, a fresh-faced Grade 10 student, wears a tie and his St. George’s School blazer.

Boyce was born and raised in gritty 1960s East Vancouver and went to working-class Templeton High School.

Teperson lives in Kitsilano and attends a private, all-boys prep school.

But when Teperson was partnered with Boyce for an intergenerational storytelling project that wrapped up in Burnaby last month, the youngster knew he’d lucked out.

“I definitely did,” Teperson tells the NOW. “Right after the first day when I got on the bus, I said, ‘I got the perfect partner.’”

They “clicked” over their love of sports, he says, as Boyce (a.k.a. The Blonde Tiger) shared stories of his life and boxing career – which included a Canadian amateur title, a 17-1 pro record and a stint training in the same gym as the late Muhammad Ali.

“The thing about talking to someone with such a wide variety of stories to tell is that something in each story connected to something in your life and you could really connect it,” Teperson says of the experience. “… Just because Tommy grew up in East Van, and I was fortunate enough to grow up in a nice neighbourhood in Kitsilano, doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have overlapping experiences.”

Teperson and Boyce were brought together by the Raconteurs Project – an eight-week project developed by St. George’s English and social studies teacher Sarah Coates and her longtime friend, Lindsey Fancy, co-owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Burnaby.

The idea, which Coates and Fancy hope to grow into a standalone organization, is to connect generations through the art of storytelling.

As a pilot project this year, Coates integrated the concept into an English class at St. George’s – pairing her students and seniors at the Poppy Residences and bringing them together for hour-and-a-half sessions over the course of eight weeks.

At a wrap-up luncheon June 14, participating seniors were presented with booklets of stories and poems students had written about the tales Poppy residents had told them.

“This was part of the students’ English for the term,” Coates says. “We did creative writing, and so this was our impetus for the creative writing that they did. We used these visits to do exercises when we went back to school.”

In the future, she and Fancy want to see the project expand beyond St. George’s.

“I would envision different ages, different types of schools, even different types of programs – like if Girl Guides or Boy Scouts wanted to participate as well,” she says.

The Poppy Residences, which hosted the wrap-up luncheon last month, was picked for the pilot because there was a lot of interest from residents in participating.

For Boyce, the decision to get involved was partly an act of defiance against dementia and Alzheimer’s – a resolve that was driven home recently by the death of Ali, who had Parkinson’s syndrome, a disease that sometimes results from head trauma from activities like boxing.

“I knew he had the same thing that I got, dementia and whatever from too many shots,” Boyce told the NOW, “and it’s the same for me, right? That’s what I’m going through now, but the more you fight, the better you are. Like, I’m not going to lay down and lick my nuts, that’s for sure.”

Boyce hopes others who struggle with dementia will be encouraged by his openness.

In the meantime, he said sharing his stories with Teperson and other students was a new and rewarding experience.

“They loved it,” he said. “I don’t usually do this, but I enjoyed doing it, and I watched the kids’ faces and their eyes and watched them how they liked it, and they were really into it, so I figured, ‘Well, I might as well spill my guts.’”

The Raconteurs Project is currently recruiting storytellers (seniors) and storywriters (youth) in the Lower Mainland for 2016/17.