LEWISTON — Roger Sutton turned 80 on Sunday. A few days before, fourth-graders celebrated his birthday in a big way at Geiger Elementary School, where Sutton volunteers as a foster grandparent.

On Thursday, Sutton sat under a birthday banner, next to a big cake, a gift bag and mounds of cards made by students.

Some 100 fourth-graders filled a hall and sang “Happy Birthday to You.”

Afterward, they chanted: “Are you 1? Are you 2? Are you 3? Are you 4?” They kept it going until they reached 80. Sutton raised his arms in celebration. Students cheered and applauded.

Sutton is in his seventh year as a foster grandparent at Geiger. He volunteers Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., working with students and fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Groover.

Working with students gives him much joy, he said.

“I live at Oak Park; it’s all elderly people,” he said. “This puts me with kids. It gives me something to do other than sitting around, twiddling my thumbs. I love it. I love it.”

“I hate school vacations,” he said. “I miss them.”

Students gave “Uncle Roger” high marks.

“He helps us a lot with math and reading; he grades our papers,” Eden Rochon, 9, said. “He’s really awesome.”

“Uncle Roger is pretty nice; he’s truthful,” Abdi Bade, 9, said. “He helps us whenever we need it. He’s always there for us.”

Heather Emerson, 9, gave Sutton a ring she made of elastics. “I wanted to make him a bracelet, but I didn’t have enough,” she said. “He’s nice.”

Groover said Sutton started working in her class of 27 students this year. The fourth grade next door has foster grandparent Norm Marcoux. “Everybody knows an extra pair of hands in the classroom is wonderful,” she said.

Sutton works one-on-one with students, providing extra help. “Another thing he does is, because I have such a large group, if I give a direction, he’ll walk around and make sure they’re following the direction.”

Groover said Sutton brings to her class “the sense of discipline we’ve lost. ‘Sit up straight.’ ‘Pick that up off the floor.’”

Studies have shown the benefits of bringing generations together, Groover said.

“For example, with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I brought in books and videos, but Uncle Roger lived it,” she said. Sutton talked about what it was like when Kennedy was killed. There are some fourth-graders who are not motivated learners, she said. “But they want to sit and talk to Uncle Roger about American history.”

Student lessons were incorporated around Sutton’s birthday. They had to write an essay on what the world might be like when they turn 80. They also had problems that centered around 1933, the year he was born. They included: “My brand new 1933 Chevrolet holds 25 gallons of gas. If a gallon of gas costs 10 cents, how much will it cost to fill the tank?” And, “This Christmas, my mom is buying each of us a new car. There are five of us. If a car costs $445, how much will it cost in all?”

Sutton said he remembers gas costing 12 cents a gallon. He told students he was born “in my mother’s bed,” and that in the 1930s, women had babies at home, not the hospital.

He was born in Lewiston and lived there his entire life. Sutton attended St. Peter’s Catholic Elementary School and St. Dominic High School. He worked as a wholesale buyer.

Sutton never married and took care of his mother for years. After he retired and after his mother passed, “I found myself with all this time on my hands,” he said.

The surprise birthday party from students was “wonderful,” Sutton said with a big smile. “It’s my best birthday ever.”

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More volunteer foster grandparents needed

LEWISTON — In the dozens of classrooms at Geiger Elementary, only two have foster parents, Roger Sutton and Norm Marcoux, who both work with fourth-graders.

At Geiger and at public schools everywhere, there’s a need for more volunteer foster grandparents, educators said. Most classroom teachers would love to have a foster grandparent, Sutton said.

Marcoux, 74, is in his eighth year as a foster grandparent.

“I do it for the kids, I love the kids,” Marcoux said. He enjoys watching students progress in their learning, knowing he helped. “They come in and give you the nicest hugs,” he said. “I’ll be at Walmart. They’ll run up and give me a hug. My wife says, ‘Must be one of your kids.’”

Geiger Elementary Principal David Bartlett said foster grandparents provide  another set of hands. “To have an additional person in a classroom supportive of the teacher and the kids is invaluable.”

Candidates must be 55 years or older, like kids, interested in helping students and teachers in class, and willing to get a little training, Bartlett said. Penquis of Bangor offers foster grandparent programs, providing some training and some stipends.

For more information, contact Penquis at 973-3684, or 1-800-215-4942, or www.penquis.org.

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