When Ken turned 94 earlier this year, there was a birthday card from a new friend that he described as “magical”.
It was written by a teenager he met through a social experiment – and who he now considers a close friend.
The card’s author, 16-year-old Louis, bonded with Ken over grief and loss while the nation watched during the first series of Teenage Care Homes.
Louis opened up to Ken, a former Marine, about losing his father to cancer in 2019 and how it made him feel different at school because he was the only one without a father.
Ken’s heartfelt response was to share his own experience of loss, revealing that his mother died during childbirth and that he also grew up without a father.
While cameras stopped rolling on the series over a year ago, the two men’s friendship continued off-screen.
“I found a true friend on the show and I think it was a great experience and something we need to normalize,” Louis said.
“Usually I try to see him every weekend.
“Sometimes it can be a little longer than that, but it’s never more than two weeks.”
When friends spend time together, they don’t do anything flash, but their catch-ups give them plenty of time to talk.
“We could go out to lunch, or we could have lunch here (or) get pizza,” Ken said.
“We could do a little work in the garden.”
Louis said he gives Ken an extra pair of hands and when he calls to see him, it’s “pretty relaxed.”
“We just talk, I water the orchids and I walk her dog,” he said.
“You don’t have to do too much, go out on a boat or anything. It’s really nice to just help him in the garden and around the house.
“There’s something about the casualness that makes you feel at home.”
A renewed purpose in life
While the appreciation for each other’s friendship is evident, Ken was particularly touched by a birthday card Louis wrote for him last July.
The card, which Louis said he was happy to share, read:
“Ken, in the short time I have known you, you have profoundly influenced my attitude and perception of life.
“You are my role model, and whatever career path I choose, I will always follow your example of discipline and optimism and apply it to everything I encounter in my life.
“Every day I am inspired by your resilience and continue to learn valuable lessons from you, Ken.
“You are an incredible man and I’m very lucky to have you as a friend.”
Ken said he never thought he would inspire a young man the way he was able to inspire Louis.
“For me, it’s just something magical,” he said.
“It shows me that at any age, you can have a real purpose in life.”
Ken said the main lesson he learned from taking part in the social experiment was that he didn’t need to feel limited by his age.
“Even though I’m 94 years old and I’m not in the best health, I can still enjoy life. And there’s something in it for us old people,” he said.
Louis is happy that Ken knows how much he is appreciated and how much he cherishes the wisdom and life advice Ken gives.
“I describe Ken as a bit of a guide,” Louis said.
“Every time I talk with Ken, I usually discover something new. Because he’s been alive so long, there’s usually a good story.
“I learn from him every time I see him.”
But it’s not just Ken and Louis who have stayed in touch.
A life-changing experience
Aranka, the oldest participant on the program, regularly talks to and sees four of the teenagers on the show, as well as with Ken.
“I see Fred a few times,” Aranka said.
“Then I see Dora – I went to her 16th birthday – and of course I’ve seen Miles the most. I see Kay and her parents and sometimes we go out and have after-tea. noon or lunch with them.
“Dora, Miles, Kay and Fred. Those four, I stay in very close contact with them.”
Aranka grew up in Hungary during World War II and later fled with her husband and six-year-old son during the Russian invasion in 1956.
She, her husband and son emigrated to Australia in 1957, but both sadly died.
Aranka participated in the experiment hoping to be able to communicate with a teenager like a grandmother would.
She cherishes the friendships she made with the teens on the show.
“I think of them as extended family. It’s changed my life,” Aranka said.
In addition to teaching the teenagers about her life and her early years fleeing Hungary, Aranka enjoyed reliving her adolescence vicariously through the teenagers in the series.
“I missed my adolescence. I was a teenager during World War II, so I didn’t have a adolescence,” she said.
Aranka said the experience challenged his perception of modern teenagers.
“I thought they weren’t as good because they didn’t take care of the older generations. But I was wrong. They do,” she said.
“They (are) interested and they (are) caring.
“The teenagers today, the ones I met on the show, were just fantastic. And if all teenagers are like them, then we have a great future.”
(aranka and fred/kay)
Lunch and stroll at Logies
Much like Ken and Louis, Aranka’s catch-ups with her new friends have been casual affairs, except for the time she went with Miles to the Logies.
“Oh, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Aranka said.
“I went to the Logies with Miles. It was like, ‘I’m pinching myself. Am I dreaming?’
“It was absolutely fantastic.”
Miles was slightly more excited to walk the red carpet than Aranka.
“When we were driving there, I got really, really nervous,” he said.
“But it was nice to have Aranka there just so that, you know, there was another person who could relate to that first time.
“I don’t think she really made the connection, because she was very, very excited.”
And the highlight of the evening for Miles?
“I see Karl Stefanovic,” he said.
Normally, Miles and his father see Aranka every other week for lunch.
They often spend their time listening to the ups and downs of Aranka’s past.
“She had an incredible life,” Miles said.
“She grew up in Hungary during World War II and it was pretty scary, I’m sure.”
Miles appreciates Aranka’s life experience and the perspective she has on life.
“She sees life really differently than other people,” he said.
“It’s really great to have this different perspective.
“I haven’t really experienced much in terms of people being in wars and all that… and it’s nice to have someone there who’s been through that and sees the world differently.”
Watch the new season of Old People’s Home For Teenagers on Tuesday, October 3 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC TV or stream on ABC iView.