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The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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4/30/06   Spot-Lighting T-AHS’s Volunteers

Nationally, April is recognized as Volunteer Month. April is also the time when Thompson-Ames Historical Society finalizes its preparations for field trips offered for students in Gilford Elementary School.

As T-AHS’s Educational Coordinator, it is my role to coordinate preparations for these field trips. I, for one, know how important volunteers are to the success of these field trips. There is no better time than right now to spotlight some of the many volunteers who give of their time and talents to make these Gilford historical society annual field trips so successful.

Our field trips usually begin on the first Wednesday in May, which this year is May 3rd, with three Kindergarten classes visiting the Grange Museum Building in the morning and the other three classes visiting in the afternoon.

The Kindergarten field trip activities, which emphasize the importance of wood in by-gone days, include three settings. One is an opportunity for the youngsters to play with wooden toys of historic design that have been made by Don Frost and Stan Piper; Don supervises this activity; it is a joy to observe Don interact with the boys and girls as they play with these old-fashioned wooden toys.

In the Homestead Room the children may find Mary Frost or Diane Mitton or myself ready to explain how a whole family lived in just one room until they were able to build a bigger home; the children’s little eyes grow bigger and bigger as they look around the room and try to imagine their family in just that one room. In the Historic Store, Stan Piper is always his jolly old self as he explains about some of the items found in an old general store.

Then it is time for the five third-grade classes to have their field trips. One classroom at a time comes to spend an afternoon in planned activities, first at the Grange Museum Building.

One Grange activity takes place outdoors. The volunteer/docent who will explain chores that the boys and girls were expected to do and guide the girls in actually beating the rug, washing the clothes by hand, hanging them on the line to dry, and then ironing them is Mary Chesebrough. Knowing that Mary and her husband have lived in town for many years, I was curious as to what caused Mary to recently join us as a volunteer. She said that she was born in D.C. and had not been interested in the history of a rural town. She went on to say that she joined T-AHS “because the buildings are important to Gilford, that they represent a big value to our town, reflecting the lifestyle of inland New England.” Mary wants to see that the buildings are well maintained. Since she was never interested in history, she wants to do what she can to make it a “hands-on experience for our third-graders”. -- Two other volunteers/docents of the outdoors team are Jim Colby and Jerry Lacroix, both having attended Gilford’s “consolidated” four-classroom school in the 1940s. They have a love for our town’s history and enjoy “helping” the boys with their chores, gathering eggs, getting “water from the well” and using a bucksaw on the firewood.

Upstairs in Grange Hall, Carol Anderson leads an activity: making quilts that will be given to sick baby boys and girls in hospitals. Each third graders brings his or her sketch and then uses fabric markers to draw on a muslin square. -- We have other invaluable volunteers working behind the scenes, to cut the squares for the children to use and then afterwards to sew the squares together to create quilts; our thanks go to Carmel Lancia, Bea Vezina, Sue Keene, and Rosemary Kacprzyznski. -- Carol remembers what one on the third-grade girls said to her last year when she complimented the girl on her drawing, “I drew a picture of my favorite stuffed animal because it made me comfortable when I didn’t feel good, and I hope it makes some sick child feel better.” Again recalling last year, Carol said that she was impressed with how carefully each classroom teacher had prepared her students for the activity and that the youngsters understood the purpose of the squares. -- In talking with our various volunteers/docents, they all have commented on how well behaved, interested and knowledgeable the third graders are.

The youngsters also visit the Historic Store, where Stan Piper is the storekeeper.

This is an opportunity for the third graders to see and learn about many items that might have been sold in the 1800s and early 1900s. As a highlight, in the vintage mail sorter there is a letter addressed to each third grader and inside each envelope is a shiny penny to use to buy a piece of penny candy.

In the Homestead Room, the youngsters are greeted by Diane Mitton or myself. It is always interesting to see the reaction on the students’ faces when they realize that a whole family lived in one room, and also that one room, very important to us today, is missing from the early home.

Since each class is divided into four sections and they rotate through four activities, it is important that we all finish our presentations in a timely manner. Our timekeepers are very important for they let us know at the end of 15 minutes that we have 5 minutes left to finish and have our groups ready to rotate to the next area/activity. Carolyn Brown, Yvette Johnson, Jerry Lacroix and Priscilla Puleo have learned that they have to be firm with us when they ring the school bell for the groups to move on, because we sometimes want more time with our group. Priscilla said that she was intimidated when she first started because our president was so involved with her group that she would plead for just a few more minutes. I chuckled when she told me this, because once we start, we just love to keep going. Priscilla said that now she has learned to be firm with us: when our time is up, the groups move on. When I asked Yvette her thoughts on being a timekeeper, she said she volunteers “because I like seeing the children, how interested they are, and how well-behaved they are.”

On their second field-trip afternoon the students visit the 1834 Union Meetinghouse. When they arrive, there will be familiar faces as well as new faces to greet them.

Sue Maupin will be with us on Mondays, which is her day off from her job, and will guide the students as they try their handwriting with quill pens and wooden straight pens with nibs. When I asked her why she had offered to volunteer with us on her day off, she replied, “I want to learn more about history myself and to help the students learn.” She has a daughter in third grade this year and enjoys making learning interesting. Sue also said that the information papers and the “shadowing”, which she had done last year, have given her the confidence to be a docent this year.

We are glad to welcome back Mary Frost, who wears many “hats” and is willing to fill any position that we ask of her. Her husband, Don, is our master “toy man”, having made many of the wooden toys that the students enjoy playing with.

Carol Anderson will also be telling about some of the areas. One of the items that she tells the students about is the ceremonial sword that President Franklin Pierce wore at his inauguration. She thought that the boys and girls should know more about who he was, so she went online to get more information, which she not only shares with the students but also has added to the information sheets which are given to all new docents. Although the items exhibited in the buildings are the same, our docents are free to vary their presentation according to their interests.

This year we are pleased to welcome a couple, Monica and Steve Melbourne, who will “shadow” one day and then “fly solo” the rest of the week.

As for me, a retired GES third-grade teacher, I am in my element as the schoolmarm in the one-room schoolhouse setting. I also pose a question to the students as we wonder where the “consolidated” four-classroom school, built in 1939, is located. Some of the students are surprised to learn that their own classroom is one of the original classsrooms.

On a third field-trip afternoon the students visit the Benjamin Rowe House, Gilford’s c. 1838 historic farmhouse. Here the students learn about life on a farm. Each group of students rotates through the Dining Room, Kitchen, Bedroom, and Parlor. We try to let our volunteers choose the room they feel most comfortable in and talk about it. Diane Mitton and I take turns being docents in the Kitchen and Pantry. Stan Piper is our “Parlor Man”; he thoroughly enjoys making the Edison cylindrical phonograph work so that all can enjoy the music. The students also have an opportunity to view the pictures in the stereoscope. Gerald Knight greets the students in the Dining Room. This year, we are pleased to welcome Elizabeth Mead to the Rowe House; she will be in the Bedroom where a vintage rope-bed is center stage. -- Do you know where the expression “sleep tight” comes from? Come and learn at the Rowe House!

Each field-trip day T-AHS President, Joan Nelson, is on hand to greet the students outside the museum building and tell them some interesting facts. In this way the students develop an awareness of the importance of historic buildings in our village.

We are very grateful to all our many volunteers who are so willing to be docents, timekeepers, etc., so we can offer our students these field trips. We are grateful to our faithful volunteers who come back year after year and to our new volunteers this year. As part of our training program, Joan Nelson has written informative background papers that tell about each theme area. Also, we ask new people to “shadow” an experienced docent for one afternoon to get a feel for the program. However, we realize that each person will individualize his or her presentation. In fact, the tour presentation may vary from group to group in one day, depending on the make-up and interest of the students in each group.

If you are interested in seeing what our field trips are like, we would be very happy to have you join us and listen in as we interact with the students. The days and times of the field trips are listed on T-AHS’s web site, www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org. After the students leave, we would be happy to talk with you. You do not need to have children in the school to be involved as a docent. Or you may prefer to be a docent when we have an “Open House” during the year. If you are interested and would like more information, feel free to call me, Kathy Lacroix, at 524-3390.

We appreciate all the hours that our volunteers give. We all appreciate being a part of the community of Gilford and are grateful for the support that gives us.