History Day and May Meander at the Historic Village

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Glen Blenn explains the workings of the early 1920s visible gas pump on the grounds of the Vicksburg Historic Village to visitors from Japan. He serves as the docent for the Village Garage whenever the buildings are open. During the 20’s a customer pumping gas could actually see the gas coming from the pump.

By Sue Moore

Babies, kids, young and old adults alike are invited when the Vicksburg Historical Society opens its doors on Saturday, May 18, the opening day for its May Meander and History Day celebration. It goes from 4-7 p.m. at the Historic Village on Richardson Street.

“There is a lot to celebrate,” said Don Weirtella, the 2019 president of the board of directors. “We have a new director, a brand-new speaker series planned, lots of tours of the village on tap, a course on the History of Vicksburg for the Osher Life Long Learning Institute and the 10th annual Harvest Festival at the end of September.”

Displays in all of the buildings will be open for the May Meander. “If you haven’t had a chance to tour the Historic Village, this will be the perfect time to meander through the buildings and steep yourself in local history,” Weirtella said.

There will be display booths set up by Vicksburg-area nonprofit organizations and businesses. They have been invited to promote their goods and services as guests stroll in and out of the buildings that showcase historic artifacts. “We wanted to have an appropriate opening to the season for our members and the general public so we have combined it with our first-ever History Day competition for school kids,” Weirtella said. Hot dogs and water will be served for free. Chef John Polasek will do the grilling. He is the champion bratwurst cook at the Lions Club Summer Festival and a Historical Society board member and president the last two years.

History Day will take place from 1:30-4:30 p.m. with 26 Vicksburg Middle School students presenting their research papers on Michigan in the Civil War. This curriculum-based program is part of a nation-wide History Day observance sponsored by historical societies in Michigan and elsewhere. Locally it has been spearheaded by Brendan McCaw, a Historical Society board member and middle school social studies teacher. His sidekick in this endeavor is Dana Wagner, board member and event planner for the Growlers baseball team in Kalamazoo.

This History Day competition was open to students in all grades. The contestants for this first year have been drawn from the 6th and 7th grades with 26 kids joining up to make 13 presentations. They will begin at 1:30 p.m. on May 18 and end at 4:30 p.m. with the winners being announced at 4:30 p.m. before the speaker on the Civil War concludes his talk. The top three winning presentations will take home $500 each in prize money donated by the Historical Society. Their presentations will be judged by Randy Seilheimer, former history teacher in Portage; Norm Hinga, who has authored a book about one of his relatives in the Civil War; Warren Lawrence and Rick Anderson.

The History Day students have been researching Michigan in the Civil War as part of their classroom work in social studies. This provides them with a public outlet to show their work and win a prize for it, McCaw said. It is based on informative and argumentative writing, research and project presentation connected to the Civil War. On Friday, May 24 the 8th grade students will complete their studies of the Civil War with a special day encampment on the Historic Village grounds for the 21st year.

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