History comes alive

MARSHALL – Along with parents and community members, Holy Redeemer School students and staff took advantage of the one-day opportunity to learn about historical people while attending the 11th annual fifth-grade biographical museum Wednesday morning in the St. Mary’s Chapel at Holy Redeemer School in Marshall.

The fifth-graders spent about a month working on the project, beginning with investigation and research and ending with the museum, where the 27 students were in full costume for all their visitors to see.

“I think they did a wonderful job,” fifth-grade teacher and event organizer Brittany Van Keulen said. “I think we’ve improved a little bit every year. The kids get more into their characters and research. I think that our papers are even turning out better this year.”

Van Keulen pointed out that it could be because the project was pushed back a few months this year.

“We moved it from October to now because we have a new writing series,” she said. “With our writing, it breaks down the whole writing process for the research paper. So we pushed it toward the end of the year, so we could get them really comfortable with all parts of the writing before we came to this part. I think it helped overall. They were able to spend more time thinking about it and putting together the information for a quality paper.”

While the students select their own characters, they are required to pick someone who is deceased and has some sort of historical importance or contribution.

“It’s fun to see what they come up with,” Van Keulen said. “I grade them on the whole writing process, with their final paper being the majority of their grade. They do get graded on their poster, too, and that’s through their social studies class. Of course, they get participation points for their poster and costume for the museum as well.”

Chiemeka Nwakama decided to select Nelson Mandela for his project.

“Nelson Mandela was the president of South Africa,” Nwakama said. “He freed the African Americans in South Africa, so he’s kind of the Martin Luther King of South Africa. He was in prison for 27 years.”

According to Nwakama’s poster, Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 and died on Dec. 5, 2013. Upon the request of a primary school teacher in Quhu, he was forced to change his real name, Rolihlala Mandela, to the more Christian name of Nelson Mandela. Along with being an inspiration for a nation, he was also a boxer and lawyer.

Along with Mandela, Van Keulen said that first-time characters included Betsy Ross (Emma Klein), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Bryce Lance) and Robert B. Sherman (Zoe Vorbach).

“They can pick someone that interests them, and there is a lot to choose from,” Van Keulen said. “The students also get to learn more information beyond their own (project) because they do peer edit during our writing process. So they’re reading through other people’s information and looking at their paragraphs.”

A.J. Toulouse selected Abraham Lincoln as his biographical subject.

“He’s just interesting to me,” Toulouse said.

Toulouse found out some interesting facts during his research, including an ironic twist of fate involving the Booth family.

“Abe was the 16th president, everybody knows that, I think, but his son (Robert Todd Lincoln) was saved from being hit by a train by John Wilkes Booth’s brother (Edwin Booth). It was pretty neat to find that out,”?he said.

While finding appropriate costume pieces proved to be a little challenging, Toulouse said he really enjoyed the entire process.

“It was really fun,” he said. “I liked it. Writing all the stuff and getting all the information was fun.”

Brittany Seifert went with Judy Garland, who was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, as Frances Ethel Gumm. At the age of 16, Garland was cast as the beloved Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” a 1939 film based on the children’s book by L. Frank Baum.

“I just tried to find the person who looked most interesting to me,” Seifert said. “I loved her movie, and I just thought she was a great character.”

The museum viewing also included sightings of other performers, such as Elvis (Grant Horvath), Whitney Houston (Keygan Buysse) and Shirley Temple (Isabelle Tomoson). Along with Lincoln, past presidents of the United States included Thomas Jefferson (Landon Wherry), John F. Kennedy (Jacob Hughes), John Adams (Noah Dunn) and George Washington (Hannah Verkinderen).

Inventor/businessman Thomas Edison was brought to life by fifth-grader Thomas Thordson, as was inventor/scientist/politician Benjamin Franklin (Paul Bauer) and radioactivity research pioneer Marie Curie (Kaylie Stucke). Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields and the only person to win in multiple sciences.

“Students spend time researching, getting their information typed up and finding pictures while in school,” Van Keulen said. “They also do the posterboards in school, but they work on their costumes at home.”

Ryan Schroeder did his project on local businessman Marvin Schwan, who began his career selling ice cream door-to-door in the Marshall area. According to Schroeder’s posterboard, at the time of his death in 1993, Schwan was named the 70th richest American.

Coco Chanel (Avery Leary), whose Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume to be sold worldwide, was also sited inside the museum, as was Princess Diana (Mackenna Eickhoff), Laura Ingalls Wilder (Kiara Berg), Anne Frank (Kayla Polejewski) and George Armstrong Custer (Levi Van Keulen). Annie Oakley (Rachel Coudron), who was best known for her shooting accuracy, was also on display alongside her stuffed horse.

The museum wouldn’t be complete without sports legends, like Hilda Ranscomb (Olivia Macchio), often referred to as the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey, baseball player Ted Williams, ice hockey player/coach Herb Brooks and American college basketball coach and broadcaster Jim Valvano.