About 100 people gathered Saturday at the one-room Delphi School to welcome new students into Tumwater Middle School’s Homesteaders – and to celebrate the living-history program’s 25th anniversary.
Retired history teacher Brian Buntain and retired library media specialist Anne Kelleher said they’re surprised the program they created to commemorate the state’s centennial celebration has continued for so long.
“I’m so tickled that it did,” Buntain said.
“At the beginning, we didn’t think we’d go past one or two (years),” Kelleher said.
Since 1987, nearly 1,500 students have donned pioneer clothing and recreated South Sound history at events in the area, such as the New Market Pioneer Fair and Tumwater’s Cider Sunday.
The program was patterned after living-history programs in Williamsburg, Va., and Plymouth, Mass., that Buntain and Kelleher visited during a field trip in the mid-1980s.
They decided to create a program that would demonstrate the challenges and everyday life for South Sound’s pioneer families.
During the first year, participants volunteered for the program, and all of the activities and workshops were after school and on weekends, Kelleher said.
The yearlong program ended with a Pioneer Fair that featured re-enactments, games and displays for the district’s elementary school students.
“Our school administrators said, ‘That was great; is there any way you can do that again next year?’” Kelleher recalled.
The following year, the program became a class. These days, there are 60 spots in the program, and students must go through an application process.
There were years when Homesteaders came close to getting cut because of budgetary or scheduling issues, Kelleher said. But it wasn’t, and she thinks that’s because the program has a large amount of parent and community support.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for kids,” said Dana Noble, whose daughter participated in the program several years ago and whose son is now a Homesteader. “It brings them to the real life of history.”
Saturday’s celebration was hosted by the Tumwater Historical Association and featured cake, displays of quilts and other items from past classes, and pioneer games such as hoop races and baseball.
Tera Risenhoover, 24, of Centralia, and her sister, Jennifer Risenhoover, 22, of Olympia stopped by to visit with their former teachers and classmates.
They said they have fond memories of learning how to quilt and knit in the program.
“The Homesteaders program is definitely something that sticks out as a highlight in my education,” Tera said. “I learned a lot about Washington state history, and Tumwater history as well.”email@example.com 360-754-5433 theolympian.com/edblog @Lisa_Pemberton