Lasting Impact

TR and Lincoln. Photo by Mike Huerkamp

TR and Lincoln.
Photo by Mike Huerkamp

These past few days I had TR camp set up at HistoryFest in Mankato, Minnesota.  This is my 4th year doing so and I really appreciate this event because of its visionary, Jack McGowan.  Jack decided that children who are laughing and playing while also learning will take that more to heart than through a standard history lesson.  This year, he celebrated his 20th year of having history presenters and games at his farm, where local schools bus in 4th graders from across the district and many more across the State.

What is special beyond his vision is his impact.  During the past year, local high school seniors were required to write a paper on something they have done that they felt was highly memorable and special to them.  Twenty five percent of the students wrote their stories on Historyfest.    While that number is impressive, remember this: students in the school district go to the event in 4th grade!  What a testimonial!

We all love great testimonials and thankfully over the years I have been blessed with many from students and teachers.  In reality, Roosevelt is a pretty impressive part of our American heritage and a great role model with fun stories.   But Historyfest proves to me that interactive learning leaves a imprint that lasts longer and creates an impression that children carry with them.  It shows the importance of lessons that include the value of hard work and perseverance that our fathers and forefathers needed to shape our country.  It allows children to find that place that resonates with them so that they can go back to the classroom and research more.  I hope that some students learn that our past leaders may be better measuring sticks for what they will need in the future, as they chose their leaders.

As part of TR Camp, I invite the students into my camp after a talk outside to see inside the tent to understand how the President traveled when he was on Safari or camping.   The tent is full of antiques and TR memorabilia so they have a lot to see!  During this event, I had a young boy who was deep in the back of a class.  When other students went inside, he stayed behind.  I asked him f he was going to look as well.

“I hate history” He told me.

“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” I said.

“Yeah, I heard that” he said, arms crossed.

We spoke for several minutes, just he and I.   I started to explain to him the lesson of the lemming: That it is sometimes very good to stand alone from the pack and observe, but to observe the important things – the things that will help you in life.   As we spoke man-to-man his arms slowly lowered, his face turned from grimace to grin.  After his class was exiting he went into the camp and once inside asked great questions just as a new class started to gather and sit on my Safari boxes outside for their starting discussion about TR.

“Thank you Mr. Roosevelt” he smiled as he rushed out to catch-up with his class.




Heavenly Iowa and yet another life lesson

Roosevelt! the play

Roosevelt! the play

I was fortunate to premier Roosevelt! at the Donna Reed Theater in Denison, Iowa this past week.  I gave two performances there – one with almost 350 fourth and fifth graders who learned about their 26th President and many of his adventures.  They were so well behaved that both Mrs. Roosevelt and I couldn’t believe it.  I was told afterwards that usually these children are fidgeting in their seats, but that they were so engaged in the stories that they didn’t move a muscle!  We did an evening performance as well, which went great with much discussion in the hallway after.

I also performed at The Kaleidoscope Factory in Pocahontas, Iowa the following day to a fun crowd.

Many years ago I read a book entitled “Blue Highways” by William Least Heatmoon about traveling the back roads of America.  After a very scary near-death experience on the Interstate, I have for almost 3 decades preferred the road less traveled.  My beautiful wife is great at hunting out places to see when we drive the unbeaten path and one such trip she found a factory that made Kaleidoscopes.  It was in a very small town and when we stopped we ended up spending several hours with the owner.  When he asked what I did, I told him I was just starting to portray Theodore Roosevelt and he offered at that moment to “Hire me someday”.  Five years later I received an email from him saying he was ready – if I was.  He had moved to a larger town, and was converting his shop  – when he could – a few evenings a month into a specialty live entertainment venue for performances.

When we arrived there was sawdust on the floors and tables set up for manufacturing!  Within a few hours, we had converted the whole place to a small theater complete with seating and a stage.

Life lesson From Roosevelt “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

Life Lesson from Leonard: “I just do what I can, with what I have, where I am”

Please take a moment to learn about this amazing man by visiting him at and like him on Facebook at The Kaleidoscope Factory.    I highly recommend one of his handmade scopes – they are a great way spend a few minutes of enjoyment each week without the need for batteries! (Had mine for over 5 years so I know!)