Daily News photo/ALY GIBSON Angling Road Elementary School fourth-grader Keith Peristeridis delivers his speech to guests as James E. Bonine at the historical Bonine House Tuesday in Vandalia.

Archived Story

Bringing history to life

Published 3:20pm Tuesday, May 22, 2012

VANDALIA– The floorboards of the Bonine House in Vandalia creaked as visitors shuffled through the historic rooms, listening to characters from history speak about their life and accomplishments in southwest Michigan nearly 200 years ago.

Stacey Bonine and Colette Konkle’s fourth-grade class from Angling Road Elementary School in Portage presented the Bonine Wax Museum Tuesday, inviting family and friends to the historical landmark. After nine weeks of research and speech writing, the 24 students donned period clothing to portray characters such as Abraham Lincoln, James E. Bonine, Union soldiers and escaped slaves.

“It is so amazing what these kids have done,” MaryAnn Bonine, a descendent of the Bonine family, said. “They have such enthusiasm.”

Stacey married MaryAnn’s son, who is a great-great-great nephew to James E. Bonine. MaryAnn worked diligently with Stacey, as well as Cathy LaPointe, treasurer of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County (URSCC), to organize the “wax museum.” The concept, which began three years ago, allowed the students to dress in costumes with brightly colored stickers as their “button.” As visitors passed by, they could press the button and hear a well-rehearsed speech about the person and their contributions to the anti-slavery movement during the Civil War.

“They feel like they are these people,” Stacey said. “They were so excited for today, and one of them kept saying ‘it was an experience he’ll never forget.’”

Konkle said she was happy to see her students make a personal connection to the history and characters.

“Having Stacey right there for them, and MaryAnn being involved the whole way, it gave the kids a sensitivity to it,” Konkle said.

Brenda Marsh’s son, Charlie, portrayed Joseph Stanford, and she said she was blown away by how engaged he was.

“I’m stunned,” Marsh said. “He (Charlie) had been working so hard at school and today was somewhat of a surprise. It’s really impressive.”

The students were responsible for not only memorizing their speech, but also writing a research paper, a speech and constructing several fact posters to be displayed behind them in the Bonine House.

“It’s beyond words,” LaPointe said. “These kids are our future and to have them so invested in the history of the area, it’s wonderful.”

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