Dressed in buckle shoes, maroon stockings and a deep brown vest, Barry Grove turned around to face the fifth-grade students gathered in Shellsburg Elementary’s music room.
Except he wasn’t Barry Grove anymore.
He was Jonas Parker Jr., a British colonist living in the Lexington colony in 1760. Over the next hour, he took the students on an imaginary walk through his town, past his 3-acre farm, the barbershop and the stocks.
His musket? A replica, he told curious boys.
The coins and money? Real.
His heavy clothes? Made of wool, not cotton, and rarely washed to preserve the material.
A re-enactor for 25 years, Grove, 72, introduces Colonial America to thousands of Eastern Iowa students a year.
A retired school administrator, Grove said he continues donning his costumes and hauling his props to area schools to enhance their history lessons.
“Think about the last time you went to a museum or a national park where a docent or a re-enactor was there,” he said. “Just think about how that brought history to life. That’s what I try to do. I try to bring it to life. I think it helps to have the textbook stuff, but you also need some enrichment.”
Grove — who retired from Harding Middle School in Cedar Rapids over a decade ago — offers presentations to schools for free throughout the school year, mostly talking to students in fifth through eighth grade. He occasionally presents in senior centers as well.
Many Iowa students begin studying Colonial America in fifth grade, like the Shellsburg students who were eager to volunteer throughout Grove’s presentation.
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“That’s one thing I like about smaller towns,” Grove said. “They don’t have the budget for the enrichment, so when somebody likes me comes in, it’s a big deal.”
Shellsburg Elementary Principal Ryan Davis said Grove visits his school twice a year typically.
“He’s a retired educator, so he does know how to keep kids’ interest and he’s engaging at the storytelling he does,” Davis said. “When he goes in character the kids enjoy that, and he has a sense of humor to him that the kids also enjoy. He’s able to teach them while at the same time entertain.”
He plays several characters when visiting schools, including Jonas Parker Jr.; Jonas’ father, who has a strong Scottish accent and performs a traditional jig; and Lewis Baker, a Confederate soldier in the Civil War.
All three are depictions of real people.
Baker died in Cedar Rapids in 1931 and is buried in Oak Shade Cemetery in Marion.
Jonas Jr. was killed on Lexington Green while confronting the British in 1775, just hours after Paul Revere made his midnight ride.
“I don’t go into that,” Grove said, noting Jonas — as he plays him for children — had just 15 years left to live.
Instead, Grove chooses to focus on the lighter sides of American life, such as the homemade games, in hopes of helping students connect with history.
“Every once in a while, somebody will ask me if I really was in the Civil War,” he said. “There’s a groan in the background usually, but I keep a straight face and just answer it. Especially kids today, it’s hard to keep it all straight — ancient can be anything more than 15 years ago.”
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