Third grade students in Great Bend got a reprieve from indoor school work Wednesday and had a chance to enjoy the seasonal spring weather while exploring the Barton County Historical Museum village.
“It gives kids a day out and gives kids and their parents a chance to see what we’re about,” said Bev Komarek, executive director of the museum. “It’s very beneficial to both them and us.”
Kevin Baxter, a teacher’s assistant at Eisenhower Elementary School, is also a pastor at Foundry Methodist Church in Great Bend. On Wednesday morning, he wore the hat of historian, introducing Great Bend third grade students to the role religion played during the pioneer days and the early years of Barton County. It was part of the fourth annual third grade exploration day at the Barton County Historical Society museum.
Students from all seven elementary schools in Great Bend spent the day touring the numerous buildings and exhibits at the museum, including the historic Lutheran church that was originally located south of the town of Albert. It was moved to its present location in 1967, Baxter said.
“Religion was a very important part of pioneer days,” Baxter said. “Church was a very good community builder. Religion also helped develop a society with laws because people had a commonly held view of what was right and wrong. ”
Pioneers had a lot of difficulties, troubles and tragedies to deal with. They would lose crops and farm animals, but one of the most difficult tragedies they had to deal with was death, Baxter said.
Religion provided the hope there was everlasting life.
“If a family lost a child, for example, religion helped them deal with that tragic loss of life,” he said.
Religion also helped to foster community among church members. People who attended church together helped one another through sickness and would help with food or labor if someone in the family was hurt.
Baxter described how students could tell the church was a Protestant church, as opposed to a Catholic church. The pulpit sits in a prominent position at the front of the church because for Protestants, preaching was the most important aspect of church life. In the Catholic church, he explained, the Sacrament was the most important, so the altar received the most prominent placing.
Students learned that Catholic pioneers heard mass and sang hymns in Latin, and Lutheran pioneers may have done the same in German, while Methodists and Baptists heard sermons and sang hymns in English. The students sang along with Baxter to several hymns.
Baxter also spoke of the Negro churches of the time, and about Negro spirituals. He introduced one, “Dem Bones,” and explained the biblical story which inspired it, in which a person had a vision of a field of bones, and asked if the Lord could bring them back to life. Baxter began singing the familiar song, “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone; the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,” and took the student through the song, which they enthusiastically added the motions.
Baxter then told the story about John Newton, a former slave trader who later became a pastor in the Church of England and wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.
“This is one of the most popular hymns, and it is sung by all of the denominations we’ve talked about today,” he said.
A volunteer provided musical accompaniment on the pump organ. Baxter explained how the organist pumped a bellows with her feet that pushed the sound out into the church, which allowed the music to fill the sanctuary in the days before speakers were powered by electricity.
“Religion was very important to pioneers,” Baxter said. “It’s still very important today.”
Hands-on and outdoors
Volunteers Rita Brack and Dotty Keenan introduced students to one of the favorite activities of students, washing clothes. With an old fashioned tub and wringer, that is.
“The washing machine fascinates them,” Brack said. “Every one of them have to wash something and they all want to run it through the wringer.”
The jail and the bag swings are other popular hands on activities, Keenan said. But the jail, it turns out, was originally built for novelty, not true incarceration. It provided a way for money to be raised for philanthropic causes, she told students. Citizens would be “locked up,” and friends and family would provide “bail” to have them released, the money going to the worthy cause.
Keenan encourages students to come back with their parents later. Many have told her they want to bring their mom or dad back to show them what they’ve learned.
Tours of the garage, school, and other buildings provided additional stations, but the most popular attraction of all was the bag swing. Great Bend Chamber of Commerce ambassadors volunteered their services for the field trip, and spent the morning pushing happy students who enjoyed the sense of flight that children have been enjoying for, well, as long as there have been swings.
Students also had fun playing tug-of-war on the lawn, a game that was as popular in the pioneer days as it is today.
“This event takes every single volunteer we can find because there are so many kids,” Bev Komarek, executive director of the museum said. “My philosophy is everyone teach one, because it takes time to get comfortable out here. We’re so happy to have the Chamber Ambassadors joining us. ”