Franklin event has different feel without Ben
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
It wasn't the same without Benjamin Franklin there himself, telling the children about his life.
Fred Krebs, professor of history at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, had portrayed Franklin at Fort Hays State University at an activity for Ellis County elementary school students for several years. Krebs died in December.
So Anne Drees from Hays and Anna Hand from Ellsworth -- FHSU seniors and co-student directors of the American Democracy Project that puts on the Ben Franklin Papers Day -- went to Plan B.
They asked David Bovee from the FHSU history department to tell the students a little about Franklin's life in a gathering in Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. They then walked across the street to Forsyth Library, where educational stations had been set up by students in FHSU's Department of Teacher Education.
Fifth-grade classes from the public schools in Ellis County attended, as well as the two Catholic schools in Hays and Ellis. Coincidentally, those soon-to-be teachers from Sue Boldra's social studies methods class got something out of it, too.
"We learn a lot, too," said Carmen Hill, a senior elementary education major from Hoxie.
Rhonda Windholz has taught at O'Loughlin Elementary School, but O'Loughlin uses the looping system, where a teacher teaches the same students for two grades. So Windholz makes the trip to the FHSU campus for the Ben Franklin event every other year. She said she looks forward to it each time.
"We don't get to do many field trips anymore," she said. "So they're so excited to go anywhere. We all are."
"We've been studying (Franklin). With Constitution Week being just last week, this all fits into our curriculum."
Some of the things children learned about Franklin were he invented bifocals because he got tired of having to change glasses when he read, that he used leaves to print money to prevent counterfeiting and his real claim to fame was devising basic principles of electricity.
Others stations included seeing how a thermometer worked and a swim fin.
Participants were able to view two handwritten Ben Franklin letters -- appraised at $25,000 and $35,000, respectively -- as well as copies of Franklin's newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
"He found that the outline of leaves and pattern of the veins of leaves was very unique," said Jessica Marston, an FHSU senior from Great Bend manning the printing press station. "So it was very hard to duplicate."
At the bifocals station, Hill and her partners asked the young students to come up with words beginning with various letters, including "C," to describe Franklin.
"Crazy," said one student, shrugging her shoulders somewhat sheepishly after blurting out the word.
"He might have been a little crazy," Hill said. "He stood outside in the lightning."