Students transform into famous Ohioans

Aaron Krause • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:09 PM

Norwalk Catholic School teacher Joy Tokarsky said she's never had students upset about a snow day. But recently, two of her fourth graders called her at 7 a.m. in tears because school was canceled for the day.

That illustrates how excited Norwalk Catholic School fourth graders were to present their completed assignment.

The out-of-the-ordinary project involved dressing up as a famous Ohioan, presenting facts about him or her on a poster and collecting pictures of the person.

The 42 students were originally scheduled to display their work Wednesday, but the snow forced school to be canceled.

The students were all smiles Friday, as it was the makeup day.

The Rev. Frank Kehres, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church, was among those browsing the exhibits.

"I'm just excited to see the enthusiasm of the students," he said.

At the end of January, students chose a name out of a hat and began their research. Historical figures such as John D. Rockefeller, Rutherford B. Hayes, Paul Newman and John Glenn were all represented in the fair.

Like the others, 10-year-old Cole Vandersommen randomly picked a name out of a hat. It is fitting that George A. Custer, a general in the Civil War, was Cole's luck of the draw because the youngsters said he, too, wants to be a general. In addition, Custer had curly blond hair, similar to Cole's.

"We're kind of the same," Cole said.

He described Custer, who was born in New Rumley, Ohio as a brave, smart warrior who knew how to how to divide up his men.

Former President James Garfield also fought for his country as a general and was portrayed by 10-year-old James Easler.

Their first names are not their only similarities.

"He has a beard and I don't...well, not yet," the fourth-grader said, adding he plans to grow a beard.

Actually, James was wearing a beard Friday, albeit a fake one as part of his costume.

James described the nation's 20th president as a "really good person (who) helped a lot of people."

Garfield was born in Cuyahoga County in 1831. He was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859 as a Republican. During the secession crisis, he advocated coercing the seceding states back into the Union.

At the 1880 Republican Convention, Garfield failed to win the presidential nomination for his friend John Sherman. On the 36th ballot, Garfield himself became the "dark horse" nominee.

By a margin of 10,000 popular votes, Garfield defeated the Democratic nominee, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.

James said he didn't know a lot about the former president before conducting research. He said if he could meet Garfield, he'd ask him what it was like to be president.

Nine-year-old Lydia Gillen had an even more dramatic question she wanted to ask her character what was it like to drop the world's first atomic bomb?

Gillen dressed as Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, which made one of the most famous flights of World War II. That flight brought about a quick surrender from the enemy and a reduction in the loss of Allied lives. Tibbets is enshrined with honor into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

"He was a very interesting man and he stuck to what he believed in," Lydia said. She added he'd wanted to be a pilot, but his father wanted him to be a doctor.

In the end, Tibbets followed his own dream.

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