By Pat Young
For Hometown News
Bill and Cara Elder may be retired from teaching in the conventional manner, but they are far from retiring when it comes to captivating the minds of children and adults alike when they depict life in colonial times.
As 18th Century re-enactors, they bring the lives of America's first president, Gen. George Washington, and his wife, Martha Washington, to life in a way that kindles curiosity and enthusiasm in even the most blasť student.
Their next presentation will be a vignette on the lives of the general and his lady during the turbulent war years in the Daytona Beach Shores City Council Chambers at 2 p.m. on President's Day, Monday, Feb. 17. A reception in the community center will follow the performance.
They are available for presentations, ceremonies and school assemblies as George and Martha Washington, continental soldiers, British soldiers, a colonial couple and 18th century life, portraying a lesson in living history. (www.georgeandmarthawashington.com).
"It's a hobby we can do together," they both agreed. It began when they visited Brandywine, Pa., near Valley Forge, the site of the largest battle of the American Revolution. This piqued their interest in 18th century history and they became re-enactors. They are still active with the regiment they started with, the Second Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line and 43rd Regiment of Foot in His Majesty's Army.
Mr. and Mrs. Elder retired from teaching in Pennsylvania public schools in 1999. He taught history and exceptional student education, and she taught computer application and elementary.
Mrs. Elder said they "followed their children to Florida," a son in Orlando and a daughter in Jacksonville, and started teaching again at DeLand High School. Ten years later they retired for the second time. Yet they are still "teaching" as historic interpreters and 18th century re-enactors.
"We're storytellers," Mr. Elder said.
Children are "very inquisitive" added Mrs. Elder. "They can ask us almost any questions and we can answer as interpreters."
They were once invited to the Living History Park in South Carolina and had a "multitude of children" attend, Mrs. Elder continued. "The looks on their faces when they walked through the door was worth it."
They were in an 18th century setting in their custom-made outfits, and the pre-teen children started asking questions "jokingly," she added. But soon the questions and attitudes became more serious. She said some of the children came back after the program to ask more questions.
It's times like this that their hobby, taking them up and down the east coast, is worth it, they agree. Many times their travels follow places that Washington traveled.
After the program at the Living History Park, they attended church and one of the ministers said, "We'll start the service when General and Lady Washington are seated."
In a couple of weeks, they will fulfill a wish from their "bucket list," doing a presentation at Valley Forge. He will be George Washington and she will be a camp follower, part of the regiment, "cooking over an open fire," she said. Sometimes they are at this type of gathering in tents, sometimes in motel rooms, but always in their roles as historic interpreters.
Mr. Elder said the three most important things to know about George Washington are the Newburg conspiracy -- the president prevented a mutiny against Congress; he resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and returned to his Mount Vernon plantation; and he refused to run for a third term as president (there were no term limits at that time).
"His first love was his plantation," Mr. Elder said. 'He was a farmer at heart."
The Elders point out "Martha was unique" as well. Every winter she came to camp to be with her husband, and she started a trend. Other officers wives started joining their men during the harsh winter months at camp. In the spring, Lady Martha would go back to Mount Vernon. George and Martha Washington never had children of their own, but always had children around the house. The Elders point out that Martha was a widow with children from her first marriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Elder have both earned much recognition as educators, and they both agree less time is spent on history in schools today.
"Each year there is more and more history created," Mr. Elder said.
They have observed students who didn't know George Washington was the first president or that his face is on the dollar bill.
Mrs. Elder said it's important to learn history "to appreciate what we have today. Life in the 18th century was very hard."
Mr. Elder agreed and added, "If you don't learn your history, you're doomed to repeat it."