Docents Rule!

As a retired K-8 principal, I, oddly, find myself still liking children very much. I even like some teachers. To my great pleasure, I have now discovered a wonderful group of fine people: "docents," an extraordinary bunch of wildly diverse folks who channel historical characters as different as the perfect schoolmarm, Matt Dillon (retired), Auntie Mame, Jethro Clampet, Scarlett O’Hara, Ma, and Helen Weber.

Dave Beckman channels the character of an early San Joaquin County blacksmith.

I attended the marvelous Valley Days historical program with my grandson’s Linden School District class at the San Joaquin Historical Society Museum at Micke Grove last September, and I was drafted by the blacksmith to help students brand their school logo onto a wood project. I also helped with rope making, both skills coming in handy when dealing with my two semi-feral grandsons. It was a wonderful day, coordinated and taught by docents and docent-trained parents, all in 1884 dress.

So, what is a docent? I will be exploring the quantum complexities of this issue from time to time, telling about some of the outrageous and amazing backgrounds of these folk, and even spilling the beans on a few Strange Visitors from Another Planet, disguised as mild-mannered elders.

Ever been to Plimoth Plantation or Sturbridge Village? At the Plimoth (I always thought it was "Plymouth") Pilgrim Plantation, there were some actual Pilgrims, seemingly, who were always in perfect character…delightful! At Sturbridge Village, a woman dressed in period costume was rather sharp with me after I merely tried…well, never mind all that.…They were docents!

The approximately ninety docents at the Museum are its lifeblood, running scores of tours for children through old-timers, Valley Days for grades three through five, Farm to Fork for younger students, and special Hands On Tours, as well as organizing and coordinating special events such as Festival of Trees, the Classic Car Show, Sparks in the Park, book sales, gift basket raffles, and many others. Credentialed docents serve as teachers at the Pioneer School.

The few highly educated, trained, professional (and underpaid) permanent employees of the Museum are indeed the brain, heart, and lungs, providing administration, historical archives and information, maintaining the unique collections, and developing educational programs and organization. There is also a small army of elder wise men who possess the arcane knowledge of turning a rusty wreck into a functional antique tractor, combine, or earthmoving machine, and a skilled, dedicated, and flexible maintenance crew.

It is the costumed docents who seem to be akin to the muscles, to the plasma and blood cells, to the funny bones. They are The Dancers, full of verve and life and vigor, even when a bit "tottery" (as my son referred to me lately, the balding ingrate). They are an absolutely essential force in making the San Joaquin County Historical Museum so amazing.

Russ Livingston has agreed to report on activities of the Museum’s docents. Click here for additional information about educational programs at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.

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