Pitching in can change history

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Stories from the Heartland

By John Friedlein

One summer in the early ‘70s, two women and a storm that raked rural LaRue County changed how Lysa Stanton views history.

The Ohio woman’s story begins with a car trip to her grandparents’ house in Russell Springs when she was no older than 10. Grandmother Bess, who loved to chat about the past, suggested that Stanton’s parents take the family to Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville.

This meant a two-hour-plus round trip and Stanton didn’t feel like going.

Her grandma insisted it would be good for her to learn about history. Off they went.

When the family arrived at Lincoln’s Knob Creek boyhood home – on the other side of town from the farm where Abe was born – it was storming and Stanton’s father made the kids stay in the car until the weather cleared. When they got out, they saw high winds had covered the ground with debris: tree limbs and trash, possibly from an earlier picnic. Dad told them to start picking things up.

Then a woman emerged from a building on the site. Stanton said she thinks the lady was the caretaker or owner of the property. The Howard family owned the land, which was transferred to the National Park Service in 2002.

Whoever the lady was, she thanked the kids, handed them a trash container and told them it’s nice when people volunteer to help out with history. Stanton said she was touched to think a stranger would care enough about her as a kid to make her feel like she counted. Plus, the woman gave her a candy bar – the first one she’d ever eaten that she didn’t have to share with her brothers.

“It stuck with me,” she said. “It was the beginning of me understanding that you have to take care of the past.”

Now the volunteer president of the Westlake (Ohio) Historical Society, Stanton has a Sunday youth program. It serves snacks.

And for her town’s bicentennial this year, Stanton takes on-location pictures of a teddy bear who reports about sites of historical importance.

“You’ve got to get kids interested in history early,” she said.

Plus a lot of people say they’ll put off volunteering until they’re older or retired. “My theory is: Volunteer at any age.”

Stanton recently wrote a feature in the Westlake/Bay Village Observer titled “We Want You!” The article urges local residents to pitch in to help preserve the past. She talks about the impact of her trip to Hodgenville almost four decades ago.

“That was the car ride that changed my life,” she said.

John Friedlein's Stories from the Heartland column appears each Monday in The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com.