George Washington visits Coon Rapids schools

George Washington visited two Coon Rapids schools Friday to speak to students.

George Washington, as portrayed by James Renwick Manship Jr., speaks to kindergarten and first-grade students at Hoover Elementary School Oct. 4.

George Washington, as portrayed by James Renwick Manship Jr., speaks to kindergarten and first-grade students at Hoover Elementary School Oct. 4.

The nation’s first president in the guise of James Renwick Manship Sr. made presentations at Coon Rapids Middle School in the morning, then at Hoover Elementary School in the afternoon.

Manship’s visit was arranged by Jeff Cosman, a parent of students at both schools.

“The kids were very receptive,” said Cosman of Manship’s program at the middle school.

It was also timely, too, because the middle school social studies classes to which Manship spoke were studying that period of American history, according to Cosman.

“George Washington brought the history to life,” Cosman said.

Not only did Manship, dressed in George Washington period clothes, speak about the history of the times, including the Revolutionary War, but also about the U.S. Constitution and citizenship, he said.

He contacted Manship after learning about him from President Theodore Roosevelt re-enactor Joe  Wiegand who he met in Medora, N.D., last year where Wiegand owns a theater, Cosman said. “It’s a great way to teach history to kids,” he said.

Manship served in the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1988, first as a midshipman and later as a commanding officer in a cryptology unit.

He was then director of projects for the American Defense Institute in Washington, D.C., from 1989 to 1990, but after moving to Virginia in 1988, Manship read his first book about Washington and became a scholar on him.

Washington’s estate was at Mount Vernon, Va., which is near Bellevue, where Manship now lives.

He has been touring the country as a living historian portraying Washington since 1997 and he is also the author of several books and plays on the Founding Fathers.

Manship does not only make presentations in schools, but also to colleges, conferences, conventions, rallies, conferences, civic groups, synagogues and churches – he spoke at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fridley the evening of Oct. 4.

His three presentations at Hoover involved all five grades at the school and he tailors his talks to be age-appropriate to his audience, according to Manship.

And with the younger children, Manship gets down on his knees to establish eye contact.

Indeed at the close of each of his three presentations at Hoover, Manship was on his knees to greet students as they left the gymnasium with a handshake, even a hug when offered by the student.

In character before the enthusiastic groups of Hoover students, Manship spoke about Washington’s life as a child and the cherry tree incident, as well as about the Revolutionary War, citizenship and civility.

He also stressed Washington’s influence on the history of the United States and how he has been recognized throughout the country “from sea to shining sea,” Manship said.

George Washington “transcends space and time,” he said.

“He is America’s main man,” Manship told Hoover students.

For example, the nation’s capital is named for him and he is the only president to have a state named for him, according to Manship.

“As the father of the country, I am so proud of all the little kids I see,” Manship said as Washington.

While Washington died in 1799, “the spirit of George Washington is still living,” he said.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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