SIOUX CITY | Sioux City fifth and eighth-grade students were given the opportunity to meet with Thomas Jefferson, the "Man of the People."
Or more precisely, the kids spent time with two reenactors who portrayed the third U.S. president at different stages of his life, during a presentation held at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday.
"I portray an older Jefferson when he's beginning to forget certain names and events," Bill Barker explained, following the 75-minute production. "I'm revisited with a younger version of myself. He has a fresher perspective on what had occurred in real time while I could warn him of the pitfalls that would happen over time."
Barker and Kurt Smith, who portrays the "Sage of Monticello" at age 34, are both Thomas Jefferson reenactors from Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum and private foundation in Williamsburg, Virginia.
"Each summer, (businessman) Irving Jensen Jr. helps a handful of educators attend a teacher's institute conference at Colonial Williamsburg," explained Sioux City Public Schools Foundation executive director Kari Kellen. "This allows teachers to invigorate their American history curriculum tied to the Jefferson era."
Nine Siouxland educators attended this year's conference, she said, while more than 120 educators have gone to Colonial Williamsburg over the past 13 years.
Many years, a local teacher may choose to take a stab at portraying the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
However, this is the second time in a decade that Barker, a reenactor with more than 35 years experience, has portrayed Jefferson in Sioux City.
"It's important to remember Thomas Jefferson was passionate in his belief in a public education," Barker said. "By bringing Jefferson back to life, we want students to remember the importance of a public education as well."
According to Smith, live performances may be more meaningful than lessons taught in a history book.
"Students are able to see that Jefferson's words were more than just black ink printed on white paper," he said. "Students are able to see the real man."
Smith, a Jefferson reenactor for nearly three years, said it's easy for him to get into character.
"The costuming helps a lot," he admitted. "Jefferson was a man of the people who put his breeches on one foot at a time. And so do I."
Growing up, Smith said he knew as much about Jefferson as most students. It wasn't until he became an adult did he become a fan.
On the other hand, Barker was always a bit of a history buff.
"I grew up in Philadelphia to two Southern parents," he said. "Thomas Jefferson was someone I found to be very intriguing."
Jefferson may even have had an opinion in the age of "fake news."
"He believed that newspapers should publish the truth and nothing but the truth," Barker said. "That's because so much of what was being printed back then was, indeed, fake. Things were much worse back in Jefferson's time than it is today."
Despite that, Jefferson was also a believer in a free press.
"(Jefferson) said that if it was left to him to decide between having a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, he wouldn't hesitate for a moment and choose the latter," Smith said. "We can all learn a lot from Jefferson."