By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — —
MT. VERNON – Out of all the historic figures Barbara Kay has portrayed, Clara Barton holds a special place in her heart.
Kay, a retired teacher from Highland Community School District, has performed as the American Red Cross founder 61 times in the last 12 years. She said the broad range of Barton's accomplishments makes her an endlessly fascinating figure.
“She was a lot of things and she basically was the 19th Century,” Kay said. “She was very independent at a time when women weren't supposed to be that independent.”
Kay gave Mt. Vernon residents a glimpse into Barton's rich and varied life at a special presentation Saturday at the Jefferson County Historical Village. About 50 people attended the free program.
Dressed in period attire, Kay spoke as Barton for about an hour, telling funny and serious stories from Barton's life. In addition to founding the American Red Cross, Barton also was a teacher, nurse, patent clerk and humanitarian.
At the end of the performance, Kay answered questions from the audience as Barton and then as herself.
Audience members seemed engaged by Kay's portrayal. Marla Southers of Mt. Vernon said reading about Barton as a child inspired her to become a nurse.
“She just was like a hero to me as a child,” Southers said of Barton. “I wanted to help people as a child.”
Audience member Melissa Bouland of Mt. Vernon has also been interested in Barton since childhood. She said programs like Saturday's presentation are an important way to educate the public about history.
“I'm sorry that I don't see more children here to learn about that,” Bouland said. “I just think it's something nice that the community has to offer.”
It was Barton's connection to Southern Illinois that drew audience member Jack White of Mt. Vernon. After the Great Cyclone of 1888, Barton visited Mt. Vernon to set up a relief program.
“Clara Barton's very well-known, anyway, and she also came to Mt. Vernon and helped during the 1888 tornado,” White said.
In all, Kay has portrayed 11 historical figures, including Mary Todd Lincoln, Martha Washington, Dolley Madison and Abigail Adams. Saturday's performance was her third at the Historical Village and she plans to return to that venue Sept. 14 as Dolley Madison.
“This is a fine facility (and) a marvelous historical society. It's very active,” Kay said.
Kay said she's thinking of adding a new historical figure to her repertoire – “Little House on the Prairie” author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
For more information on Historical Village programs, call 246-0033.