Q & A: Portraying characters brings past to life, says town of Ballston historian (updated)

He may be a retired schoolteacher, but as the town of Ballston historian, Rick Reynolds is still doi

He may be a retired schoolteacher, but as the town of Ballston historian, Rick Reynolds is still doing the thing he loves: teaching history.

A Troy native and a SUNY-Oneonta grad, Reynolds has been the town historian since April 2004, when he succeeded Katherine Briaddy, who died in October 2003. Briaddy had been the town historian for 26 years.

Reynolds began his teaching career at Schalmont and then Niskayuna before landing a position with the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake district in 1981, teaching eighth-grade social studies. A 1968 graduate of Troy High, he retired from school teaching last June.

In July 2003, he was recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution as the Outstanding Teacher of the Year. He often used re-enacting to bring history alive in his classroom and he continues to do living history presentations today. At 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Town of Ballston Community Library, Reynolds will perform his one-man show, “Heroes, History, Honor,” an impersonation of Samuel Meredith, the first treasurer of the United States and very likely an ancestor of Reynolds. Admission is free.

Reynolds is 60. He and his wife have four children and live on Sherwood Drive in Burnt Hills.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to become a history teacher?

A: I’ve known that I wanted to be a teacher since I was 10. That’s what I always wanted to do. I don’t know why. There’s nothing in my family that would indicate that. I’ve just always had this penchant, this feeling about teaching history. I had some good high-school teachers that made a good impression on me, but I think it was something within me. Now, I’m retired, but as a historian I still feel like I’m teaching.

Q: When did you really start digging into the town of Ballston history?

A: My predecessor as department chair at Burnt Hills, Bob Knowles, was into the local history and the more I taught at Burnt Hills the more I got into it. He’s a wonderful guy, so he got me interested, and then I worked with [town of Charlton historian] Laura Linder on a few things, and then the Town of Ballston position opened up and I applied for it.

Q: Did you know Katherine Briaddy, the previous town of Ballston Historian, very well?

A: I can’t say I knew her well, but I had met her a few times and I knew her work. The research she did writing the couple of books she did was just incredible. She loved doing research and spent a huge amount of time doing it. None of us gets everything right and new things crop up down the road, but she did a great job setting up the history of this town. She did a lot of research, and I really enjoy doing my presentation pieces. I think we complement each other very well.

Q: What do you see as your job description?

A: Number one is to preserve what we already have. I’ve taken a lot of course work on preserving things, making sure the things we have are around for a long time. But I don’t collect a lot of artifacts because that’s for a museum. Number two is education. Teaching what our history is all about from the past to the present. Everything we are is because of where we came from.

Q: What was it like to win your national award from the DAR?

A: It was absolutely amazing. Someone from this community nominated me because they knew what I did as a teacher, and I was thrilled to be nominated. Then I got a packet of information that asked me to write a 20-page dossier about what I’ve done as a teacher. That took a lot of work and earned me the state award, but then it was on to the national award, where there were 33 candidates. I guess they liked that I taught outside the box in terms of education. But to go to Washington, D.C., and be wined and dined with my entirely family, that’s six people, was just amazing. It was an incredible experience; something none of us will forget.

Q: Who is Samuel Meredith?

A: He was the first treasurer of the U.S. from 1789-1801, working under both [George ] Washington and [John] Adams. He was a Federalist, so he didn’t like Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson believed the states should have more power than the federal government, and Meredith felt like the federal government should be stronger. He was originally from Philadelphia and spent most of his life there. I found in my own family records from about 100 years ago that he was related to my family — my mother is a Meredith — but I can’t prove it. I have read a description of him and it very eerily sounds a lot like what I look like.

Q: So, you must have a favorable impression of him?

A: He was a guy that I had a connection to, so I felt like I could put in some time researching him. Now, I’ve spent 15 years researching him, and went to the University of Delaware and went through all of his private papers and documents. That gave me a sense of what his life was like, and all those papers gave me great clues about his life. I like him, but he has his faults like anybody else. There’s one receipt that tells me he bought a coat for one of his slaves. So, he had slaves. There’s also an indication of an illegitimate child, but all these things weren’t uncommon back then. I got to know this guy inside and out, and I do like him.

Q: When did you start portraying Meredith?

A: I’ve been doing him in the classroom for about 12 years now. I think it’s a great way to teach kids about life in the 18th century, rather than just standing there and telling them. Meredith spent his last 15 years in retirement at Pleasant Mountain, Pennsylvania, and they have a Meredith Square with a full-sized monument to him. I’ve been going there for about 10 years now, and every Fourth of July I march at the front of their parade as Samuel Meredith. People wave to me, ‘Hello Sam.’ It’s a lot of fun. This will be the first time I’ve portrayed him locally outside the classroom. I’ve been holding off doing it around here because I didn’t want to take anything away from what my students get in the classroom. They were always my priority, and I wanted them to see it first in class, not somewhere else.

Categories: Life and Arts

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