SENECA FALLS — Anyone venturing into the SMS Club in Seneca Falls Feb. 10 might have come away thinking they had just seen George and Martha Washington mingling with the likes of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. What’s more, they would be mostly right, thanks to the eighth-grade classes of St. Patrick’s School in Seneca Falls, St. Mary’s School in Waterloo and St. Francis-St. Stephen’s School in Geneva.
The three classes, their teachers and a handful of parent volunteers had gathered at the club for the schools’ annual Presidents’ Banquet. Each eighth-grader at the three schools was assigned to research the life and White House experiences of an American president or first lady. As the day of the banquet approached, the students prepared presentations about the presidents and first ladies and tried to find clothes similar to what they wore.
On the day of the banquet, the students dressed in their period costumes and, before the meal was served, each gave a short presentation on his or her research subject. Each student had previously been assigned a different dish to make or bring, and the adults had ordered chicken wings in case some of the recipes didn’t come out as planned.
St. Patrick’s student Rachael Hall, a.k.a. Jacqueline Kennedy, brought bread, and classmate Shane Ruddy — posing as her husband, John F. Kennedy — brought corn casserole. Brian Quinn, who spent the day as Harry Truman, brought one of the five patriotic cakes that he and his fellow St. Patrick’s classmates made.
Rachael said she could remember watching the eighth-graders of previous years dressing up for the banquet and always looked forward to the year when it would finally be her turn. St. Francis-St. Stephen’s student Brendan Costello said he had always looked forward to the event as well, and especially liked “seeing everybody from other schools.”
Costello and classmate Melissa Marte came to the banquet as Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, and sat with Peter Pulver and Amanda Branan, who came as Warren and Florence Harding. St. Mary’s student Kevin Gourley said he hadn’t been looking forward to the banquet for years, since this is his first year at the school, but he was enjoying his day as Jimmy Carter just the same.
The three schools have been coming together for the Presidents’ Banquet for about 10 years, according to Mary Ann Bender, eighth-grade teacher at St. Francis-St. Stephen’s.
“I thought it would be a nice idea for the kids to do something right after (midterm) exams,” which take place in mid-January, Bender said. The banquet also presents an interesting way for students to learn about presidents and first ladies, she said.
St. Mary’s student Phil Armitage took on the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt, pulling his borrowed wheelchair up to the head table with the Jeffersons and the Washingtons. Phil said he enjoyed being pushed around in the wheelchair all day and was grateful the chair would give him an excuse to sit out the dancing that followed the meal.
St. Patrick’s students Thomas Burke and Ashley Granger were seated next to Phil at the head table and said they liked spending the day as Thomas and Martha Jefferson. Ashley, who was wearing a blue period dress with a full skirt, said she bought the outfit from a museum gift shop. Although she’s not sure it’s something she’ll ever wear again, Ashley hoped her sister, who is in sixth grade at St. Patrick’s, would be able to use it when she attends the Presidents’ Banquet in 2007.
Thomas said he didn’t learn many new facts while researching Thomas Jefferson, since he had learned about the third president in school in previous years. Ashley, however, said she learned a lot about Martha Jefferson. She hadn’t known, for example, that Martha Jefferson had died before her husband’s presidency.
“I think it’s harder to research the wives because not as much is known about them,” Ashley said.
Alex Cragg, who was dressed as Martha Washington, agreed. The St. Francis-St. Stephen’s student said she hadn’t known that George Washington was Martha’s second husband, and that Martha gave birth to four children, two of whom died in infancy, before marrying George.
Alex said she liked getting dressed up and fixing her hair, and classmate Joseph Post, who spent the day as America’s first president, said he found half his costume at a thrift store and scrounged up the rest from family members.
St. Patrick’s student Aubrey DeMillo took on the role of Nancy Reagan for the day and said she liked learning and practicing new dances. Students from all three schools had learned to waltz, and students from St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s also learned the Charleston, twist and jitterbug. After lunch, the students from each school took turns pairing up and showing off their newfound dancing skills before saying goodbye and heading back to their respective schools.