Friday, April 5, 2013

Darke County Historical Society Presents Heritage Award to John and Karen Burkett

From left to right: Karen Burkett, Garst Director
Dr. Clay Johnson, DCHS Board President John Marchal,
and John Burkett.
This year’s recipients of the Darke County Historical Society’s Heritage Award are a couple for all ages. The Burketts’ impact on teaching history as living history reenactors has been instrumental at the Garst Museum, in our community, and nationally. John and Karen Burkett were presented the 2013 Heritage Award during the Darke County Historical Society’s Annual Membership Meeting on March 26, 2013.

Garst Director, Dr. Clay Johnson notes, “As Executive Director of the Darke County Historical Society and Garst Museum, I have come to rely on John and Karen’s devotion to our local community. The Burkett’s enthusiasm, caring, and dedication is reflected in their volunteerism and personal interaction with the museum’s patrons.”

John and Karen are perhaps best known at the Garst Museum for their countless hours acting as period educational interpreters for the museum’s school tours. Despite often-inclement weather and long hours with school aged children, the Burketts happily and selflessly provide a positive learning experience for the local students. John is also the Committee Co-Chair for The Gathering at Garst's Living History Encampment and is an integral part of the festival’s planning. Thanks to John and Karen, thousands of festival visitors benefit from their hard work and countless volunteer hours. John is also a board member of the Darke County Historical Society. John’s professional experience and his dedication to serving on the board has assisted in the museum’s growth and success.

Garst Museum docent and fellow Board member Marilyn Robbins shares that the Burketts “come in full dress of the 1790s or earlier sometimes. They start in by telling the children what they are wearing from the skin out. They show them how the people lived by what they wore and why.” She added, “John will then talk about how they furnished food for the table and he tells about some pelts and furs.” They show the students some games from that time period and usually teach English Country dance.”

Brenda Arnett, Garst Museum office manager noted, “While they started these programs with our school tours many years ago, since 2009, they have done 31 performances to date and have impacted well over 1,700 students. The Burketts are also scheduled for many school aged programs this spring.”

Roger Van Frank, Darke County Park District director noted, “Karen and John Burkett have been a driving force behind the design, building, and implementation of the Darke County Parks Pioneer Log House. Ever since ground breaking in 2003 and its completion in 2006 Karen and John have been instrumental in determining the accoutrements and furniture that adorn the interior of the house and making sure that the hundreds of donations that have been made to the Park District are of the correct time period for the Log House. Karen and John have been two of the leading individuals for the Park District’s special programs and training of staff and volunteers to portray these 18th century pioneers that traveled to this part of the county. Their enthusiasm and knowledge are unparalleled and are often sought after nationally. The Park District is fortunate to have volunteers like John and Karen. Van Frank further states that, “They have literally donated thousands of hours of their time and expertise to this intensive programming that plays a large part in the mission of the Darke County Parks.”

Always working to help the community, at the Garst Lecture series in March 2012, with over eighty people attending, the Burketts dressed in period clothing and gave a wonderful presentation. John portrayed John Audubon, the naturalist, and Karen, his wife Lucy Audubon. The Burketts also participated in the Centennial of Memorial Hall events in Greenville. They brought history to life as Henry and Ella St. Clair in a very memorable series of vignettes that evening.

Deb Nisonger, Vice Regent for the Ft. GreeneVille Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, shared how the Burketts worked on behalf of the DAR during the Gathering at Garst the last two years. Assisted by DAR chapter members, the Burketts read a story based on “The Lewis and Clark for Kids” book written by Janice Herbert. Hosted in the J. Burkett Naturalist Tent and dressed in period clothing, the children were treated to a wonderful time. Nisonger also noted that Karen is an instrumental member of the local DAR Chapter and they have participated in various Veteran and Memorial Day community events and parades, Constitution Week events, judged many DAR essay contests, provided demonstrations of the American Revolutionary period for their meetings, and contributed to their chapter’s high standing at the state level.

The Burketts have also narrated numerous storytimes at the Greenville Public Library. John and Karen’s passion about history is noticed even at the national level as the Burketts annually participate in various living history events. While in George Washington’s Mt. Vernon in Virginia, they were recognized for their period reenactments. They also do their own clippings and pressings of the natural vegetation and trees from the Darke County area. Park District director Van Frank noted that the Burketts did a pressing of the leaves from the trees from Mt. Vernon and that print hangs in the Director of Special Events office at Mt. Vernon.

Established in 2004, the Darke County Historical Society’s Heritage Award was created to recognize outstanding citizens or organizations for their distinguished contributions or actions of unusual excellence that help connect people to Darke County’s past. Dr. Johnson added, “We are fortunate to have John and Karen in the community and at the Gathering at Garst each year.”

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