Share a love of history by portraying the past

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Barbara Ruben

Clarence Hickey is a time traveler of sorts. He regularly dons late 19th century clothing to re-enact the work of Dr. Edward Stonestreet, who practiced medicine in for more than 50 years in the 1800s in Rockville, Md.

As a volunteer for the Montgomery County Historical Society, Hickey also coordinates the organization’s 20-member speakers program, in which costumed interpreters visit numerous locations, including senior centers and communities.

But it’s portraying Dr. Stonestreet at the society’s museum and regional events that he enjoys most. A retired biologist who lives in Rockville, Hickey feels an affinity for the doctor, and has even written a book about him for the society.

“He was a doctor in the Army in the 1860s. I was a medic in the Army in the 1960s. In my research, I have trekked where he has trod, driving the routes he traveled to get to his patients,” Hickey said.

Museum docents needed

Hickey is one of about 50 volunteers with the society, which runs the Beall-Dawson Historic House Museum in Rockville, where Dr. Stonestreet’s reconstructed office can be seen. The house was built in 1815 for the family of the county’s clerk of the court.

Today, volunteers give tours of the house, staff the shop and answer telephone inquiries. Additional docents are needed to work two weekday afternoons or one weekend afternoon per month.

Volunteer Mel Kornspan enjoys giving tours of the house, but said he “draws the line at wearing a costume.”

“I enjoy meeting people, and I think this is something well worthwhile,” said Kornspan, who retired from a career with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development in 1997 and lives in Laytonsville, Md.

A self-proclaimed “history and architecture buff,” he is nonetheless glad he doesn’t own a historic home himself.

“As a docent I get to work in a historic house, but I don’t have to deal with any of the work owning one entails — or pay for it,” he said.

Share history with students

Volunteers also provide tours to second, fourth and fifth grade students who visit the museum.

Some also go into kindergarten classrooms to share their love of history. These volunteers work two to three mornings a week.

“Kids really, really enjoy this, especially when docents wear costumes,” said Liz Otey, the society’s education director. “We tell them we’re from the past, and they’ll ask us how we got here. They’re always so astonished.”

Another group of volunteers helps with the society’s large library of publications, photos and genealogical records. Volunteers help keep the library holdings up to date by clipping pertinent newspaper articles, cataloguing new acquisitions, doing historical research and helping library users.

The Montgomery Historical Society began in 1949 as an all-volunteer organization, but grew over the years to include several paid staff. However, much of the work is still provided by volunteers, especially since Montgomery County cut funding for the society by 50 percent this fiscal year. The society is also supported by private grants and donations.

“Volunteers don’t need to be historians, but they do need to be a people person and have an interest in history,” Otey said.

Volunteers receive initial orientation and training, and then attend two update trainings each year. They also have the opportunity to attend enrichment lectures and field trips. For example, in February, volunteers will be visiting the National Archives. There are also several volunteer recognition events each year.

For more information, call (301) 340-2825 or visit