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Published: Tuesday, 9/11/2012

Local pioneer tells his story

Students go back in time

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Samantha Wells, a Navarre Elementary third grader, vaults over Mahogany Lewis in a game of leapfrog that was part of Peter Navarre Day in Navarre Park. Samantha Wells, a Navarre Elementary third grader, vaults over Mahogany Lewis in a game of leapfrog that was part of Peter Navarre Day in Navarre Park.
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A 7-year-old boy went up to a two-century-old man in East Toledo's Navarre Park and gave him a hug.

It followed a costumed presentation by the Rev. Larry Michaels, a Peter Navarre re-enactor.

"I am Peter Navarre," Pastor Michaels, of the Martin Luther Church on Navarre Avenue, said at the beginning of his performance. "I am 228 years old."

Michael King, a first grader student at Navarre Elementary School, said he hugged the re-enactor "because he [Peter Navarre] went to the war and stuff, you know. And he helped the [U.S.] soldiers. And because [thanks to him] we have a city here now."

Pastor Michaels' talk was a highlight of a Navarre Elementary School celebration of Peter Navarre Day, the first observance of which began as an official holiday by the City of Toledo in 1922 to commemorate the heroic achievements of Peter Navarre, a scout in the War of 1812 and, by some accounts, the East Toledo area's first non-Native American settler and fur trader.

Laura Clark, a teacher who was chaperoning a group of about 60 first graders, noted that her students asked a lot of questions of Pastor Michaels and said that was because "they are very interested in learning about the culture 200 years ago."

"They were very good," Pastor Michaels said of his young audience. "Those were very good questions for first graders, like 'What was East Toledo like 200 years ago?" and 'Who won the War [of 1812]?" and how they [the first settlers] lived, slept, and got their food."

Ms. Clark said Michael was one of 22 students she took to the event. They, in turn, were part of a group of 60 Navarre Elementary first graders. Altogether about 540 Navarre Elementary students participated in the event Friday, divided into nine groups of about 60 each, she said.

The day of period-costumed speakers also featured a new addition -- Kathy Dowd of Toledo, a self-employed Victorian-era clothes designer who was re-enacting Catherine Navarre, born Catherine Bourdeau, who was Peter Navarre's third wife. She showed and talked about 19th-century clothes.

Also present were re-enactors of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Students also participated in period games such as leap frog, a tomahawk throw with bean bags, a watering race, and relay races, as well as activities including glass-bead stringing and square dances.

William Tober, 71, an East Toledo Historical Society trustee, said Peter Navarre was the first white settler in the Toledo area. Mr. Navarre died in 1874, Mr. Tober said.

In 2004, Peter Navarre's name was added to the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame.

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Lake Erie and the famous Navarre exploits. Of those, the best known is taking reinforcements to Port Clinton before the Sept. 9, 1813, Battle of Lake Erie, Mr. Tober said. In 1922, Toledo declared Sept. 9 an official city holiday.

All those dates were a part of Toledo and East Toledo heritage that the students had a chance to learn about at the Navarre Park event.

Robyn Hage, a Navarre Elementary music teacher and co-author of the book Peter Navarre -- War of 1812 Scout, said the school, at 410 Navarre Ave., has been celebrating Peter Navarre Day since 1994.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com, or 419-724-6089



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