Jameson Hicks, 9, left, dressed as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, holds a model of Perry's flagship, Lawrence. To the right are classmates at Aurora Academy also dressed as heroes to retell 23 stories of extraordinary Ohioans.
Students at Aurora Academy in East Toledo felt what it was like to step into the shoes of a hero who lived in the Buckeye state recently during the program "Heroes of Ohio Day."
Well, most students got to wear shoes. Others, like the student portraying John Chapman - also known as Johnny Appleseed - went barefoot because he was known to walk without shoes while planting apple seeds around the area.
After studying Ohio history for the past few weeks, students from Ohio's first charter school, 541 Utah St., celebrated the lives of 23 heroes from various periods with help from Rick Sowash, author of Heroes of Ohio: 23 True Tales of Courage and Character.
One by one, third and fourth-grade re-enactors dressed head to toe in costume walked up to a makeshift stage Mr. Sowash set up in the school's gym in front of a blown-up backdrop of the cover of his book. Then he asked the students questions about their heroes during a short skit.
During each skit, Mr. Sowash and each student highlighted little-known Ohio heroes, such as Jacob Parrott, a Union Civil War soldier; Granville Woods, an inventor, and Januarius MacGahan, a newspaper reporter and liberator of Bulgaria.
Other students depicted more famous heroes like inventor Thomas Edison; Elizabeth Hauser, a suffragette, and astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Mr. Sowash said he characterizes a hero simply as someone who helps other people.
Dressed in black pants with a red handkerchief in the back pocket and a gray button-down shirt under bright-red suspenders, Mr. Sowash used his own energy and excitement to hold the attention of an audience full of kindergarten through fourth-grade students and about 100 parents.
Wearing a blue lab coat, third grader Terrance Arrington, 9, said he was happy to portray Thomas Edison "because he was one of my favorite heroes because he made one of the first light bulbs."
Third grader Andrew Heilman, 8, said he had a different problem - one involving the costume he was wearing to depict Granville Woods.
"It's itchy and sweaty," he said, scratching his neck behind his black bowtie.
After the re-enactment with the younger grades, students from the upper grade levels went to the auditorium to listen to Mr. Sowash retell the lives of the heroes in a one-man show geared toward older children.
Mr. Sowash, 56, was born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio, and lives in Cincinnati. For the past 15 years, he's visited about 100 schools annually and has performed for more than 250,000 Ohio children. He uses a theme from one of his three books that are all based on Ohio history.
"They're not kiddie books," he said. "They're substantive books with lots of information."
Though he's also a classical composer and has been a county commissioner in Richland County, Ohio, he said his grandfather instilled in him a love for historical stories that's never gone away.
"Now it's my mission to do that for kids," he said.