OAKHURST — Laurie Thiessen and her three children, Rebekah, Bryce and Ginny, have been named 2019 ‘Volunteers of the Year’ at Fresno Flats Historical Park.
For their years of service to the park, the Thiessens will be honored in the Mountain Heritage Day Parade, which is scheduled to take place Sept. 21 in Oakhurst.
The Thiessen family began volunteering at Fresno Flats Historical Park about five years ago. “In that time they have accomplished many things,” said one of the park’s caretakers, Laura Huddleson.
Laurie Thiessen first began to bring her children to the park to have lunch between classes at the Mountain Home School, which was when they first met Huddleson.
Over time Huddleson gave the family several tours of the grounds and the buildings and Rebekah expressed a desire to become a docent at the park. Laurie supported her daughter’s decision and shortly after the entire family became involved at the park too.
The park’s rich and colorful local history first attracted the Thiessens to Fresno Flats. The family already had been volunteering at Civil War reenactments to teach the politics and effects of the American Civil War, and so the history of this area and the pioneer days drew them in.
The family started volunteering as docents for the school tours at the park, and after some time, Laurie became the coordinator of the school tours and a board member. She also developed the tours at times to accommodate up to 100 students, added more hands-on activities, and had her entire family dress up for the time period, which is a favorite among the children who visit the park.
Huddleson reports that lately the family has taken on a new project: restoring the park’s buckboard wagon. This effort involved cleaning, priming and painting the antique wagon in order to restore it to its original condition.
The Thiessens also wanted to start a new tradition at Fresno Flats — the “Country Dance” with calling and music provided by Evo Bluestein.
This year on Flag Day, June 14, the first Country Dance took place at Fresno Flats Historical Park.
The amount of effort and planning put in by the Thiessens did not go unnoticed. The family advertised, made necessary purchases, set-up for the event, participated in the fun and then worked to do the tear-down afterwards, Huddleson said.
The event, she added, was a “huge success.”
“Fresno Flats Historical Park is fortunate to have Evo Bluestein and the County Dance returning for the Heritage Day Celebration,” Huddleson said.
This past Christmas, Laurie Thiessen also performed melodramatic readings of A Christmas Carol, along with an interactive performance of The Night Before Christmas with the family.
Laurie also participates on the grant-writing committee for the National Endowment for the Humanities, NEH grant for Fresno Flats Historical Park.
“It is a huge opportunity for Fresno Flats and her input is invaluable,” Huddleson said.
Laurie’s children have also spent a significant amount of time volunteering at the park.
Rebekah has spent hours cleaning the Taylor Cabin and the Yellow House and has helped to train and recruit docents. She also offers to give tourists full tours when she is at the park.
“Bryce has enjoyed doing a little yard care, like driving the lawn mower,” Huddleson said. “He also helped build the carnival games ticket booth. He makes rope with students and enjoys being a docent during tours at the print shop.”
Ginnie enjoys teaching students “old-fashioned” games, how to use the ringer and how to make candles.
When the family volunteers with the Civil War reenactments, they also volunteer time presenting at School Days, where Rebekah teaches about the politics and process of wool and cotton production.
Bryce teaches the drum cadences and signals used in battle, and Ginnie and Laurie teach rope-making and games and toys.
Rebekah also edits the club newsletter and Laurie cooks for the unit of 15 – 40 people depending on attendance.
“Laurie and her three wonderful children are really appreciated at Fresno Flats,” Huddelson said. “The things they do here have come at a time when we needed them. We look for volunteers often, and in a small community with so many service clubs, it can be a challenge. We are truly blessed that this family chose us.”