If you could only keep one personal belonging, what would it be? That’s the question Mary Jo and Gary Chapman regularly ask Jones Park visitors.
For the past few years, the couple has led groups of children and senior adults to the Redbud Hill Homestead to witness the lifestyles of early Texans. Their goal? To get children thinking like settlers.
“I set the scene,” said Mary Jo Chapman. “I tell them we’re traveling to the homestead in a covered wagon, and they can only choose one thing, and it can’t be electric. Girls usually pick a doll, but boys have a harder time. They usually want a video game or a car. It’s hard for them to conceptualize not having those things.”
That unique approach has proven popular with park visitors eager to explore the recreated pioneer village. During the busy season, a school can bring up to 80 children in one day for Homestead tours.
To make the experience special, homestead tour guides dress in authentic clothing and adopt the persona of an early Texan. Guides also develop their own tour materials so visitors get a new experience with every guide.
“I tell visitors to imagine traveling through time,” said Gary Chapman. “I want them to see life in a different way and consider what early Texans would have done. They depended on nature for their food, clothing, and shelter, so I point out materials they used along the trails.”
To keep participants interested, Mary Jo Chapman often encourages children to ask questions during tours and draws parallels between the past and present.
“Children always want to know how other children played,” she said. “I let them know there wasn’t usually a lot of time for play. Children had to collect the eggs and fetch water daily from Spring Creek, which could be more than one mile away. They also had to gather the ashes from the fire to make soap. Boys had to hunt, plow, and tend to the fields. Girls had to clean, garden, weave, and cook.”
Most importantly, the Chapmans try to make history fun by asking visitors to imagine a time before electricity, running water, and mass production, when materials were handmade and food home cooked.
“Children and most adults haven’t experienced a time without modern conveniences,” she said. “When you ask them to imagine life as an early Texan and let them experience it, they gain a new perspective on history.”
Want to Become a Homestead and Nature Tour Guide?
Have a passion for history and the outdoors? Jones Park is currently seeking homestead and nature tour guides. New tour guides usually shadow experienced volunteers and learn on the job. Training is provided as needed, and no previous experience is necessary.
To volunteer, contact the Jones Park volunteer coordinator by phone at 281-446-8588 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit www.hcp4.net/parks/jjp/volunteer.
Fun Facts about Mary Jo Chapman:
1. She is a retired physical therapist and Jones Park volunteer of nine years.
2. In addition to her position as a volunteer tour guide, she has volunteered as a reader for the Tadpoles Club, a historical re-enactor at festivals, and secretary of the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers (JJPV) board for the past seven years.
Fun Facts about Gary Chapman:
1. Gary Chapman is a retired chemical engineer and a Jones Park volunteer of eight years.
2. He has worked as a homestead volunteer, trail guide, and JJPV board member.
3. He served as the project lead on the pontoon boat barn project.