Sunday, October 2, 2011

Community Spotlight: Historical encampment brings flesh and blood to the history books

By Matt Marn

September 29, 2011 By The Rockford Squire

Reenactors often have actual equipment from the era they represent.

From German WWII trucks to working British Revolutionary War cannons, the Grand Rogue Living History Encampment helped history come alive. From excited young children to individuals who lived through some of these time periods, everyone who walked through the encampment stepped through to another time. What’s more, they all learned something about what shaped our country and the people in it into what they are today.

The encampment was held Saturday and Sunday, September 17-18, at the Grand Rogue Campground and Paddle Sports, 6400 West River Dr., Comstock Park.

“The encampment was an example of many held around the country,” said Dave Schmid, a 34-year reenactment veteran at the professional level, working before classes and crowds on a regular basis.

Reenactors at the annual Grand Rogue Encampment love to answer questions about their chosen time in history. There are many hands-on activities to teach the public—young and old—about America’s past.

“Most have a hard time understanding how life was like back then,” Schmid said, who joined the ranks of reenactment participants right out of high school. “As you watch their faces… then they get it, like a light was switched on. They start to ask questions, and they go home and learn about their own past, and they learn from that. There’s the reward.”

The encampment portrayed a wide array of time periods, from a World War II German camp to colonial times and Revolutionary War soldiers from both sides of the field to French and Indian War time period with authentic Native American camps and tents.

Schmid, dressed completely in traditional frontier explorer attire in the Native American camp area, said he was portraying and studying Champlain, the founder of Quebec.

“In dealing with both royalty and the colonials, and keeping everyone happy… His story was amazing,” Schmid said of Champlain. “So many heroes of the past, they turned out to be ordinary, nondescript people who just stepped up.”

Encampment visitors Robert and Cammi Adams and their children know this better than most. Their family travels to all kinds of reenactments, and appreciate this one is locally based, and covers more than one time period. One of the kids went to the encampment as a class trip Friday, so the family decided to make the trip out the following day.

Exploring the German World War II campsite in the encampment, Cammi said she has been all over the world, including a trip to Europe as a teenager. She said in Germany, she and her family visited a large graveyard with American soldiers who were killed during World War II. She said her family decided to also travel to the smaller graveyard of German soldiers, out of respect for all who lost their lives.

“With four children, it’s harder to travel abroad,” said Cammi. “It’s nice to learn these lessons of history locally, especially with the time span they cover here. The kids love it too; it was their idea to come here. We went to Fort Michilimackinac earlier this summer, and we had to pull them out by their toenails.”

Mark Biolchino is a former teacher from the Detroit area who has been participating in reenactments with the 2nd SS Division Panzer Grenadiers reenactment unit for over two years. Dressed as a German medical officer, and a medic himself for the U.S. military in Vietnam, he wants to pay respect to the past and all those who fought in World War II. And as many of them pass away, Biolchino said he and his colleagues in the reenactment unit help bring that time period alive again.

“There’s so much to absorb here, “ Biolchino said. “It gives flesh and blood to the history book. It brings to life the conflict.”

Back in the Native American camp, Schmid extended an invitation to anyone with an passion for history and an openness for trying new things to come to a reenactment and learn more.

“What I like about living history is that people find a time period and a niche that they love, it becomes their passion,” Schmid said. “They study it so intensely; it’s amazing what they come up with. If you have a passion for learning about history, come out to a reenactment. If you see someone wearing what you like, talk to them. We’ve done research, we can give guidance… Do honor to those of the past.”

Community Spotlight: Local Tour de France competitor helps teammate grab yellow jacket

September 29, 2011 By The Rockford Squire


Only a decade ago, Brent Bookwalter was a local cycling enthusiast when he began competing in local amateur events. Years later, he met Cadel Evans, a professional cyclist, and asked for his autograph.

In 2011, Bookwalter helped his professional cycling team bring home the win at the most prestigious cycling race in the world.

Bookwalter is one of the competitors on the BMC racing team who recently traveled to France to compete in the 98th Tour de France, a cycling race spanning 21 stages in over 23 days, measuring over 3,400 kilometers in length, also stretching part of the route into Italy.

The competition ended on July 24, 2011 with Evans crossing the finish line and taking home the win for BMC. And he couldn’t have done it without the help of a long list of support teammates, including Bookwalter.

Bookwalter grew up ripping around Rockford on his bike, where he often saw signs for local mountain bike competitions over at Cannonsburg and Pando ski areas. When he was 12 or 13, a friend took him to a competition, and he has never looked back.

Connie Zinger, Bookwalter’s mother, remembered that since then he rose through the local mountain

biking ranks by entering those same competitions

he went to watch, and moving on to state and even national championships.

“He started out like any kid, riding a bike and loving it,” Zinger said.

“I don’t come from an especially athletic family,” Bookwalter said. “When I was younger I played a lot of sports, but began doing more and more cycling. I was always ‘ok’ at every sport, not the best… here I am out there alone, and control my own success.”

Bookwalter also pointed out, however, at that time he had no idea cycling was such a team sport.

“It wasn’t even in my scope at all,” he said. “It’s a sole pursuit, but it’s also very social… You have control, but it’s a team sport. It’s the best of both worlds.”

He stuck through his education through college, where he got a degree in biology from Lee McCrae, where he also made more of a name for himself behind the handlebars, winning numerous championships at the collegiate level.

After riding for a variety of teams and sponsors both in America and abroad, Bookwalter signed with BMC, a Swiss cycling company, with whom he has ridden for years. Together they have toured Europe in a myriad of races from Italy and Spain, now to France once more for the most prestigious cycling race in the world.

The road has not been without its struggles. Four years ago he hit a lamppost, shattering a leg bone, and was rushed to the emergency room. He required surgery, and then another later back in Grand Rapids when the first surgery was found to not have healed properly. He also broke his collarbone during a race in Spain.

Zinger says yes, it is stressful and scary being a mother watching from the sidelines, but she supports him with everything she has.

“We all just have a lot of faith,” she said. “We are happy and thankful for what we have. He takes risks, but its part of his dream. We encourage him to do what is best; there are times I want to despair, but I encourage him. When he was younger, I guided him, but he’s very levelheaded and disciplined. I admire him for that.”

Bookwalter said some days take more discipline than others. First it was a hobby, which changed to a sport, then an obsession.

“Like many things in life, it changes as you go,” he said. “It’s still a passion, but now it’s my job, too. Responsibilities and pressures greater than before; some days it is more about trying to punch it in, get it done.”

But like all athletes, he finds a special place where he can find the strength to finish strong. The first place he looks is to his teammates and family.

“I was blessed with a lot of support, mental and financial,” he said. “The people that supported me every step of the way set me up with the team, and I rose from there.”

Bookwalter was interviewed by VeloNews in an article which can be found on his blog at VeloNews asked about how Cadel Evans, BMC teammate and winner of the 2011 Tour de France, inspires Bookwalter and the rest of the team when they see him dig so deep inside for drive.

“You see the pictures coming across the line, looking like he’s ready to eat someone, we’re like, whoa! That’s our guy,” Bookwalter said. “He’s ready to ball. So we’re ready to go to war for him. It charges us up and inspires us. Eyes on the prize.”

When asked about the comment he made to VeloNews, Bookwalter said when it comes to what drives him and the others in his team, as well as the others in the sport, it is hard to put into words.

“What works to push me… would have to be the fascination with pushing through, finishing tough. After you make it to the finish line, you are changed as a person and as an athlete, it is a powerful, transforming experience.”

Bookwalter also said it helps his team drive each other to be part of a common goal.

“A lot of people worked hard to get me there, and have a lot invested in me. They help keep me going as well,” he said.

“Don’t underestimate the power of believing in yourself, and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, too,” Bookwalter added. “People who can pick you back up when you fall, people who believe in you—it has done a lot for me, I can’t say enough about that. I wouldn’t be here without the effort and heart of supporters around me.”