Student shows kids where Lacey came from and where it might go

Matthew Connor knows getting young people excited about history isn't easy.

That’s why, as the youth representative for the Lacey Historical Commission, the 16-year-old set out to share the city’s history with elementary school children in a way that would get them intrigued about the past and excited for the future.

“Ideas really take root at a young age, and if I have a chance to help with that, it’s a great honor,” Connor said.

He gave his first presentation Friday, a 35-minute PowerPoint that includes photos from the past and present, to second-graders at Lydia Hawk Elementary. He described it as a “special and warm feeling” to see a classroom full of students excited about history.

Along with taking four advanced-placement classes while maintaining a perfect grade-point average at Timberline High School, working at the student newspaper and playing baseball, Connor was appointed to the commission last year and also volunteers some Saturdays at the Lacey Museum.

Connor was approached by Lacey Museum curator Amber Raney, who told him about the educational outreach program.

After spending hours at the museum going through old photos and documents, Connor created the presentation that he soon would pitch to North Thurston Public Schools officials.

By using photos of familiar sites around town, such as Saint Martin’s University and the Safeway on Pacific Avenue, Connor hopes to help students connect the dots that Lacey is an ever-changing city.

One slide shows settlers on their property in the early 1900s. Another photo then pops onto the screen, revealing that the Lacey Senior Center sits there now. Another set of photos shows the Lacey School in 1913, where the Safeway near Carpenter Road and Pacific Avenue is now located. Other photos depict the resorts around many of the area’s lakes in the mid-1920s.

The presentation already has drawn interest from several teachers who have requested classroom visits this winter and spring.

Connor said it’s important these lessons be shared with elementary school students so they get an early understanding of the importance of their hometown.

“Local history is extremely important. This is where we grow up,” he said. “When we’re seven and eight, the world to us is between Seattle and Lacey. I think before kids can grow up and really understand world and state history, they really have to understand the wealth of history that is right outside their door.”

With his commission term expiring at the end of August, Connor will keep busy visiting schools, weighing in on the depot museum project and working on another project that will compile a “top 10 list” of Lacey residents, past and present.

Raney, who has worked at the museum for five years, said Lacey, which incorporated in 1966, is sometimes seen as a city without much history. However, European settlers coming west arrived in the area in the 1850s. Over the years, the area boasted a horse racing track, the state’s first radio station and resorts along many of its lakes, according to the city.

Raney is glad someone as bright as Connor stepped forward to help tell that story.

“It’s just a breath of fresh air having Matthew in there,” she said. “It (the program) was definitely something I was looking to update and promote.”

Near the end of his presentation, Connor shows students a conceptual drawing of Lacey that includes skyscrapers and expanded development. With that image, he wants students to consider what Lacey will or will not become.

“Regardless of what their impression of the future is now, I want them to know the future is really in their hands,” he said.

Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 nhulings@theolympian.com www.theolympian.con/outsideoly