Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Steven Dugan
Bethanie Lafond is the focus of this month’s Volunteer Spotlight. She has shared her love of history as a docent at the Homestead for nine years, and in the classroom teaching high school students for five. One of the ways she enhances her tours and school lessons is by traveling. Bethanie has visited 31 states and over 12 countries. Recent travels include a whirlwind tour of Europe (eight countries in 28 days), and a trip that included both Canada and Alaska. She encourages visitors and students alike to, “see the world and learn on their own.” I recently asked Bethanie to share her perspective on volunteering at the museum. You will soon realize how much she loves history and how dedicated she is to making history come to life at the museum and in the classroom.
What inspired you to join the volunteer staff?
I came on a tour for a History of California class in college. I have always believed that making history come alive is so important for how we interpret history. After visiting, I knew this was a place that would be easy for me to do that. I had been a docent when I lived in Washington, D.C., and wanted to continue doing that after coming home. The Homestead was the perfect place to do this.
Why do you enjoy talking to kids about history?
Kids of all ages have a unique perspective of how they view the world. I love being able to see the different connections that they make to their lives from the history that you are examining.
How has being a docent at the museum influenced your teaching style? And has being a teacher influenced the way you give tours?
Being a docent at the museum has given me a wealth of knowledge to bring to the classroom because many of the topics we cover on tours, I cover in class. I teach both World and US History, so my students learn about the ranchos; the Mexican-American War; and prohibition and life in the 1920s. I am able to relate local history as well, to make history more personal to my students. And because of my travels, my students are much more engaged because they see me at different sites around the country and world; these places are not just pictures in a textbook.
Being a teacher helps me on my tours to think outside the box. Many times I have kids of varying ages, and I am able to use the techniques I use in class and adjust them on my tours. I know that my students don’t all learn the same way, so I try to vary the way I present information (like asking questions, using visual props, etc.) to my visitors that will help them connect the dots as we move from room to room or house to house.
When you aren’t giving tours at the Homestead, what are some of your hobbies?
When I’m not giving tours at the Homestead, I enjoy spending time with my husband, Travis, and our dog Lincoln. I also love to travel and have done quite a bit this year (Nebraska, Iowa, and the Dominican Republic in 2016). Photography is another hobby of mine, and it is tied to my love of travel. One of my more recent hobbies has been sewing. Designing dog bow ties has become a favorite activity of mine. (And she even has her own Etsy shop!)
Is there a tour or an event at the museum that has been memorable?
There is one type of tour and one specific tour that particularly stand out. I love being able to do living history (costumed, first-person interpretation) at the Homestead. My character Leona, a fictional friend of the Temple family, is fun to make come to life because she gives people a different way to interact with history. I especially enjoy portraying Leona when I bring my students to visit on a field trip every spring. It’s always one of their favorite parts of the trip (and mine) because they get to experience the museum in a different way. They see that history truly can come to life.
My most memorable public tour was the day that Gabino Delgado (the son of an employee of the Temple family) and his family arrived. I learned so much that day as we toured together. I “gave” the tour that day, but did just as much listening as I did talking as he told his family (and me) about what it was like to live here. That was a really special day. It was a great reminder to me of what I was saying about living history, the reality of the lives of the people confronts you.