When the millions of annual visitors to St. Augustine search for a glimpse of history, the city has plenty of opportunities. National landmarks, museums, and specialized tours all offer ways to learn about the history of the Nation’s Oldest City.
But when it comes to a face-to-face experience with history, there is no substitute for live interaction with a resident of St. Augustine from a previous century. That experience is possible only because of the personal investment of time and resources and the deep commitment from a community of volunteers who live history by reenacting the past.
On Monday, May 9, the St. Augustine City Commission will honor four of those living history interpreters with one of the city’s highest awards, the de Aviles Award. Those four individuals, Robert and Gudrun Hall, and Carl and Patti Rang, have embraced living history in St. Augustine for decades and were founding members of the community’s most active reenactor organizations.
Robert and Gudrun Hall
When Robert and Gudrun Hall arrived in St. Augustine in 1960, they were already digging history, literally, as members of an archeology team lead by Dr. Hale Smith of Florida State University.
While still a student at FSU, Robert organized an event centered on Civil War history that included readings from that period which offered others the chance to hear a voice from the past. The positive response to these readings was the real start of his interest that went beyond just reading about history, and his recognition of a need to see and live events from the past.
Purchasing a Spanish colonial home in St. Augustine, the couple each found their own voices, Robert as a teacher, first in Duval County and then later as the founding Chairman of the Art Department at Flagler College, and Gudrun as the costumer for the State of Florida’s Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.
In 1965 with the opening of Cross and Sword, the symphonic drama that told the story of the founding of St. Augustine, both Robert and Gudrun found roles to play, Robert on stage and Gudrun using her extraordinary skills as designer and costumer.
Then, as the city geared up for its own role in the commemoration of the American Bicentennial in 1976, Robert was instrumental in the founding of the Historic Florida Militia, a group working to portray and interpret the military presence in St. Augustine during its 20-year British period which coincided with the American Revolution.
Again, Gudrun embraced the opportunity to construct authentic uniforms, including an army of British Redcoats and later Spanish Blue.
Today, both continues their active participation in the Historic Florida Militia, whose interruptive programs have grown to include life in the city during its earliest days with the Men of Menendez, and during the 18th century through the well-known Saint Augustine Garrison.
Carl and Patti Rang
There are many routes to immersion in living history, and for Carl and Patti Rang it began with historical musical instruments rather than historical weapons. After relocating to St. Augustine from South Florida in 1972, Carl became active in the Fife and Drum Corps after learning about the organization when Patti went looking for instruction in making instruments for the vacation bible school class she was teaching.
This was in the days prior to the American Bicentennial when opportunities to participate in British-themed reenactments were increasing. For the Rangs, participation became a family activity with daughters Lara and Rachel joining Carl in the East Florida Fife and Drum Corps, and Patti embracing needle and thread as a seamstress. The family’s involvement offered opportunities to travel and participate in large reenactments in addition to many weekends marching along St. George Street.
The Rang’s active living history life was not limited to the British Colonial Period, but grew to include the Spanish Periods through their participation in programs of the Historic Florida Militia and its Saint Augustine Garrison, which included the start of the British Grande Illumination, the Spanish Night Watch and the Colonial Christmas Caroling.
Patti took to offering well researched demonstrations of the colonial clothing and food, which resulted in a cookbook she authored featuring campfire dishes prepared during reenactments in the field. She increased her sewing activities through the St. Augustine Textile Guild giving her the chance to preserve and pass along historic weaving and sewing skills.
In recent years Patti and Carl have broadened their living history repertoire by offering programs featuring Patti sharing stories, songs and recipes with Carl providing historical music accompaniments, and he still finds time to teach fife and drum music.
de Aviles Award
The de Aviles Award was created by the St. Augustine City Commission in 1988 to honor those “identified in the field of public service or those well-known and respected by the citizenry who have dedicated honorable service to the community of St. Augustine and St. Johns County.”
Certainly the Halls and the Rangs meet that simple, but distinguished criteria. For decades they have acted as teachers in the truest sense by offering a personal encounter with the history of St. Augustine.
Through their years as living history volunteers, they have brought history to life for millions of people and by doing so have been instrumental in sharing the St. Augustine story with so many others who might otherwise never know that story.
Since 2002, the de Aviles Award’s presentation has been limited to one per year, but since no award was presented in 2015, Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, in making the nomination, received the unanimous support of the Commission to present two awards this year.
The presentation will take place early during the City Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday, May 9 starting at 5:00pm in The Alcazar Room, City Hall, 75 King Street.
The program may be seen live on GTV/Comcast Channel 3, or live and on-demand at www.CoSATV.com.