Summer Fun With A Little Bit of History

Thu, Jul 21, 2022 at 4:10PM

Summer Fun With A Little Bit of History

Volusia County students may be out of school for the Summer; however, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum Programs Department continues to light the way for education across the county.

Partnering with the Volusia County Library System this July and August, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse took on the challenge of bringing fun-filled days of learning to the local libraries. With the library systems summer theme, Oceans of Possibilities, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was a natural and eager partner. Following the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse mission statement of preserving and disseminating maritime and social history of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, the libraries opened their doors and presentation spaces with open arms.

Parents are always on the lookout for opportunities for quality, high engagement learning for their children during the summer. Knowing this, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Programs Department sat down this spring to develop and tailor hands-on programs that would be both thought provoking, as well as entertaining for children of all ages.

What came out of this brainstorming session was an absolutely fantastic set of hands-on presentations that not only engaged and entertained the children of Volusia County, but took them on an exploration of learning. Three distinct presentations allowed children to explore all areas of learning. Science, reading, history, engineering, art, and technology were present in each educational opportunity.



The Science of Light and Nelly the Lighthouse Cat are presentations that have been fixtures of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Programs Department for years. A little polish was all it took to have these ready for viewing across the county. However, for the bulk of the presentations, a brand-new program was developed to engage students.

Docent Jackie Mann, a life-long educator, took the initial lead to develop an artifact presentation that could be enjoyed by children of such a vast age range. Working with other volunteers, the program follows a Monday in the life of a turn-of-the-century lighthouse or even a rural family. One of the most famous families here at the lighthouse is that of Lighthouse Principal Keeper Thomas Patrick O’Hagan, who served from 1893 to 1905.

Using the O’Hagan family, consisting of 11 children, as the model, the volunteers role-played a laundry day with the participants. Starting with breakfast, the children set out to do the chores that the real lighthouse family did. Collecting eggs, getting and boiling water, making toast, and even a little fishing down at the river began the day for families all across the country. These were the same tasks given to the student participants this summer.

After collecting eggs from the chicken coop and finishing breakfast, the children-participants were tasked with the major chores of wash day. Wearing name tags of the O’Hagan children, and using copies of household artifacts from the collection of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, the children swept, mopped, scrubbed clothes, beat rugs, hung laundry on clotheslines and “did” all the chores which were all part of the normal Monday-is-wash-day routine for children a hundred years ago.

Laundry Day

A special thank you to the amazing volunteers that made this summer outreach such a success. Jackie Mann and Janice Lowry portraying Mrs. O’Hagan and engaging the children in the artifacts. Don McGuire for portraying Mr. O’Hagan and giving insight to the chores facing a lighthouse keeper. Cindy Horn, Debbie Sobien, and John Mann for doing introductions, moving artifacts, and providing crowd control. Terry Revak for creating amazing props that brought the story to life.

The Science of Light is one of the premier presentations of the lighthouse. This program was born in a classroom in New Jersey, and developed by the education staff over many years. Hands-on components and the sheer awe-inspiring view of a fully functional Fresnel Lens has brought amazement to participants across the world. For the first time, this special presentation has been brought to the children of Volusia County in smaller and more personal venues than the usual classroom or large lecture hall. Parents, librarians, and children have been astonished with the technological advancements that allow a light to be harnessed and controlled. Volunteer docents Steven Oshinski, Bill Henry and John Mann brought this presentation to life.

The third presentation that was done at the libraries this summer was a reading of the book Nelly the Lighthouse Cat. This book, developed and written specifically for the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, has become a favorite with children all over. Chronicling a day with the lighthouse’s favorite furry mascot, Nelly (named for the Fres “NEL lens), the book engages readers with the wonders that are experienced at the lighthouse and museum. Volunteer docents helped bring the book to life through a historical look at the background of real-life events, a reading of the book, as well as a visit from Nelly herself, portrayed wonderfully by volunteer Susan Zahniser.

The success of all of the programs provided by the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse relies on the dedication and hard work of our amazing volunteer corps. They are the backbone of the educational and programs department and we appreciate everything that they do for the us. The Preservation Association is always looking for more individuals interested in becoming volunteers. Monthly meetings and trainings will be provided for all volunteers, as well as the opportunity to preserve and interpret the history of a National Historic Landmark. Any individuals interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Programs Manager Zach Hopple by email at or by phone at (386)761-1821 ext. 18.

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