For John Nerren, volunteering with the Forest Preserve District of Will County is an opportunity to travel back in time.
Nerren is part of the Isle a la Cache Brigade, a group of volunteer re-enactors who conduct demonstrations of what life was like for 18th-century fur traders who once lived in our area.
Nerren has been volunteering at Isle a la Cache for more than 15 years, and he said he enjoys being a brigade member because it allows him to teach people about a part of our area’s history that isn’t very well known.
“The thing I like the most about doing this is shedding some light on a part of our history that is often neglected,” he said.
Being a volunteer interpreter is also a hands-on role for Nerren, who has made much of the clothing and many of the guns he uses for the re-enactments.
He said history interests him because he likes to know the why behind things and to do research to learn more, and he also enjoys sharing that knowledge with others.
“I always like hearing someone say ‘I didn’t know that’ after speaking with them,” he explained.
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The Isle a la Cache brigade works to demonstrate to people what life was like during the 1700s, when French voyageurs lived in the area in and around what is now Isle a la Cache preserve.
“Most people know very little about the French period in Illinois and the importance of the French and Indian War in American history,” Nerren said. “They are usually glossed over in history classes, so teaching people about that era is fun.”
The brigade does a monthly “Living History Demonstration” at Isle a la Cache, sometimes focusing on a single topic related to 18th-century living. For example, the October 7 demonstration will focus on cooking, and the November 4 event will be about wool blankets and how they were used. Held from noon-3 p.m., these demonstrations are free and open to the public.
“We show the equipment used to survive in the wilderness – the clothing, fire-starting methods, food, weapons – and talk about the reasons why the Europeans were here and their differing philosophies, both economic and social,” Nerren said.
In addition to the monthly demonstrations at Isle a la Cache, the brigade also takes its show on the road from time to time, doing presentations at schools and libraries as well as other re-enactment and scouting events.
For Nerren, these demonstrations and presentations are a chance to grow and learn a new skill.
“I am not a professional and used to hate public speaking, so interpreting has helped me with that,” he said.
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