Skydivers floated around Gilbert Town Hall streaking the sky with comet trails, fireworks burst above plastic models of historic buildings and national monuments, red and blue balloons occasionally floated above the crowd, and London-born singer Alex Boyè, who became a U.S. citizen this year, sent the crowd into a screaming frenzy with his theme of world peace.
The light shows, balloons, crowd and performance were all at the town hall’s Civic Plaza Saturday for Gilbert’s 11th annual Constitution Fair, a community-sponsored event to celebrate national Constitution Week.
Gilbert Constitution Week has evolved into the largest Constitution celebration in the U.S., as described by event planners.
George and Martha Washington impersonators, Ron and Gina Bellus, have been volunteering for Constitution Week activities for all 11 years of its existence. With the same height of just under 6-foot 3-inches and weight of 215 pounds, Ron Bellus and George Washington were a natural match, Bellus said.
However, it isn’t just Washington’s appearance Bellus would like to emulate. Washington’s ideals are what make him a worthy role model, Bellus said, as Washington didn’t overstay his welcome in public life, which is something contemporary politicians could take note of.
“It’s not the same right now,” Bellus said. “We need to return to what the founders believe.”
Children should be interested in Washington and get to know him as someone they can look up to, he said. “(The Constitution Fair) is a way to get kids interested in history.”
At Saturday’s event,crayons, colored pencils and markers accompanied stacks of paper, encouraging children to draw pictures for the president and U.S. soldiers. The Boy Scouts of America pushed kids in a go cart and taught them colonial methods of crossing a river. Numerous booths presented information in the form of competitive games that riled up children and parents alike.
Janelle Hopkins ran a Bill of Rights matching game at the fair, where people matched the 10 amendments to their numbers. She started the game last year because she felt not enough people were aware of their rights. It’s rare for anyone to achieve a perfect score, she said.
Joan Walker was in charge of Who’s Who in American History, where people matched the presidents’ pictures to their names. Educating people about the constitution is ever more important as politicians accuse each other of not standing by its ideals, Walker said.
“How can we defend the constitution and our rights,” she said, “if we don’t even know what they are?”
Kari Myers attended the fair for the first time this year and couldn’t believe how huge it was. Her son and daughter were really excited about it, she said.
“My son is more interested in carrying his flag than eating his slushy,” Myers said.
The Constitution Fair and accompanying Constitution Week, when impersonators visit all the Gilbert public schools and some private ones, give children a more visual experience, said Janena Williams, a Martha Jefferson impersonator. Her favorite lesson to teach is the preamble of the Constitution in which the Founding Fathers wrote “secure the blessings of liberty.”
“I hope kids understand it is a blessing we live in this free country,” Williams said.
Thomas Jefferson, impersonated by Kim Wall, taught a different lesson about the founding father. Jefferson brought French fries to America and proved that the tomato wasn’t poisonous, he said.
“When you go into a fast food restaurant, think of Thomas Jefferson,” Wall said. “Most people can relate to French fries more than they can the Declaration of Independence.”
This year’s fair was Wall’s first time impersonating Jefferson and his goal was to keep the story of the Founding Fathers alive, but U.S. history isn’t all about French fries and ketchup, he said.
“It brings a full community together,” Wall said. “It moves away from the political lines that are drawn normally.”