published: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Darrel Smith: historian, teacher and survivor
By LARRY LEVEY
SEBRING - For some people, life is a proud journey. For people like Darrel Smith, life is an ongoing series of proud journeys. He's had a career as a professional photographer and businessman, and today he's on a journey as a historian and teacher ... and as a survivor.
The most recent of these journeys began when he was hired in the mid-1990s by Highlands Hammock State Park as the curator of the state's Civilian Conservation Corps Museum. He soon became a park ranger but continued researching the history of the park and the role played by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
He was also the liaison between the park management and the local CCC alumni chapter, partly made up of a number of former "CCC Boys." As he listened to the CCC stories told by these "Boys," he realized he could turn these stories into a "CCC Re-enactment." Their stories became "his" stories, his "living history."
One of his favorite stories has to do with a family of eight sons during the Great Depression when food was scarce. One day his dad showed up with a bag full of corn flakes and - treat of treats - some milk!
His mother divided her sons into two groups: the older and the younger. The older boys ate first - but so that everyone had his fair share, they had to eat the corn flakes and milk with - guess what? - a fork, thus making sure the young'uns got their share.
These re-enactments became another journey ... until 2007, when they were temporarily interrupted.
That's when Darrel, an avid cyclist, had a near-fatal encounter with a car on Hammock Road, leaving him with multiple serious injuries, including brain damage and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
While he had to undergo a variety of medical and surgical procedures and hospitalizations - he's still under the care of doctors - he also credits something else for much of his recovery: his CCC re-enactments, now performed about 25 times a year around the state.
Why? "I'm their mouthpiece to keep things going," he says. "And if I didn't have this, I'd be much worse mentally," adding something others might argue with: "Besides, it's the only thing I'm useful at."
He also talks about another journey he'd like to pursue: the creation of a CCC village at Highlands Hammock State Park.
Darrel, who's a volunteer at the park and a board member of the Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park, was awarded a plaque by the members of the former CCC Alumni Chapter 169 at the Nov. 3 CCC Festival.
The plaque credits the CCC for rescuing America's youth and its land. The plaque also thanks Darrel for helping to rescue an important chapter in America's history.
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