If you have been to Dallas Heritage Village lately odds are that you have met this history educator back at our farmstead. Louis Gene Helmick-Richardson (we know him as Gene) plays Mr. Kennedy, a fairly well-off cotton farmer at the “ragged end of Reconstruction,” about 1870. Gene comes to us with plenty of experience being a history interpreter in places such as the Georgia Agrirama in Tifton, Georgia, Pryor Creek at the Homeplace, and the TVA’s Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. He also currently is a professional storyteller with his wife Peggy as Twice Upon a Time Storytellers. His resume even includes being the Director of the Collin County Farm Museum for a few years!
His experience is not limited to museums, however. Gene has a PhD in Entomology from North Carolina State University and is a long time member of the ALFAM (the Association of Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums) which has allowed him to do extensive research on agricultural practices and technology.
Mr. Kennedy, Gene’s character, was born in Tennessee and made his way to Texas with his second wife. Mr. Kennedy was around for plenty of momentous occasions in Texas history such as the battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and Texas becoming a state in 1845. Gene informs us that Mr. Kennedy would have been dismayed at Texas leaving the Union and while most of his family did fight for the Confederacy, he was happy for Texas to return to the Union as the war caused cotton prices to go down which hurt his business.
Gene is not only perfect for the role of Mr. Kennedy due to his experience in other museums, but because his path of moving from museum to museum (which focused on different time periods) mimics that of Mr. Kennedy’s journey to Texas. Gene also has reclaimed and redeveloped his skill such as working with wood, fiber, and animals. If you have ever seen Gene you also know that he definitely has the “look” for a seasoned cotton farmer of Dallas County. While he agrees that he is probably far more liberal than Mr. Kennedy would have been, they have similar values which extend to Gene’s philosophy of being a history interpreter. He likes being able to provide the sights and sounds of earlier periods for visitors which allows him to connect with the daily tasks and work ethic of his character.
It’s probably not a surprise that Gene’s favorite part of the job is telling stories and educating visitors on the history of politics, religion, technology, popular culture, and the economy. Ongoing research is one of his passions which includes knowing about the time period but also working on our mini farmstead and growing produce. That’s why if Gene could spend the day with Mr. Kennedy, they would be having a good sip of whiskey while talking about the mysteries of life and the problems of the world. It would be a great opportunity to learn even more! For instance, one piece of advice that Gene has learned from portraying Mr. Kennedy is that “a farmer must plan ahead for contingencies.”
When Gene isn’t researching for his role he enjoys reading the research of others. His current favorite read is The Outcast by Kathleen Kent (who has been to our Village!) which is focused on daily life in his period of interpretation. One thing you wouldn’t guess about Gene is that was also a member of a dance troupe called the Kountry Kloggers and has even performed on the Main Stage at the Sylvester Sweet Potato Festival. He is of Scotch-Irish (like Mr. Kennedy) and Cherokee heritage and loves to embrace his Native American roots. He also raises his owns chickens in his backyard and has a keyhole garden (sometimes I question if he actually is Mr. Kennedy).
Come by the Village and chat with Mr. Kennedy for awhile, he always has fascinating information to share and watching him do farm work, the old fashioned way, is awesome!