History comes to life at 75th annual re-enactment of DeSoto Landing in Bradenton

Bradenton hosts 75th annual re-enactment of De Soto landing

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 20, 2014 

MANATEE -- History came alive on Saturday in Bradenton during an annual community event.

Dozens of local residents gathered for the 75th annual re-enactment of Hernando De Soto's landing on the west coast of Florida at the De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton.

For the Stevens family, Saturday was their first time at the park and watching the re-enactment.

"It was really cool," Michelle Stevens said. "I think it's really important for kids to have a visual of things."

Coming from their home just outside of Tampa, she and her husband Kevin Stevens brought their 9-year-old, Tye, for the day.

"It's really good," Tye said. "It gets kids off the Internet."

For State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Saturday was not his first time at the De Soto Landing re-enactment, having grown up in the area.

"It was so very well done, very informative," Galvano said. "A tradition that needs to keep going forever, as far as I am concerned."

This year was special, however, because he brought along a colleague with a special connection, he said.

For Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, Saturday's re-enactment held special meaning.

"This is like a return to my heritage today," Soto said. "I was just amazed at the clothes, the boats and weapons and how accurate it all was."

Soto is a decedent of De Soto but had never attended the re-enactment in Bradenton. He didn't always know as much about his

ancestor as he does now though, he said.

"I learned more about it when I moved to Tallahassee," Soto said.

Snowbirds Joe and Mary Lou Tate have been wintering on Anna Maria Island for about 20 years, but had also never seen the re-enactment at the De Soto National Memorial.

"We have always enjoyed the park, and so we decided to come," she said.

The couple are preparing soon to make their road trip back to Chicago, enjoying the weather and area as much as they can before they leave.

"We just happen to still be here," he said. "Most of the snowbirds have gone back."

The couple were pleased that an extra cool winter up north kept them here long enough to experience the re-enactment.

"All the re-enactors, they seem so knowledgeable," she said. "They are all reciting things that I would have to look up."

Visitors were not the only ones enjoying themselves. Many of the re-enactors volunteer year after year.

"It's an integral part of our history," Art Durshimer said. "If we don't remember this, we will lose a part of who we are."

Durshimer, a Bayshore High School teacher and part-time volunteer at the park, has been partaking in the re-enactment for five years.

"So much of our history is English," Durshimer said. "It's refreshing to see the Spanish side of it."

Jim Burke had the honor of playing the lead role on Saturday, De Soto himself.

"It's fun," Burke said. "It's kind of a community event, not as big as it once was though."

Burke has also been volunteering for years at the park.

"It's a way of commemorating out history," Burke said. "We are able to represent accuartely to the best of our ability what happened in 1539."

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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