CHAMPAIGN — They can trace their family roots back to the Revolutionary War, they're passionate about history and they travel across Illinois sharing glimpses of a bygone America.
Meet Tari Bricker, Sandra Santas, Julie Woller and Carol Castellon — all longtime members of the Champaign-Urbana Alliance Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a traditional entry in the county's July 4 Freedom Celebration parade.
As volunteer correspondent docents of the DAR Museum in Washington D.C., the four women are also mobile historians, taking museum outreach programs on the road in their home state.
Several times a year, Bricker, Santas, Woller and Castellon pack up their own collections of American artifacts — wedding dresses, toys, quilts, furniture and dishes — to embellish the museum education programs they present to fellow DAR chapters, historical societies and civic organizations.
They've been putting on these museum road shows for 15 years, and it's been a labor of love.
"I can't emphasize enough the fun the four of us have doing this," Castellon said.
The DAR Museum has an approved list of programs for its correspondent docents to offer. Spicing up the programs with their collections was the four Champaign-Urbana docents' own idea.
One of this group's most requested programs centers on wedding costumes and traditions, which is presented along with their own collection of 17 wedding gowns, men's suits and flower girl dresses, Woller said.
Another favorite is a program about early American toys in one of the museum's period rooms, supplemented by the women's own collections of historic toys, she said.
Also popular is a program on the quilts at the DAR Museum. For that one, the docents bring their own quilt collection and invite program guests to also bring and show their quilts, Woller said.
The wedding dress program takes a long time to set up and take down, Santas said, "but the ladies love it."
The waists of the older wedding dresses are too tiny to fit on modern-day mannequins, Castellon said, so the dresses are displayed on padded hangers or modeled by thin-enough volunteers. Refreshments tend to be wedding cake and punch, "so we kind of treat it like a wedding reception," she said.
Four of a kind
A DAR member since 1973, Castellon put on her first DAR Museum program with her mother — also a DAR member — in 2002 on the glassware in the museum.
She persuaded her Alliance Chapter friends Woller, Bricker and Santas to also become correspondent docents, she said, and they've been crisscrossing the state together ever since.
A Savoy retired educator, Castellon formerly taught math for St. Joseph-Ogden schools, Parkland College, University Laboratory High School and the University of Illinois.
She researched her family ancestry before there was an internet to search, so she did it the old-fashioned way, traveling to courthouses and cemeteries. Luckily, she found her patriot ancestor right in Illinois, buried in a cemetery in Paris.
In their early years of putting on museum programs, the four women stuck to the museum's prepared scripts and slides, she said. Now they sail through the pictures and power point presentation and move on to the personal touches they've created with their vintage collections.
Bricker, a DAR member for 29 years, grew up in Broadlands and worked as a painter for the UI before she retired. She is also a former curator, director and president of the Piatt County Museum and is an avid collector of historical items herself.
"Most of my collections are from my family," she said.
Bricker has antique furniture, dishes, toys, dolls, quilts and games, most of which are on display in her home in Champaign.
Woller, a retired secretary who lives in rural Urbana, grew up in the DeLand-Weldon area.
Her grandmother got her interested in joining DAR, but raising children kept her too busy to join until she was 42, she said.
Now the outgoing Illinois state DAR Museum Outreach chair, Woller is also a collector of antique furniture, dishes, brassware, toys and dolls. Her grandfather's 1903 Edwardian wedding suit is part of the collection for the wedding program, she said.
Santas, a 20-year Alliance Chapter member, said it was her mother who began genealogy research in the 1940s and 1950s, and she picked it up later. Her daughter is a DAR member in Michigan and her 14-year-old granddaughter is Michigan state president of the Children of the American Revolution, she said.
Santas said she's not an antiques collector herself, but she does have a number of dresses that are part of the collection for the wedding program, including her mother's 1933 wedding dress, two flower girl dresses her mom made for her and her own 1962 wedding dress.
The four women were honored last year both as outstanding correspondent docents in their seven-state division and outstanding national correspondent docents.
Three of them — Woller, Castellon and Santas — have been their chapter's regent and are now honorary regents.
All four have visited the DAR Museum in the nation's capital, and they urge others to do likewise.
The museum collections feature more than 30,000 objects reflecting the history and culture of the U.S. prior to 1840.
Woller said about one-third of the objects are on display at any one time, and they're showcased in three galleries and 31 period rooms. Admission is free.