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Happy Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt

“Theodore Roosevelt” paid a surprise visit to students at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, Oct. 26, as part of a school-wide celebration in honor of his birthday.


Born on Oct. 27, 1858, which fell on a Saturday this year, President Roosevelt — also known as Mr. Michael O’Neill, the father of kindergarten aide Sherry McKevitt — came dressed in his Rough Rider uniform to greet students as they arrived at school and then gave presentations about his life in their classrooms.


His first stop was Ms. Lidia Siracusano’s kindergarten class.


“I’ve been celebrating Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday in my class for 20 years,” Ms. Siracusano said. “Each year students come to school with teddy bears, we learn about Theodore Roosevelt’s life, sing Happy Birthday and enjoy a special birthday cake in his honor.” 


This year, as students clutched their teddy bears, Mr. O’Neill brought the history lesson to life as he spoke about how Theodore Roosevelt overcame asthma as a child and rose to become the 26th president of the United States.  He spoke about the former president’s love of books, particularly those about animals, and encouraged his young audience to read every day.  


He also spoke about his home on Sagamore Hill, just minutes from their school; how he established the first volunteer army in America called the Rough Riders, and became president at age 42. Interesting to the students was how the former president was the first to ride in an airplane, first to go in a submarine, first to own a car and first to have a telephone in the White House. They learned that under his presidency, he set a bear free and the first stuffed teddy bear was made in his honor.


Other milestones were the laws established to regulate the food supply, the Nobel Peace Prize he won for world diplomacy, the building of the Panama Canal and the development of the National Parks Program. 


As Mr. O’Neill’s presentation set a new tradition in the school, 2nd graders carried out an old tradition. The grade boarded buses to Youngs Memorial Cemetery, Roosevelt’s final resting place, to take part in a memorial service coordinated by Oyster Bay historian Mr.  John Hammond. The ceremony featured local dignitaries, veterans and members of the armed forces who provided words about the former president and laid wreaths made out of red, white and blue carnations.


The students sang America the Beautiful, under the direction of music teacher Ms. Brenda Murphy, and were each given a carnation to place on the former president’s grave after Oyster Bay High School trumpeters Stephanie Vojvodich and Natalie Mejia played Taps.