History in a Trunk

Bill Hendricks fills in the gaps of history by giving presentations and lectures to local youth

By Rick Hinton

Bill Hendricks’ interests in history go back to his childhood, an interest he now passes down to today’s youth. Hendricks entertains and educates on the American Revolution, Civil War, WWI and WWII through History in a Trunk, offering historical interpretations, performances, lectures and speeches covering a wide variety of military topics from 1775 – 1945.

Programs are tailored to meet the interest level of the intended audience, which ranges from students in elementary, middle and high school, to public libraries and community events. “We do have fun with the adults, but it is a special time with the kids,” Hendricks offered. “I’m absolutely amazed at some of the questions I get from them.”

Center Grove Elementary students ask questions during a presentation. (Submitted photos)

Hendricks became interested in military reenactments as a kid, and really taking off with them after graduating high school in 1969. He joined a Civil War competitive shooting group. “They requested you have a costume that looked Civil War era,” he explained. “At that time there were not the massive suppliers of uniforms and equipment like there is now.” His wife, Donna made him his first coat, while the pants came from Sears.

Hendricks’ job with U.S. Steel bounced them through several cities throughout the years (Detroit, Cleveland and South Bend) until he retired in 2015, residing in Birmingham, Ala. There was one final move to be made – to Greenwood, and near their daughter, Sarah and five grandchildren. History in a Trunk originated in Johnson County in 2018.

Donna, Sarah and Bill Hendricks at Greenfield Village Rev War event in 1985.

Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Mich., has played an important role through the years during the couple’s portrayal of military living history and soldier life. The Village is one of the largest of destinations for civilian reenactors. Hendricks has been making the annual pilgrimage there since he started and is currently on contract there for narration duties during the Civil War Remembrance program falling every Memorial Day weekend. The couple would go even if not directly involved. The annual weekend has become a shared personal slice of their history; it keeps Bill and Donna grounded.

Weapons and equipment are always a large draw for a curious crowd. After 50-plus years of collecting Hendricks has some advice for those interested in throwing their towel into the ring: “Right off the bat you should plan on spending around $2,000 to get yourself ready to go out on the field … and that doesn’t include any of the camping gear!”

Greenfield Village 2017 Memorial Day commemoration.

Hendricks’ personal favorite period is The Civil War. He is a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, holding the honor of being the great-great-grandson of Pvt. Seymour N. Kibbe, 21st Regt., PA Cavalry.

“Hoosiers are an enthusiastic crowd, whether at libraries, schools or historical societies,” Hendricks stated as he presented historical events throughout the city and state. Having his own grandchildren interested is just icing on the cake, however it started with his daughter Sarah.

“Our daughter used to interpret what the children did at that time period, using their toys,” Donna remembered with a smile. “ She would talk to the kids in the campsite, I was spinning and weaving, Bill was off doing battles. It’s really a family group.”

WWI doughboys in Russia.

Donna Hendricks said she feels strongly that people have misconceptions about military history from what they’ve learned in school.

Bill would agree. “I don’t feel it’s taught properly. It’s glossed over. To me, they always say history books are written by the victors. There are two sides to every story when it comes to history,” he said with a knowing smile. “My goal is to fill in the gaps!”

To contact Bill Hendricks, you may call him at (317) 893-4814, email bhendricks8@bellsouth.net or visit History in a Trunk on Facebook.

How the Hendricks family spends their vacations

“We’re nature people, been to Alaska and up the East coast. Our vacations were always centered on reenactments and battlefields. We took a vacation to Florida once … to Disney World when it was brand new. We tried to lay out on the beach around the fourth day and decided that was nuts! We need to do something! We need to go somewhere and see something!”