Betty Fairfax Teacher Ryan Ussery Doesn’t Just Teach History, He Lives It, With His U.S. History Students

Posted by Community Relations on 2/17/2016

Betty Fairfax teacher Ryan Ussery doesn’t just teach history, he lives it, with his U.S. History students. A few days after Presidents Day, he dressed up in his mid-19th century-best suit, with stove-pipe hat, and came to class as Abraham Lincoln. With period music in the background, and a French Almond cake and strawberry ice cream that he made the night before, he took his students back to 1865, visiting the Arizona Territory he helped create.   The students asked a series of questions to get to know him a little better. Some were tough questions, like did he feel alienated as a youth.


“Sure, I was 6 foot-four, the goofy one in the corner. It set me apart.” Asked about dating, he didn’t know the meaning, except to “court” a young lady, such as future wife, Mary Todd. “When you court, you talk to the girl, along with her parents. You take a walk with the girl, with her parents, and you go on a picnic with the girl, with her parents.”   When asked about football and basketball, he was perplexed. When the student said, tossing the pigskin, he said, “We eat pigskin, we don’t play with it.” His main sport was “wrastling. Throwin’ people to the ground. I got some strength in my arms from swingin’ an axe.”


He was conscious of his looks. “Lots of folks say I’m ugly, but a little girl once wrote to me and said if I grew whiskers, I could get more votes, so I did.”


Ussery had been growing his beard for the past couple months to look the Lincoln part. The beard came in handy a few days earlier when he came to class as Fidel Castro. He has played George Washington, a Pilgrim, Alex Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Father Kino and Chairman Mao, after he visited China and bought a suit that fit the role.


“I have been doing this since my first year at Fairfax. I buy another outfit every year, and I am always someone different in the yearbook. My favorite is Lincoln, since I am the same height, at 6-4. I have lots of different hats in the class that I can use, and my students can wear. It is not as easy with the 20th century characters. They all wore suits,” Ussery said.


“I think it’s cool. We interact more in class,” Dominique Delco said.

“It’s more interesting, to see it in real life,” Sarah Kester said.

“It’s funny. We learn more because he makes it fun. This is not like other classes. He puts a fun twist to learning,” Ivan Alcazar said.


Three students volunteered to play Lincoln in “To Tell the Truth,” and reciting statements true and false, the other students had to pick the real “Honest Abe.” The class also tried the French Almond cake and homemade ice cream that Ussery made from a recipe found in a book called The Culinary History of Abraham Lincoln.


“What’s next? I am going to Korea, and I am going to try Kim Jung-un. I have a nice suit, but I will have to put my hair up, and get some padding,” he said, patting his stomach.