Tom Fiocchi

Tom Fiocchi, head props technician at Ohio University’s Theater Division shows off his personal prop displays at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery in Athens. Fiocchi will give another presentation at the museum on Dec. 7.

Photographer: Angela Brock

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OHIO employees, students volunteer their time, talents at local children’s museum

The mission of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery in Athens is to provide a place for area children and families to explore and discover the world in which we live through interactive exhibits and hands-on activities. Crucial to the museum's mission are the volunteers who help staff the museum and enhance its exhibits, including several members of the Ohio University community.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Tom Fiocchi, who has served as the head props technician for the past 16 years at OHIO's Theater Division, was regaling audiences at the museum with his personal prop displays and demonstrations. Fiocchi's presentation meshed perfectly with the museum's latest exhibit, "The Amazing Castle."

On loan from the Minnesota Children's Museum through Dec. 14, the exhibit features a medieval village complete with a blacksmith shop, a chicken coop where eggs are collected, medieval costumes for dress-up, a pioneer kitchen and garden, a puppet theater and a game that "awakens the dragon."

The exhibit has also featured some creative presentations by members of OHIO's Theater Division and the University's Medieval Society. During his presentation, Fiocchi provided museum goers with an entertaining and theatrical show while dressed as a nobleman from the 1300s. He entertained the audience with his personal prop displays, which included knight armor, weaponry, shields and a small catapult demonstration.

"I love doing this kind of thing so much, and the best part is to see the light that comes into the kids' eyes when you are talking to them and engaging their imaginations," said Fiocchi. "I love that they can put the stuff on and pick up the swords and feel the weight, sort of touching history, I guess. I think that if I had been able to touch a real sword when I was 7, my head would have exploded!"

Fiocchi has built custom stage combat swords since 1988. His collection consists of swords both bought and made, and a majority of his armor is made by his students for productions or in his advanced metalworking class.

After reading tales of King Arthur as a child, Fiocchi began to build swords out of sticks and wood. He and his friends would wear cardboard armor and joust on their bikes, and he developed an interest in medieval history.

His passion for medieval history carried over into his college years. He attended the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University where he studied theater, set and costume design and became hooked on making props. He continued on to the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., where he began taking stage combat classes.

"I think the community has had a very welcoming response to 'The Amazing Castle,'" Christie Truly, board member of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, said of the museum's latest exhibit. "Two long-time agencies in the community, the Athens Foundation and the O'Nail-Hartman Insurance Agency, are the major funders. Due to popular demand, we have added Wednesday morning open hours from 10 to noon for pre-schoolers and home-schooling families. We have had an enthusiastic response to our field trip opportunities as well as many 'likes' on our Facebook page. The best indicator is probably that we have many families who are visiting week after week. It has all been very exciting!"

Due to the museum's large turnouts each week, many helping hands are needed. OHIO alumna Amber Brooks manages the museum, and most of the museum's volunteers are Ohio University students majoring in education and pediatrics and also members of OHIO's chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity.

"I like interacting with kids and want to be a pediatrician," said Sarah Blaha, a second-year medical student at OHIO and a volunteer at the museum. "I think (coming to the museum is) a great thing for kids to do every Saturday morning instead of sitting at home watching TV."

The Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery is located in the Market on State on East State Street in Athens. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and admission is $2 per person or $7 per family.

Upcoming presentations at the museum, in conjunction with "The Amazing Castle" exhibit, include:

  • Nov. 23, 11 a.m., "Medieval Games" with the Ohio University Medieval Society
  • Dec. 7, 11 a.m., "Medieval Armor and Weapons" with Tom Fiocchi
  • Dec. 14, 11 a.m., "Comedia De L'arte" with OHIO graduate Dayton Willison.

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