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EXPERIENCING A HISTORICAL DOCUMENTARY

EXPERIENCING A HISTORICAL DOCUMENTARY:

Donald C. Pharis, Humanitarian

Missouri Humanities Council granted two separate grants to FRIENDS of the Pharis Farm in 2020 and 2021. Friends of the Pharis Farm was founded in 2005 by a group of friends and family members of Donald and Laura Pharis. Today the board is comprised of family members, educators, and community individuals who are passionate about conserving the history of the farm and continuing to support the messages of conservation and historical farm life. For the creation and production of the documentary, partnerships with Clay County and Liberty Public Schools were further developed beyond a networking type of relationship.

Mr. Donald Pharis willed his historical farm to Clay County citizens upon his death in 1992. Clay County Parks, Recreation, Historic Sites manages more than 6,000 acres of parks. They strive to provide visitors with an exceptional opportunity to participate in the wide variety of parks, recreation, historical facilities and programs that they offer. The Historical Sites Department oversees the Pharis Farm property which provides a unique glimpse back into Missouri history with the antebellum home, 1820’s cabin, and all the artifacts and journals collected by Mr. and Mrs. Pharis.

Liberty Academy is a nationally recognized public alternative school founded by Liberty Public School District #53. The staff facilitate student driven experiences for up to 100 students per year. The school day is built around the concepts of authentic mentor-based relationship, experiential/self-driven/interest-based learning, social emotional skill development, project-based credit integration, and belief that all students need autonomy, trust, and personal agency in order to become who they are meant to be. Art Smith, Liberty Academy, stated after documentary completion, “Pharis Farm and this documentary project allowed our students to engage with the farm in areas of interest, curiosity, and service work and with professional humanitarians that otherwise would not be possible.”  

When interviewing other Liberty Academy staff, the observation shared: “Documentaries offer a tremendous catalyst for students to engage in new experiences and perspectives. We have watched films related to criminal justice reform, law enforcement, mental illness, domestic violence, social media, and many more issues/ topics. We love using documentaries to be a way to lead to a new perspective or experience for our students. It leads to new conversations and topics and helps them to better understand the world around them. By using these films, students are able to learn about a perspective or experience that they may have never known about or considered. It also allows students to learn about things that they may be interested in and continue to gain information. In addition, we often have conversations about the perspective and bias of the film maker, and how that may influence the tone and voice of a film. We also enjoy appreciating the cinematography of a film, and the different storytelling formats that are used.”  

The final historical documentary can be viewed on YouTube: Donald C. Pharis: Humanitarian.  After grant completion, Dr. Chris McCoy, Assistant Professor of Theatre at William Jewell College, shared, “Donald Pharis was an exceptional humanitarian by giving his house and farmstead to Clay County for future students to learn about agriculture, Missouri history, and life of early settlers.  In making the documentary, we first introduced students to the resources on the farm including antiques and historical artifacts in the house, the historic log cabin, as well as information about Pharis’ life and work.  The students learned about the lives of early settlers through an interpersonal and humanitarian lens understanding not just dates and information but bringing these lessons to life through hands-on activities on the farm.  In creating the documentary, we engaged students in the artistic process of taking historical information and synthesizing it into a product that will teach future visitors to the site.  Activities included students scouting the farm for interesting imagery and backdrops that contributed to the storytelling, reading the script and interviewing humanities professionals, as well as exploring the interconnection between the natural sciences of agriculture and ecology with topics in the humanities, such as history, filmmaking, creative writing, archival research, and the arts.”

FRIENDS of the Pharis Farm Board of Directors have viewed and re-visited documents, pictures, interviews, and have had a multitude of discussions regarding Mr. Pharis’s original vision because of the funding from Missouri Humanities Council.  Board members have recommitted to focusing on this original vision and Mr. Pharis’s passions through future projects and requests of funders and donations. FRIENDS of the Pharis Farm are indebted to the Missouri Humanities Council for springboarding a renewed focus on rural life in mid-20th century Missouri and intensify the pursuit to share the many messages of Mr. Donald Pharis… “What have you learned NEW today?” 

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