Skip the theater, go to dinner with the Lincolns instead

Get ready to party like it’s 1863 because the president and his wife are coming to town this summer.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln will be the guests of honor at a special dinner on Friday, Aug. 5 at the Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Orion Township.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and dinner is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $60 each.

The event is a fund-raiser to benefit Oxford’s annual Lone Ranger Parade and Festival on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Fred and Bonnie Priebe, of Belleville, have been portraying Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln since 1996. Photo provided.
Fred and Bonnie Priebe, of Belleville, have been portraying Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln since 1996. Photo provided.

“My hope is we’ll sell out fairly quickly,” said Oxford resident Rod Charles, event organizer and founding member of the Lone Ranger Posse, a group of volunteers that created the parade and festival in 2013. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The evening will include dinner, live music, a silent auction and a presentation by the Lincolns.

“I talked to the president and he is going to be offering an inspirational message,” Charles said.

“We’re going to talk about leadership qualities – what it takes to be a good leader, whether it’s in the home or in the public square,” explained Fred Priebe, a historical reenactor from Belleville who portrays the 16th President of the United States.

To Priebe, Lincoln, who served from 1861-65, is a fine example of a true leader because he “did not have an ego that needed to be fed every day.”

“We know leaders today – and they’ve been around a long time – who everything they do seems to be geared toward feeding their ego, whether it’s at the local level or at the higher levels (of government). Often, that gets in the way of the job that they’re supposed to do,” said Priebe, a retired teacher who spent 30 years working in the Wayne-Westland school district.

“Lincoln didn’t suffer from that. He had an ego, but he was always looking at the bigger picture when he was president . . . He didn’t have time for pettiness.”

Priebe and his wife Bonnie, who portrays Mary Todd Lincoln, have been playing these roles since 1996. Over the years, they have addressed students, civic organizations, churches, Civil War groups, historical societies and crowds at everything from festivals to monument dedications.

Lincoln’s speeches and writings are combined with historical and biographical information to paint an accurate and relatable picture of the famous 19th century couple in the Priebes’ many programs.

“When you read a book or read an article or read a speech that he gave, you’re just seeing words on paper,” Priebe said. “When you’re listening to us, you’re getting the emotion, you’re the getting the pause between phrases, you’re getting the heart.

“It’s one thing to read about a battle. It’s another to go to a reenactment and hear the cannons fire, smell the smoke, hear the men yell. That adds a third dimension. That makes it come to life. That’s what we try to do. We try to bring life to the words that these people spoke.”

Charles said the Priebes truly deliver a “top-notch” performance.

“I have seen them twice (before) and you would think that you are seeing the real Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln,” he said. “These people are excellent. They look like them physically and their knowledge of the history of the Lincolns and what they were really like is impressive.”

But what does Abraham Lincoln, the president who successfully led the nation through the Civil War, its greatest crisis and bloodiest conflict, have to do with the Lone Ranger, a fictional masked hero of the Old West who battled bad guys with an Indian friend and a horse named Silver.

In Charles’ mind, the two have quite a lot in common when it comes to the “values” they stood for such as honesty, love of country and the willingness to fight for that which is right.

Priebe agreed.

“Both tried to take the high road in dealing with people,” he said. “I think both men sought justice tempered with mercy. They didn’t have an ‘I’m out to get you’ attitude. If you did wrong, you had to be held accountable for it.”

In Priebe’s eyes, Lincoln and the Lone Ranger were men of integrity who believed in following the law and doing “what’s best for the people in the long run.”

Since starting the Lone Ranger Parade and Festival three years ago, Charles said the focus has shifted. It used to be primarily about the late Brace Beemer, the Oxford man with the booming voice who portrayed the fictional lawman on coast-to-coast radio from 1941-54.

Now, Charles said it’s more about “the character” of the Lone Ranger and promoting all the positive qualities he embodies and tries to instill in others through his words and deeds.

In addition to the fund-raiser, the Priebes will also appear as the Lincolns in the Lone Ranger parade.

To get tickets for the Aug. 5 fund-raiser, please call the Financial Freedom Group office at (248) 371-9100. Checks should be made payable to Oxford Lone Ranger Festival.

“If somebody wants to get tickets now, I would suggest they do that because I think it’s going to sell out fast,” Charles said.

“If people have an opportunity to buy a ticket for this event, it would be worth their while to do so,” Priebe said. “They’ll learn things about Lincoln and about leadership that they can use in their everyday life.”

Items for the silent auction are needed, so individuals and businesses wishing to donate something are encouraged to call the aforementioned number.


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