As an educator, ALPLM Volunteer Eric Heiden has a keen understanding of the learning process and how children process and acquire new information. A special education instructor for 5th-8th grade students at Altamont Grade School, Eric works diligently to teach, motivate, and inspire the students placed in his care. This same spirit and dedication are evident in his volunteer roles at the ALPLM as he seeks to connect with and educate museum guests in a similar manner.
Reflecting on his childhood, Eric acknowledged a specific learning opportunity that sparked his interest in Lincoln and history as a youth. “Abraham Lincoln has always been my hero since my parents took my brothers and I to Springfield for our first family vacation when I was 8 years old.”
Today, Eric is thrilled that he can share in the practice of positively influencing the guest experience of those visiting the museum. “Volunteering at the ALPLM has offered me the opportunity to remain engaged in history through the educational programs offered to volunteers, as well as play a small role in furthering the legacy of Abraham Lincoln,” he shared.
A recent newlywed, Eric grew up in Altamont, Ill., and currently lives in Saint Elmo with his wife, Hannah. Eric attended Greenville University and received a degree in History Education with endorsements in English and Special Education in 2011. He is furthering his education as he pursues a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Illinois University. When he is not working or studying, Eric enjoys reading about American history (especially Lincoln), supporting his favorite sports teams (Cardinals, Blues, Jr. Blues, and Fighting Illini), and visiting historic sites and locations.
Eric said his 3½ years volunteering at the ALPLM has been filled with memorable moments with the guests, staff, and other volunteers. One such occasion started very early in his tenure. “On my first day of volunteering, a Mary Lincoln historic interpreter was visiting all the way from California. She talked to the volunteers about how visiting Springfield was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and how blown away she was by the museum. It was an awesome interaction to have on my first day!”
Eric continued by expressing that he is impressed with the diversity of the museum’s daily guests and feels fortunate to have interactions with people from other states and countries.
The focus on Lincoln’s presidency in Journey Two of the museum are Eric’s favorite exhibitions, as he believes they offer a fair account of Lincoln and allow visitors to walk in his shoes and empathize with his many hardships.
“Besides the war itself, Lincoln had to deal with the death of Willie, controversies that surrounded Mary Lincoln, rivalries within his own cabinet, and the issue of emancipation,” he stated. “It always amazes me how he was able to manage all of this and still stay the course. The character and leadership he displayed during his presidency serves as an example that I think we all can learn from and apply in our own lives no matter our vocation.”
Volunteering at the ALPLM has influenced Eric in more ways than merely strengthening his knowledge of our nation’s history. He explains that his close bonds and relationships with the volunteers have been an encouragement to him and he appreciates listening and learning from them. “While there is a bit of a generational gap between me and my fellow volunteers on my shift, we all have a great affinity for the museum and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln,” Eric stated. “Several of them have shared a lot about their life experiences with me that continue to have an impact in the way I live my own life beyond the walls of the ALPLM.”
Eric concluded by reemphasizing the courage and leadership that Lincoln demonstrated during our country’s darkest days and is optimistic that Americans can respond with similar resolve to the difficult challenges facing our nation and world. Eric characterized Lincoln as a transcendent leader who used his political genius and principled determination to maintain our union and make us into the country we are today.
Thank you, Eric, for this reminder. Let us remember the great work and commitment of our nation’s prior leaders who understood the values and importance of our democracy and fought to protect it. Let this be an inspiration to all Americans that we can look past our differences and stand united together.
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