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Educator's performance shines light on Ulysses S. Grant

Patrick Varine
| Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 11:57 p.m.

Ken Serfass of Gettysburg stood in the crowd for a presentation at Ulysses S. Grant's tomb in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood when a descendant of the former president approached him.

“She asked if she knew me from somewhere, and I told her I didn't think so,” said Serfass, 50, who was dressed in full military garb as the Civil War general and former commander-in-chief. “Then she told me I looked more like Ulysses Grant than any of his living blood relatives.”

Combine that with a wealth of knowledge about Grant, and you have what Penn Area Library patrons experienced this week: A friendly visit from the man whose tactics and leadership helped the North prevail in the Civil War.

With a hand-rolled cigar clamped between his fingers, Serfass-as-Grant brought the room through his childhood in Ohio, his time at West Point, his exemplary service during the Mexican-American War, and, of course, his command of the Union Army that led to General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Va., and the end of the Civil War.

Serfass spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, retiring in 2004 to become a music teacher and pursue his passion for history.

He said one of his favorite things about portraying Grant is adding some color and context to accusations that Grant was a drunk or that he was more lucky than skilled in military combat.

“I like sharing the things that I've admired about him and the things that have inspired me in my life,” he said.

Serfass was engaging throughout his two-hour talk Monday, peppering history with humor and encouraging questions.

“One of the best compliments I'll get is people will say, ‘Now I want to go read. You made me want to know more,' because I'll never get around to everything,” he said.

Serfass portrays Grant on walking tours, horseback rides, railroad excursions and regular events throughout the Northeast. In 2015, he was invited to join the Federal Generals Corps, a living-history organization hosting first-person impressions of many of the most well-known Union generals.

Serfass said he would love to come back to Westmoreland County “as President Grant, which I do as a separate performance,” he said.

Serfass will bring Grant to the Mt. Pleasant Public Library at 6 p.m. Wednesday. For more, see MountPleasantPALibrary.org/events.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Retired Marine Kenneth Serfass of Gettysburg talks to Penn Area Library patrons as Union Army Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Monday, May 22, 2017.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Retired Marine Kenneth Serfass of Gettysburg talks to Penn Area Library patrons as Union Army Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Monday, May 22, 2017.
Retired Marine Kenneth Serfass of Gettysburg talks to Penn Area Library patrons as Union Army Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Monday, May 22, 2017.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Retired Marine Kenneth Serfass of Gettysburg talks to Penn Area Library patrons as Union Army Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Monday, May 22, 2017.
Retired Marine Kenneth Serfass of Gettysburg talks to Penn Area Library patrons as Union Army Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Monday, May 22, 2017.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Retired Marine Kenneth Serfass of Gettysburg talks to Penn Area Library patrons as Union Army Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Monday, May 22, 2017.
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