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For this teenager, interest in history was early passion

Dante Parenti, an Orange City teenager, started reciting a sequential list of U.S. presidents at age 4.

By Associated Press
Published January 3, 2005

ORANGE CITY - His musical tastes run to the big-band sounds of Glenn Miller and the crooning of Frank Sinatra.

He spends weekends re-enacting Civil War battles and restoring a Vietnam War-era PT boat.

But there's still room in 13-year-old Dante Parenti's world for the fascination with horror movie characters that's more typical of his age.

"Then I have my shrine to the creature," Dante said, pointing out a miniature statue of the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" that sits on his bedroom dresser along with a small reproduction of a promotional poster for the 1954 horror flick.

Dante has been amazing his parents, Dan and Rochelle Parenti of Orange City, since he started reciting a sequential list of U.S. presidents at age 4 and began digging up information about the times in which the presidents lived.

"It's from morning till night," Dante's mother said. "It's the clothes, the money, the culture, the music."

"History is the passion of my life," Dante said.

Now, Dante is impressing teenagers and adults alike with his knowledge of American history - especially the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II time periods.

Not only is Dante a "natural storyteller," said Carol Sullo, but he has built an impressive collection of historical items by raiding thrift stores, flea markets and antique stores. Sullo recently arranged for Dante to speak to a Daughters of the American Revolution group.

"He's very competent; he knows what he's talking about," said Jennifer Smith, an eighth-grade American history teacher at DeLand Middle School, who invited Dante to spend a day in early November teaching her classes about the Revolutionary War.

"He talked about life in Colonial America and Revolutionary War medicine and amputations. The kids just loved that," Smith said. "They were asking him questions and he knew the answers. The kids were real impressed with him."

Dante dressed for the part in his Revolutionary War-style uniform from the Palm Coast Colonials, a drum-and-fife corps that performs in parades and at other area events.

Joseph Massetti, a retired tax accountant who organized the Palm Coast group after playing in similar groups up North, teaches Dante weekly lessons in drum cadences authentic to the Revolutionary War period.

"He's very interested in a lot of unusual things for his age," Massetti said. "He's a very nice boy."

Dante's interests beyond his years make him stand out at DeLand Middle, where he's a seventh-grader, and sometimes wears military style clothes or political candidates' stickers to class.

"He's not afraid to be who he is, no matter how many people look at him," said DeLand Middle's School Resource Deputy Pat Leahy.

"He's an excellent kid; he's a breath of fresh air; he's an individual," said Leahy, who works with Dante in a campus organization that explores law enforcement issues and careers.

Dante nursed a disappointment over John Kerry's loss of the presidential election. "I'm pretty sad, but you've got to be tough about it," he said.

And as proof he's forgiving, Dante also keeps an 8-by-10 picture of George W. Bush in his room along with a form letter he received from the president in August 2002 after he wrote to him with suggestions for battling wildfires in the western United States.

While most adults look at Dante and see someone mature beyond their years, Jeff Grzelak looks at the Orange City teen and sees a younger version of himself.

"He's like a sponge trying to absorb knowledge," said Grzelak, a Civil War re-enactor from Orlando who met Dante three years ago. "The first time I met him I could tell he had the bug big time.

"You have to have that certain love for history," Grzelak said. "He's the next generation of historians who's going to preserve our history and our battlefields."

He's probably right.

Dante wants to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., serve in the Navy for awhile and then become Volusia County's sheriff.

"After that, I want to be a park ranger at Gettysburg or a history teacher," he said.

[Last modified January 3, 2005, 02:20:23]


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