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WE HAVE QUESTIONS FOR YOU — Stetson University professor Dr. Paul Croce greets Halloween visitors at his Minnesota Avenue home in 2020 dressed as Mr. Frizzle, complete with his small pet — well, plush — alligator, named A1, riding in his shirt. He’s holding one of the special Minnesota Avenue Halloween pencils he had made to pass out to trick-or-treaters. PHOTO COURTESY PAUL CROCE

If no one else is celebrating Halloween on Minnesota Avenue, one longtime resident will be: Dr. Paul Croce, who teaches American cultural and intellectual history at Stetson University.

“I’ve lived on Minnesota Avenue since July 1987,” Croce told The Beacon. “That Halloween, I bought what I thought was a lot of candy, but ran out by 8-something, so I turned to giving away coins and other stuff.”

Croce said he couldn’t speak for his neighbors, but he’ll be out on Halloween, for sure.

“If I’m out there alone, I’ll just talk to the kids,” Croce said. 

Halloween isn’t just about the candy for Croce; he turns the holiday into a teaching opportunity for his students at the university just down the road.

This tradition started shortly after he moved to the DeLand neighborhood. 

“While this egghead talked about Halloween outfits and stories, neighbors did even more elaborate things: haunted lawns, a spooky ‘tunnel’ to walk through, 500 hot dogs cooked in a fire pit, hundreds of sodas,” Croce said. “Which came first: kids showing up in big numbers or elaborations of the event? It was teamwork; they build on each other.”

Croce’s done some fun things, too: “I’ve worked with dentists who encourage kids to trade in their Halloween candy for games,” he said. “I’ve also bought hundreds of pencils that say MegaHalloween DeLand USA!”

Eventually, Croce decided the more the merrier and began involving his students.

“I’m just turning it into an extra-credit project,” he said. 

For each of the classes Croce teaches, his students will be asked to reflect on a different aspect of Halloween and their observations, for a bonus assignment.

For his History of American Health Care class, students can write about the sugar content in candies they see handed out on the big night. For Croce’s classes on American culture, Halloween can be a great teaching tool.

“Kids have culture, too,” he said. “How did children choose their outfits? I tell them this is a fun way to talk about folk culture and popular culture.”

Croce explained, “Folk culture would be a kid saying ‘I’m a princess,’ or, ‘I’m death.’ Popular culture would be, ‘I’m not just any princess, I’m Mulan,’ or ‘I’m Super Mario.’”

After all, what more enjoyable way is there to learn than by having fun, dressing up and asking children how they chose their costumes?

“The learning goes down easy when it’s about Halloween,” Croce said. “It’s kind of fun to bring it out that way.”

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