Monday, April 24, 2006

Young volunteers spruce up Antietam National Cemetery

Big doings at the Antietam National Cemetery! On April 24 over 400 Frederick County middle schoolers showed up to scrub headstones in preparation for the upcoming May Memorial Day observances. Hoses were brought out of storage, buckets were purchased, detergent was readied, and adult volunteers (supervisors ya' know) were at their posts.

In two and a half hours the kids did a fantastic job of cleaning grime and lichen off of the cemetery's nearly 5,000 headstones. All of the adults were very impressed with the commitment and diligence shown by these 6th, 7th, and 8th graders from the other side of South Mountain.

The kids seemed to really enjoy themselves, and despite themselves often did some reflection on the meaning of their surroundings and the importance of their contributions. It was a really great day to be a volunteer...of any age.

Help is on the way!

less posing, more scrubbing!

the obligatory picture of me.

"Old Simon" provides supervision in the background.

Superintendant, John Howard, really got the kids attention when he reminded them that their hands were the closest thing to family that these soldiers have felt in over a century.

Tools of the trade.

Thanks for a great day's work!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Volunteering article

This is an article I wrote for the summer'06 "Museums and More" magazine.

That volunteer just may have been the boss!

After a twenty year museum career that included being a volunteer docent as well as the head of a museum education department, I’ve been able to experience the volunteer/ paid staff relationship from both sides of the equation.

Meeting the educational mission at a big Midwestern museum calls for a very large support crew of volunteers. I supervised and trained 75 docents who provided tours and another 100 volunteers in a variety of educational roles, including interpreters in place, costumed living history interpreters, and historic machinery operators.

One of the things I learned early on in my “supervision” (quotes
mine) of this outstanding cadre of retirees included the realization that many of these gifted individuals were once the ”boss” themselves. Principals, department heads, corporate presidents, and other executive types were included in the ranks of my volunteers. I’d often have to remind paid colleagues of this fact when they sometimes too-painstakingly explained the simplest tasks to a volunteer, unaware of the fact that this same volunteer came from a richly varied background of experiences and responsibilities. It can be a humbling experience when, after explaining the basics of making handmade paper to the volunteer who will be helping in the weekend workshop, having that same volunteer tell you she was an engineer at the region’s largest paper mill.

I think that’s the real joy of working with volunteers, as well as the strength of any volunteer-based organization. Such a diverse range of experiences and backgrounds is brought to the mix. More than once I’ve had a retiree discreetly advise me away from a policy decision based upon his or her own experience in a similar situation.

My admiration for, and appreciation of, volunteers in the museum
setting is boundless, and it was my great pleasure to be the trainer and supervisor of so many of them for over a decade.

Recently, my artist wife and I relocated to lovely western
Maryland, and not surprisingly, immediately scoped out the local
museum scene. Hagerstown Maryland (our new home town) has a gem of an art museum that serves the entire Cumberland Valley. The
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts makes extensive use of a very enthusiastic corps of volunteers organized as the Singer Society, so named for the founders of the museum.

The 250 square foot museum store is entirely the responsibility of Singer Society volunteers. Two volunteers, including the 85 year old, Mrs. Lucy Edmunds (charter member of the Singer Society) manage the daily operations of the store, including all of the buying, marketing, product tie-ins, and scheduling. With annual sales over $25,000, Lucy enthusiastically states, “In all modesty, we’re doing a tremendous job!”

Museum Services Coordinator, Donna J. Rastelli concurs and notes that senior volunteers bring additional customer service skills that younger volunteers often may not. “A lot of it has to do with how the older generation was raised”, says Rastelli. “Seniors learned as children how to treat others with respect”, an essential element in the retailer - customer relationship.

In addition to staffing the museum store the Museum utilizes volunteers as greeters, receptionists, docents, and in a variety of other specialized positions. When asked why they are so willing to donate so much time to the success of the museum, Rastelli replies that it’s far more than simply a way to stay busy; “They have a real love for this museum.”

Part-time museum employee Bob Johnson (head of museum security at age 79) added his two cents worth on the value of older volunteers. “Because of their diverse backgrounds and life experiences, seniors bring a lot of expertise with them,” an expertise that often results in happy museum store customers.

If you’re wondering what the museum does to keep their volunteers enthusiastic and engaged, its pretty simple. “They praise us highly, believe me,” Lucy Edmunds says without hesitation. “And when they tell us that we’re worth millions to them, they’re not too far off the mark”.

This is an aspect of senior volunteers that all volunteer managers quickly identify; the dollar value to the institution, represented by the many, many hours that are freely and cheerfully given by volunteers. Without the loyalty, diligence, and public spiritedness of volunteers, one can only imagine how many of our cherished cultural institutions, large and small, would no longer be able to meet their missions.

Now, just as all things old are new again, I find myself back at the beginning - as a volunteer. Four years after leaving the museum setting and relocating to Western Maryland I have again joined the ranks of volunteers. This time at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

The Volunteers - in - Parks (VIP) program of the US National Park Service utilizes talented and committed volunteers, of all ages, to provide a wide variety of services at our nation’s national parks.

The Park system includes a range of outstanding museums, historic sites, and natural wonders all staffed by a talented mix of rangers and volunteers, working together, to deliver a broad palette of services to visitors.

The next time you have the opportunity to visit Yellowstone, Big
Bend, or Antietam, the volunteer in the gift shop, the front desk, or out in the fields teaching classes to children, is just one of the 140,000 “Very Important People” who donated in fiscal year 2004 alone, over five million hours to our nation’s pride and joy – the park system.

Three cheers for the Volunteers.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Day Job: Substitute Teaching

This week I was a special education (reading intervention) teacher for three days at an elementary school. The kids were a group of really sweet reluctant readers.

Teaching has changed a lot since I got my first taste of it 20 years ago. Unfortunately, many teachers have to pick up a great deal of slack for parents who are either absent or underqualified at raising children. While helping kids think of sentences to compose for their journals you can learn a lot about their backgrounds. One 3rd grader asked me "How do you spell 'heart', like 'my dad was shot in the heart'?"

Mr. G is here to help.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Volunteers in Parks: the C&O Canal

Long a vision of George Washington to link the western reaches of Maryland with tidewater Northern Virginia, the Cesapeake and Ohio canal is the engineering marvel that runs parallel to the barely navigable Potomac River and connected Georgetown, District of Columbia, with Cumberland Maryland - 185 miles away. The canal, an elaborate system of locks, dams, turning basins, and mule-drawn canal boats, was in operation for nearly 100 years. Work on the canal began on July 4, 1828. Dubbed "our Great National Project" by President John Quincy Adams, the canal operated until finally destroyed by a cataclysmic flood in 1924. In all of its long history the canal operated in the black for only two of those 96 years! Nonetheless, the Chesepeake and Ohio Canal is a marvel of engineering and a testimonial to the dynamism of a vigorous American fontier.

Today, the canal and the adjoining towpath (where the mules plodded along towing the boats) is one of our Nation's most delightful National Parks. It provides a fabulous hiking trail filled with evocotive reminders of our nation's commercial, transportation, and pioneer history. Following the course of the mighty Potomac River, the C&O snakes along the western border of Maryland, and my wife and I seem to be continually bumping in to it, much to our delight.

A re-watered portion of the canal provides mule-drawn canal boat rides for National Park visitors in Georgetown, District of Columbia.

All along the canal you'll encounter locks, and lock keepers houses, as well as lots of ruins of old homes, mills, and structures long lost to memory.

The coal and lumber yard at Cushwa Basin in Williamsport has been restored and is maintained as a visitor's center by the National Park Service. Click on the photo of the Cushwa building to enlarge it, then look to the left of the air conditioner
(about the width of your thumb), you'll see a white brick which marks the high water mark of the great flood of 1936! Mind where you build around here.

Its really something to come across the ruins of an old grist mill with its water wheel still intact and find that the mill has been owned by the same family for over 200 years!

History is everywhere on the canal, from the long abandoned homes devastated by floods to the granite stones of the locks which will still be intact a thousand years from now.

Americans are indebted to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who in the 1950s, led a march of hikers, journalists, and other interested parties along the length of the towpath to raise the national consiousness about the canal and its importance to our nation's history. Through Justice Douglas' efforts the canal was preserved as a National Park for all Americans as well as visitors to America to enjoy well in to its third century!

As you hike the towpath you'll encounter bikers, birders, joggers, and other friendly folks who enjoy the nature and history that are provided by this national treasure; The C&O Canal National Historical Park. As usual, bring your camera.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lost in the realm of Blogger template

This toad looks the way I feel. Not only can I not figure out how to make my links work but I've goofed up the format (at right). By the way, I encountered the toad today on the C&O canal towpath. More on the canal to follow!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Volunteers in Parks: Busman's Holiday!

It's spring break so there are no substitute teaching gigs until next week. What do I do on my day off? I take a three hour hike at Antietam National Battlefield! What else?

This is me hiking the Cornfield Trail I'm just leaving the east Woods and am about to enter "the Bloody Cornfield". Between the rocks and the giant woodchuck holes the terrain here can be pretty treacherous. Stay on the trail!

Mertensia virginica "Virginia Cowslip"
The battlefield is a riot of wildflowers right now, this is just one of dozens of varieties that are blooming. I took this picture in the reforested West Woods, in the vicinity of the Dunker Church.

My hike today took me through the historic Piper farm, and I was able to behold, close-up, the glorious Piper bank-barn. What a beauty!

Hey look, its the Piper girls! Groovy earrings!
Most of the historic farms and fields of the battlefield are leased out to local farmers by the National Park Service. It's a great way to continue the agrarian traditions of the battlefield as well as maintain good relations with the area farmers.

How cool is this? Most people never see this when they make their brief visits to the battlefield. I came across the Piper farm lane lying approximately 1/2 mile south (and parallel to) "Bloody Lane". There's more than just one sunken lane on this battlefield. It was while I was hiking in this area that I saw a parade of 30 deer on the ridgeline, as well as the guy below (pardon the low-resolution)...

The wind was in my face so the fox never heard or smelled me approaching.

Beautiful flowers, wildlife, historic buildings, peaceful out of the way lanes. All in all...

just another day in the park!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Volunteers in Parks: the Bridges of Washington County

I often mention the lower bridge over Antietam Creek, known as Burnside's Bridge. Actually, this is only one of thirty-some similar arched stone bridges that were constructed in this county in the 1830's. Nearly all of them are still open to motor traffic. They really built them to last!

The much photographed Burnside's Bridge on the Antietam National Battlefield (foot traffic only).

Another participant of the Battle, "Upper Bridge" Was crossed by McClellan's 1st, 2nd, and 12th Corps on their way into action, though not by school bus.

Here's yet another stone beauty over the Antietam at Funkstown.

None of these, however, should be confused with the Aqueduct which carries the C&O Canal over the Conococheague at Williamsport (also in Washington County):

Yes, there will be a quiz.

Monday, April 10, 2006

More pictures of the Sherrick farm

Here's some more pictures of the historic Sherrick farm on the Antietam battlefield. It was across this ground that Burnside's Ninth Corps advanced toward Sharpsburg on the afternoon of September 17, 1862.

The top view is a view of the house beyond the ruins of the barn. Below that is a nice shot of the house. The lower level (whitewashed) includes the cool spring house.

Next is a shot from inside the corn crib.

Yes, that's a four foot long black snake. He and I startled each other near the ruins of the barn.

the bottom most photo makes me wonder, how many generations of cattle has this old fence contained?