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Depot short on volunteers for the season

The Depot is lacking in a critical area -- volunteers. Nine organizations are housed in the Depot, and most of them depend on volunteers to function. Dee Janice, St. Louis County Historical Society's administrative assistant, said the Depot curre...

The Depot is lacking in a critical area -- volunteers.
Nine organizations are housed in the Depot, and most of them depend on volunteers to function. Dee Janice, St. Louis County Historical Society's administrative assistant, said the Depot currently has 20 volunteers. A minimum of 50 are needed.
The Depot needs volunteers for the retail stores, tour greeters, visitor information and the museum galleries.
The greatest need for volunteers is in the Lake Superior Ojibwe Exhibit. Its insurance company requires a human being be present in the gallery at all times.
"Anytime the gallery is open, we must have a volunteer because of the value of the artifacts," Janice said.
If a volunteer isn't available, the gallery closes.
The Ojibwe Gallery needs volunteers for three-hour shifts in the morning or afternoon at least once a week every day. Their job is to make guests feel welcome and offer information. Volunteers also make sure fingerprints and smudges are wiped clean from glass exhibits.
Volunteers help visitors with interactive displays, too. Janice said visitors may not know what to do with the beading demonstration table, for example. With painted fishing floats, visitors can replicate Ojibwe beading patterns from color coded cards. It's a simple display, but having a volunteer begin the process helps visitors feel comfortable trying it themselves.
On another display, visitors can run cards through a machine to hear how an Ojibwe word is pronounced. Volunteers help visitors run the cards through correctly.
"We don't want volunteers to be pushy," Janice said, and it's all right if a volunteer doesn't know everything about an exhibit. They'll know who to ask to find an answer, she said.
Every volunteer is trained. Brian Lean, museum operations manager, trains volunteers for the Ojibwe Exhibit. For the Fesler Gallery, which displays Herman Meheim's hand-carved furniture, Janice said she is looking for a woodcarver to give volunteers first-hand knowledge about woodcarving.
Retired loggers are being sought as volunteers for the Forestry History Room, and the County Forestry Department has offered to train those volunteers without a background in logging or forestry.
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Anyone with an interest in volunteering is welcome. Having personal experience with the exhibits' subject matter heightens the enjoyment of both the volunteer and the visitor, Janice said.
Carol Tollefson has been a volunteer at the Depot for four years. She helps with mailings and special exhibitions. In the past she volunteered for the temporary Antarctica and Robotic Bugs exhibits. Her favorite place to volunteer now is the Veterans Memorial Hall, and for a good reason.
Tollefson's grandfather served in the Spanish/American War and kept a journal of his experiences. Her father served in World War I, her two brothers in World War II, her first husband served in Korea and her current husband served during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Tollefson said it's rewarding to see the appreciation on the faces of veterans and their families when they visit.
"I love it," she said. "It gives me personal satisfaction. I feel like I'm doing a worthwhile thing. It's just a good experience all around. I think more people should do volunteer work."
Janice said recruiting volunteers becomes more difficult every year. She said it's hard to fill the shoes of volunteers who have been there for 10 to 12 years, but have to quit for various reasons, such as health problems. There just aren't as many stay-at-home moms anymore, she said, and giving back to the community isn't as popular a concept as it used to be.
"They are the lifeblood for the St. Louis County Historical Society," Janice said. "They are the lifeblood for any non-profit organization."
For more information about volunteering at the Depot, call 733-7559.

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