What is it that makes volunteers want to stay on with an organization, sometimes for many years?
Marilyn Wimmergren and Joan Reardon have invested nearly 30 years combined into their volunteer work with the Tumacácori National Historical Park and still love every hour they contribute. In fact, they are such fixtures there that they joke about the often-heard phrase from staff — “You guys are in charge.”
Wimmergren splits her seasonal work between the historical park here and a park in Maine. The former New England college administrator and farmer actually decided to move to the West to volunteer in Arizona parks, coming here from the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.
“My goal is to learn new things about an area, its history,” she said, “and I love to work in the smaller parks so you get to know everybody. I’ve made good friends here.”
She even organizes volunteer outings.
A former finance company administrative assistant and dedicated mother of three in Massachusetts, Reardon was used to making an unpaid commitment to others. A Girl Scout leader and school volunteer when the kids were young, she bought a stack of Arizona Highways magazines at a rummage sale one day and started dreaming of moving here.
“I made up my mind that’s where I wanted to retire,” she said. She loves the seclusion and beauty of the landscape in Rio Rico and found a volunteer’s haven at the park. “I love the history of it, and the staff is so helpful and nice to work with.”
Reardon is also active as a docent and historian with the Rio Rico Historical Society and Museum, plus she trains new volunteers.
As greeters, docents and information factories, they are always excited to meet the approximately 45,000 new visitors each year who come to the mission from all over the world. “There’s always something new and different every day,” Wimmergren said.
The visitor center volunteers generally take one shift per week to greet and answer questions about the site and the area, as well as handle sales of souvenirs and books.
Docents give tours and do research. Some organize learning programs for both kids and adults. Others volunteer to maintain the buildings and gardens. Some do special events or work on the website, and many come out to do scientific research and then give special presentations using their knowledge of the history of the area.
“We could do nothing without our volunteers,” declared Chief of Interpretation and Education and Volunteer Coordinator Anita Badertscher.
She has about 20 who do regular shifts, close to 80 in all. She estimates they provide about 10,000 hours of work per year.
Not only are the grounds taken care of, she said, but all the other important tasks that contribute to a memorable time for visitors are handled by volunteers for the most part. They get the added bonus of working in an appealing historical atmosphere, learning about the tribes, ranching, the Spanish and the Jesuits, and all the other history associated with this beautiful area we sometimes take for granted.
“Everyone who works around here is an interpreter,” Reardon said. They both agree that “it's like a family.”
Whether you like gardening, botany, speaking, teaching, guiding, researching, or just plain learning, or all these things, Tumacácori National Historical Park might be a great fit in a beautiful setting.
Contact the Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse at its website: gvsvolunteering.org