Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Sure, April showers may bring May flowers – but that’s not all! April also brings one of the greatest weeks of the year, Volunteer Appreciation Week. Although the national Volunteer Appreciation Week doesn’t kick off until April 6, the celebration has already begun at the Sam Noble Museum with the naming of the 2014 Volunteer of the Year!
So, who’s this year’s deserving winner?
Meet Don Batchelor, one of 250 active volunteers working in collections, offices and with the public. Batchelor has been a docent in the Hall of Ancient Life for 14 years and loves sharing his interest in single-cell organisms with our guests.
“I could spend an hour extolling the satisfaction I get at the museum,” Batchelor said, “and I appreciate the opportunity to use 70 years of experience in the field.”
The Hall of Ancient Life, where Batchelor volunteers
According to volunteer coordinator Genevieve Wagner, the Volunteer of the Year Selection Committee, made up of former recipients, selected Batchelor because of his long service and dedication to the public.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Our volunteers, of course!
“It is important to acknowledge the members of our volunteer community as each one of them makes a difference to the museum,” said Wagner. “The volunteer of the year award is part of that acknowledgment.”
Museum director Michael Mares agrees.
“The Sam Noble Museum would not be able to offer our public anywhere near the quality or quantity of programs that our volunteers make possible,” Mares said. “They are a most important part of the museum experience, influencing collections, exhibits, public programs, research and every other area of museum activity. “
We hope that answered your question. Now, who’s ready to celebrate?!
Every year, the Sam Noble Museum hosts its Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in April to thank all of the volunteers that pour their passion into our organization. This year, the dinner will be held on Thursday, April 10 and will serve as an opportunity to recognize Batchelor for his contributions. Our community partners at Arvest Bank sponsor volunteer Appreciation Week and the Volunteer Dinner.
Thinking about becoming a volunteer yourself? Feel free to check out our volunteerism page! And remember, the next time you stop by the museum, be sure to congratulate Mr. Batchelor and thank one of our many volunteers for a job (very) well done!
Christie Godec looms over a broad, L-shaped desk in a black leather chair, staring down a binocular microscope with forceps in hand. Carefully, she picks through a thin layer of soil and rock – watching, waiting. At last, she unearths something of interest, what appears to be the bone or tooth from our shared prehistoric past. Slowly, she drops the fragment into a miniature, cork-sealed vial, scribbles on a small paper chart and returns to the tray before her.
Godec sifts through sandy soil
Such is the work of a “micropicker”, a volunteer in the vertebrae paleontology department who tirelessly sifts through gallons of soil to find shards of prehistoric remains. The work is slow and repetitive, but rewarding. In 30 to 60 minutes, Godec can process one coffee scooper filled with soil, typically unearthing a couple dozen fragments in that time. With no formal training in paleontology, she knows only what fossil preperator Kyle Davies has taught her – and that’s all she needs.
Five-gallon buckets waiting to be picked
Five years ago, Godec moved to Norman, Okla. after retiring from her job as a dental hygienist. She decided to get involved with the museum after receiving a volunteerism flier from her daughter, who works for the University of Oklahoma’s continued education department. Right away, she was hooked.
“It’s like an Easter egg hunt every time I come in,” Godec said.
A lot goes into micropicking. First, professionals sanitize the incoming soil to eliminate pests, which can damage the facilities and collections. Then volunteers must sift through the soil to salvage the specimens, which are often smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen. Finally, undergraduate students mount the specimens to the head of a pin, which they drive into the cork that seals the vial. At last, the specimen is stored in collections for future use in research.
A mounted specimen rests on top of a pin
As you might guess, many volunteers do not appreciate the tedious sifting required of micropicking, but it is vital to understanding prehistoric ecosystems. Godec believes her previous skills as a hygienist make her an ideal picker, as she is accustomed to working in microenvironments that demand a detail-oriented mindset.
“For me, it’s fun,” said Godec. “Dental hygiene requires a lot of patience and repetitive work, but it’s always different. Every tray is different, too.”
One of many micropicking cabinets
Currently, there are just two micropickers at the museum, with two more in training. The first round of spring docent training will begin this weekend on Feb. 22, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. So, if you are interested in gaining hands-on experience like Godec, check out our volunteerism page for information about upcoming opportunities or drop by on Saturday! Also, be sure and sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates on this year’s volunteer of the year award and banquet.
It takes many helping hands from generous volunteers to run the Sam Noble Museum, and this week, April 22-26, is national Volunteer Appreciation Week. During this time, the museum honors volunteers for their invaluable contributions. This year, Mary LeBlanc has been selected to receive the 2013 Tom Siegenthaler Volunteer of the Year Award. Mary has been a volunteer at the museum for 18 years and is the longest-serving active volunteer in the Vertebrate Paleontology Department.
In 1994, Mary saw a newspaper article describing a fossil preparation class at the museum. Having a degree in History and minors in Anthropology and Art History, Mary knew this was an opportunity she did not want to pass up. “I signed up since it met at night, and I could do it while still working full-time at the University.”
Mary enjoyed her time at the Sam Noble so much she would work at the University of Oklahoma in the day and volunteer for the museum in the evening. Since she volunteered before the museum moved into its present facility, Mary actually had a hand in preparing some of the displays in the Hall of Ancient Life. “It’s very exciting to be able to walk around the Hall of Ancient Life and see the various specimens we worked on. When I take relatives to the museum, I can show them the different specimens I helped create.”
After retiring from OU last year, Mary started volunteering full-time. She has been an asset with administrative and computer projects in several offices, tirelessly worked almost every special event, and takes advantage of a wide variety of professional development opportunities.
When asked about why Mary was chosen for this prestigious award, Volunteer Coordinator Terry Allen complimented Mary on her work ethic. “She’s eager to help in any way that will further the mission of the museum, and because of that, she’s a perfect example of a top-notch Sam Noble Museum volunteer.”
The Tom Siegenthaler Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to Mary on Thursday evening, April 25, during the Museum’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.