Virginia Dolder was an active and engaging volunteer at the Florida Museum’s Butterfly Rainforest since its inception in 2004.

Virginia Dolder, museum volunteer, smiles with a butterfly in her hair.
Virginia Dolder, museum volunteer, smiles with a butterfly in her hair. ©Florida Museum

After she and her husband, Richard, traveled with the McGuire Center on various butterfly-related trips to Mexico, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and Madagascar, they became more and more interested in efforts to protect the butterflies.

Tagging along with Lepidopterists on these trips, they caught butterflies with nets and recorded the location of each catch.

“These were all mind-boggling experiences for Dick and me,” Virginia said.

But her main volunteer pursuit was in Gainesville, specifically, in the Florida Museum’s very own Butterfly Rainforest.

Every week, she made her way to the museum with a homemade binder brimming with facts about the diverse array of species, important events in the exhibit’s history and other educational materials to share with guests.

While patrons wandered through the winding path of the lush Butterfly Rainforest, Virginia eagerly shared her knowledge and unyielding excitement about nature to any curious visitor.

“She could make you feel special,” Ingrith Martinez, an exhibit keeper of the Butterfly Rainforest, said. “She would bring a visitor over and tell us about how she’s growing monarchs in her yard, and the visitor would be beaming because someone was appreciating them and really listening to them.”

During her 20 years volunteering, she contributed around 1,300 hours of service to the museum.

“She absolutely radiated kindness and joy,” Amy Hester, the museum’s volunteer coordinator, said. “She was obsessed with butterflies and demonstrated this passion not just by volunteering with the Butterfly Rainforest and going on museum monarch adventures, but by baking butterfly shaped cakes for museum staff, and distributing notecards with beautiful butterfly pictures.”

a person in casual outdoors clothes sits on a bucket in front of potted plants on a lawn while holding one plant as if writing on a label
Virginia Dolder, museum volunteer, labels plants for the Spring Plant Sale. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

One time, the Butterfly Rainforest was experiencing a shortage of koi fish. Virginia, who knew how excited children got about the colorful fish, raised the funds herself to buy more koi for the exhibit.

“She was always invested in people,” Ryan Fessenden, Butterfly Rainforest manager, said. “Whenever she asked about how we were doing or how our family was doing, she’d come back and follow up with that the next time.”

Her love for the Butterfly Rainforest led her to create the Richard E. and Virgina J. Dolder Endowment this year, a fund that supports the rainforest’s operations, education, and outreach.

“I am so excited that I can give back in some small way to the Butterfly Rainforest and all of those who love it as much as I do,” Virginia said.

Proceeds given to this endowment also help maintain the rainforest’s biodiversity, which is a key aspect in raising awareness for conservation, Martinez said.

“People will support the conservation of things that they know about and that they care about,” Martinez said. “So, if they know these things are out there […] they’re going to be more likely to want to conserve them.”

Gifts in Virginia’s honor can be made to the Richard E. and Virgina J. Dolder Endowment. 

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