Volunteers and museum staff listen to Museum Director Doug Jones' opening remarks.
Museum Director Doug Jones provides a warm welcome for volunteers. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage 

After a three-year hiatus, the annual reception honoring museum volunteers for their service resumed. This event celebrates volunteers, acknowledges volunteer effort with service pins in five year increments, reveals the James Pope Cheney Volunteers of the Year, and provides an opportunity for camaraderie between volunteers and staff.

Whether volunteers are engaging the public, moving thousands of jars from Dickinson to the new wet building, documenting species locally and afar, digitizing our collections to make them globally accessible, or countless other tasks, every volunteer impacts the museum. They give their time, expertise, and resources to make the museum a more inclusive and enriching institution.

An enlarged check made out to the Florida Museum from the FM volunteers representing the 18,092 hours of service equivalent to $500,786.56.
In 2022, museum volunteers served over 18,000 hours – that’s worth more than $500,000! Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage 

Volunteering is not an easy task, especially as we navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our volunteers continue to demonstrate tremendous dedication and commitment. As we get more comfortable with the current normal, volunteers continue to return to the museum. In 2022, 242 volunteers donated 18,092 hours of their time, equivalent to just over half a million dollars.

Along with the quantity of time volunteers provide, the museum likes to recognize volunteers that have reached service milestones.  With the lack of receptions in 2021 and 2022, we had some catching up to do for our service pin recipients!

5 Years: Karen Allman, Bhavna Bhardwaj, Nadine Broadie, William Buhi, Duke Camilleri, Gina Camilleri, Debbie Clark, Christene Eastman, Herb Emmons, Mary Ann Harris, Susan Harris, Trudy Lindler, Chet Sanders, William Sewell, Michelle Wilbanks

10 Years: Karl Boecklen, Jack Brown, Sharon Castner, Gail Dewsbury, Jerry Donaldson, Jeanne Gossman, James Grantham, Harry Lee, Linda Nichols, Sue Paper, Phil Whisler, Bethene Wilkinson

15 Years: Greg Guyan, Nancy Hanfman, Paul Hanfman, Russell Henderson, Sandra Pozzetta, Marybeth Rinzler, Ruth Sherwood, Robert Tarnuzzer, Joyce Trunk

20 Years: Jackie Fried, Mary Lynch

25 Years: Bonnie Ogle

30 Years: Anita Alemanne, Carolyn Caracausa

45 Years: Bronia Lowenstein

Yes, you read that right! Bronia Lowenstein has been volunteering as a docent, at signature events, and as a board member with the Florida Museum for 45 years!

The Florida Museum also recognized 2 exemplary volunteers for their service to the museum in 2022. The James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually to distinguished Florida Museum volunteers who show outstanding interest in museum collections, effort toward the educational advancement of children, and enthusiastic support for the museum and volunteer communities. It honors Cheney, who was a Florida Museum docent for 14 years before his passing in 2004.

Research and Collections Volunteer of the Year, Bob Belmont holding his gator volunteer of the year trophy with his supervisor Debbie Lott.
Research and Collections Volunteer of the Year recipient, Bob Belmont, with supervisor Debbie Lott. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage 

First, we will recognize our Research and Collections winner. This volunteer served over 1200 hours last year, that’s equivalent to more time than a half-time employee. During his many hours, he served both independently, as well as in collaboration with multiple labs. He initiated and managed a biodiversity inventory in the Split Rock conservation area, organized donated collections, participated in field work in less than ideal conditions, and helped train new volunteers and students. His supervisors report that as well as being friendly and helpful to visitors, this volunteer “has a deep understanding of the scientific value of collections, and the need to care for and protect these lifetime legacies of our collection donors.” And for all of those reasons, the recipient for the 2022 Research and Collections Volunteer of the Year award goes to Bob Belmont.

The winner of our Exhibits and Public Programs Volunteer of the Year award was also considered for our Research and Collections award because he definitely serves a lot on the science end of things, including assisting grad students, presenting at the Geological Society of America conference, and publishing papers, but in 2022, Ken Marks did so much more than that.

Ken, and his wife Tammy, started volunteering as many do – with a day of digging at Thomas Farm. Their love for paleontology and their enthusiasm for volunteering with the museum lead to them moving to Gainesville so they could spend more time at the museum.

Exhibits and Public Programs Volunteer of the Year recipient, Ken Marks, with supervisor Bruce MacFadden.
Exhibits and Public Programs Volunteer of the Year recipient, Ken Marks, with supervisor Bruce MacFadden. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage 

And they were not kidding about serving more time! Ken donated over 1500 hours last year, continuing to assist in the lab and at home, but also serving as the primary exhibit explainer in our Fantastic Fossils exhibit. Ken served in the Fantastic Fossils exhibit almost daily, creating hands-on and visual learning devices to ensure visitors left with greater understanding. The museum received multiple emails and comments from visitors on how engaging and patient Ken was with folks of all ages – he definitely inspired some future paleontologists! Ken’s dedication, hard work, and his ability to engage museum visitors are just a few of the reasons why Ken Marks is the recipient of our 2022 Exhibits and Public Programs Volunteer of the Year.

While our volunteers’ contributions may not always be visible, they have made a difference for museum supervisors, fellow volunteers, museum visitors, and future scientists. On behalf of the museum, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of our volunteers. Your contributions are critical to the museum’s success and we are grateful for your hard work, dedication, and generosity.