35 Years of Volunteering—Why It’s Fun

Charter members of Zoo Pride

Why do more than 500 people love volunteering at the Milwaukee County Zoo? It’s not just a passion for animals—some volunteers aren’t even animal lovers. Members of Zoo Pride, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s (ZSM’s) volunteer auxiliary, like the friends they make, the beautiful gardens at the Zoo, and the variety of volunteer opportunities. In fact, each volunteer has her or his own reason for a share of the 35,446 hours donated to the Zoo and ZSM in the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Let’s hear from the veterans first. Zoo Pride marks its 35th anniversary in 2010, while the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) celebrates its 100th anniversary. As of Jan. 31, 2010, Zoo Pride had 570 volunteers (518 active and 52 inactive). Of the 63 charter members of Zoo Pride, four have been active volunteers for 35 years Rachel Jones, Chris Leutner, Don McLean and Bev Kumershek (in photo, clockwise from left). Here’s why they like volunteering at the Zoo (in parentheses are their total number of volunteer hours as of Jan. 31, 2010):

  • “There’s a great variety29 committees. You can pick what suits you. You can be as active or inactive as you want to be. Also, we don’t have a minimum number of hours. So you can do what fits into your schedule. You can sit down. You can walk the Zoo. You can stand in front of exhibits and be a guide.” Rachel Jones (3,494 hours).

  • Memories that last: During one Halloween event, a teacher who was a volunteer had dressed as a vampire covered in white paint and fake blood. She had to lie in a coffin on a hill near the African Waterhole Exhibit. When a Zoomobile drove past, she sat up and shrieked. During one scream, a little boy from one of her classes recognized her and said, “Hey, that’s my teacher!” He was with his mom, and parent-teacher conferences were coming up at the school the next week. The mom thought the teacher was odd, but they ended up having a good relationship. Chris Leutner (the teacher, 8,556 hours)

  • A good chuckle: “On the primate committee, we have people who give gorilla talks, and we have a sign near the gorilla exhibit that announces when we have Gorilla Talks. The other day a boy, maybe 14, came up to me and asked: Where do the gorillas give their talk?” Don McLean (7,239 hours) 

  • People from all walks of life: “Zoo Pride is wonderful because you can work with teachers, bankers, truck drivers, engineers, advertising people, draftsmen, biologists, dairy people--just a variety of professions. I think you could probably pick every walk of life and find a volunteer from it.” Bev Kumershek (6,463 hours)
  • “I’ve made some good friends. We do other things besides volunteer. Jessie Franz and I have traveled. JoAnne Bartlein was my roommate at a whole bunch of docent conferences. Last year Mary Finke and I went to Arizona together. In summer a carload of us goes up north to Amish country (near Kingston, Wis.) to get strawberries. We have gone to UW Madison band concerts and to the Racine Zoo. I can’t think of a better place to volunteer because it’s a nice mix of people.” Rachel Jones.

There are plenty more reasons why Zoo Pride is a good place to volunteer, says Lynn Wilding, the current volunteer coordinator. “Volunteers here are able to select from a number of opportunities that best match their skills and interests. We offer trainings and educational programs for the benefit of the volunteer. We offer recognition and appreciation events that allow volunteers to have fun with fellow volunteers and staff. Both ZSM and Zoo staff have a good working relationship with volunteers. We are a seven-day-a-week program 365 days a year, offering daytime and nighttime opportunities. The Zoo is one of the best in the country. You can volunteer and, after your shift, stay to enjoy the Zoo. You need to pay for a ZSM membership to volunteer, but you can earn a free Zoo Pass (membership) if you volunteer 125 hours or more each year (and discounted passes for volunteering 50 hours or more).”

Zoo Pride volunteers can start as early as age 15, and there’s no upper limit. “I’m 90, and I can’t stand up for long,” says Don McLean, one of the oldest volunteers (Emily Dudas, at 95, is the oldest). “Sept. 21 I had a knee replacement, and that grounded me for a couple months.” But then he was right back at the Zoo.

Meet some of Zoo Pride’s volunteers—from teens to retirees—and learn other reasons why they love to put in hours at the Zoo:

For a story about the history of Zoo Pride, ZSM members can read their April 2010 Alive magazine.

To join Zoo Pride, see this for more information or call the Zoo Pride office, (414) 258-5667.