Acts of Service: Volunteers at the National Museum of the American Sailor

April is volunteer appreciation month and to celebrate NMAS interviewed three of our volunteers to learn more about their service at the museum. Our volunteers span a range of ages, backgrounds, and experiences. To encompass this range, we interviewed Barb Gosh, a retired teacher from Great Lakes, Casey Sennett, a virtual volunteer and undergraduate student currently studying at Penn State University, and Geoff Bender, a Navy veteran and longtime NMAS volunteer. 

How long have you been volunteering at NMAS?

Barb: My calendar says 2018.

Casey: I have been a volunteer at NMAS since January of this year.

Geoff: It will be ten years come August 2021.

Why did you want to volunteer at NMAS?

Barb: I taught Personal Finances at the main base (at Naval Station Great Lakes) to sailors before the program closed, so had a positive experience with the Navy.

Casey: I am a current undergraduate student at Penn State and I plan to eventually pursue a career in either education or public programming in a museum. In this new virtual environment, it has been difficult for me to gain hands-on museum experience to better understand if I want to pursue one of those specific careers within the museum industry. I decided to apply to be a volunteer at NMAS because I wanted to gain that hands-on experience and learn how museum practices and events have shifted to a digital platform during these unprecedented times. 

Geoff: One day I was surfing the web and came across the museum’s website and they were asking for any items related to Great Lakes to be donated.  I had my Recruit Training Company picture, a copy of the the Keel (like a high school yearbook for bootcamp) and three graduation pictures from Fire Control Technician A1, A2 and C schools.  When I dropped the pictures off at the museum, I was asked if I wanted to volunteer. I immediately said “when do you want me to start?” I had been retired a year at the time and this gave me something to do and share my love of the Navy with others.

NMAS volunteer greeting families after bootcamp graduation.

Did you have previous historical knowledge of or serve in the Navy? And if so, what sparked your interest?

Barb: I have always been interested in history.

Casey: Prior to volunteering, I knew very little historical knowledge about the Navy. My grandfather and uncle, however, have both served in the Navy. I saw this volunteer opportunity as a way to understand betterboth the Navy as a whole and a way to learn more about the experiences my grandfather and uncle might have gone through. 

Geoff: I was in the Navy from June 1968 to June 1974.  I’ve always been interested in Naval history and read several books, including Samuel Elliot Morrison’s multi-volume series on the history of the Navy during World War II [History of United States Naval Operations in World War II].

What do you enjoy about volunteering at NMAS?

Barb: The various tasks like counting (artifacts), painting, stitching, and sorting.

Casey: As a current college student, I have enjoyed being able to pivot away from schoolwork and utilize some of the skills I have learned both inside and outside of the classroom during my volunteer work. It is also very rewarding to hear how the projects I worked on have been received by members of the community.  

Geoff: I enjoy talking to visitors about the Navy and its history.  Also, I enjoy meeting with family and friends of the newly graduated sailors from Recruit Training (Recruit Training Command is home to Navy bootcamp).

NMAS volunteer working on exhibit elements.

What projects have you done in the past?

Barb: Similar to the previous question; counting, painting, stitching, and sorting.

Casey: I have worked on different curbside packets for children and their families to pick up at local libraries. The packets have revolved around different themes, such as the Crossing the Line Ceremony, the jobs of various animals on Navy ships, etc. Each packet has included a historical information section, different activities, and a foam kit for the children to put together.

Geoff: I’ve made two Sea Chests (the chests are used for educational programing) for the museum. I searched the web looking for pictures of enlisted sailor’s life from 1866 to 1915. I searched the web looking for enlistment posters during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.

What projects are you currently working on?

Casey: I am currently working on a curbside packet about codes and ciphers within the U.S. Navy during World War II. 

Geoff: I’m currently working on two more Sea Chests for the museum, different design from the first chests I made.

Describe a volunteer project or experience you really enjoyed and why.

Barb: Purchased and deeded objects were in store rooms, I matched objects to their deeds so I was looking at posters, ship models, military parts, paintings, badges and pins.

Casey: I have enjoyed all the projects I have worked on so far, but I really enjoyed the first curbside packet I worked on about the Crossing the Line Ceremony. It was my first real experience working on a project meant for younger audiences and I enjoyed brainstorming the different educational and fun activities in the packet.

Geoff: I really enjoy leading various tours, the Museum tour, Cemetery tour, and Historical Base Tour. 

A docent answering questions during an NMAS Cemetery Tour.

Share your favorite story or memory from your volunteering time.

Barb: I love listening to Geoff and others war stories.

Casey: My favorite volunteer memory was hearing how well children and families from the North Chicago Public Library received the first curbside packet I worked on. While I love working on the curbside packets regardless of the reception they receive, it is rewarding to know that children and families actually use them and take something away from them. 

Geoff: It was a Recruit Graduation day, and I was talking to a gentleman who was waiting for his grandson who graduated that day.  As we were talking, I found out that we were in the Navy around the same time and that we were both Gun Fire Control Technicians, we both served on the same class of destroyer and worked on the same type of equipment.  As we were talking, two other gentlemen came up and they were in the Navy during the same time frame.  So, whenever you get some old Salts (old sailors) together what do we do?  We tell sea stories.  After a while, the first gentleman’s wife comes up to us and asks, “what are you doing, telling sea stories again?” And of course the answer was yes.

What surprised you most about volunteering at NMAS?

Barb: I know there are true heroes in the building but seeing Captain Jim Lovell at NMAS was special.

Casey: I was a bit nervous when I started volunteering for the museum because as someone located in Pennsylvania and who has never visited the museum in-person, I thought I would feel somewhat disconnected from the museum. The experience, however, has allowed me to feel connected to the museum in a way I did not think was possible. There are various virtual opportunities to interact with other volunteers and museum staff. I have also learned so many new things about the museum and the U.S. Navy that I am excited to be able to visit the museum whenever I have the ability to do so.  

Geoff: I don’t think anything surprised me about volunteering. The only thing that I was surprised about was a display about pilot training during World War II, that there were aircraft carriers on Lake Michigan, and that those aircraft carriers had side paddle wheels for propulsion.

Volunteers working on bootcamp company photos in the collection.

What is the biggest take away about the Navy and enlisted sailors you have learned while volunteering at NMAS?

Barb: I have good reason to be an American patriot.

Casey: The biggest takeaway from my NMAS volunteer experience has been the amount of tradition within the U.S. Navy. During my volunteer experience, I have learned about various Navy traditions, how they have changed overtime, and what forms they currently exist in the Navy today. As someone that has never gone through those traditions, it has been interesting to learn about them and it makes me want to talk with currently enlisted or retired sailors to learn more.     

Geoff: I’d have to say that I wasn’t aware of the history of the Naval Station Great Lakes history.  I didn’t know that it dates back to 1905 when construction on the base began and then was commissioned in 1911.  Also, that the first recruit who walked through the gates in 1911, Joseph Wallace Gregg, is buried in the cemetery at Great Lakes.

Volunteers are such an important part of our museum operations! We could not create the exhibits, provide educational programing, nor fully execute our mission of telling the history and stories of the enlisted sailor without our volunteers. They often go above and beyond and for that we say “Bravo Zulu!”

If you are interested in joining our volunteer corps contact us at nmas.fct@navy.mil and check out our volunteer page to download an application and learn more about our volunteer projects.

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