Hooray for Volunteers!

Last Thursday, May 13, we celebrated our 10th annual Volunteer Awards Night. This event is dedicated to showing volunteers our appreciation of what they do for the Issaquah History Museums. This year we honored 70 volunteers who donated their time to the organization during 2009. More than 2,937 hours donated in 2009.  The Independent Sector, an organization dedicated to leading, strengthening and mobilizing nonprofit organizations, has estimated the value of one volunteer hour at $20.85. That means that the total value of volunteer labor in our organization is $61,252. When you consider the fact that our annual budget averages around $125,000, you see what a significant impact volunteers have on our operations.

Each year we honor several volunteers with special awards. This year those folks were:
Joan Newman, Star Docent, put in 40 docent sessions during 2009 (which means she docented at one or the other of our museums 3 out of every four weekends in the year)
Denny Croston, Star Trolley Volunteer, took on the unexpected task of repairing the wrought iron railing around the trolley enclosure after a careless truck driver crashed into it.
Geoff Nunn, Star Programs Volunteer, who contributed more than 75 hours to designing and installing exhibits both on and off-site.
Mike Johnson received an award for his hard work in planning and publicizing the trolley’s Braggin’ Rights Poker Tournament, which netted the Trolley Project more than $800.
Jean Cerar was given the Timely Time Sheets award, in recognition of her prompt and thorough completion of time sheets throughout the year.
And finally, we named a Volunteer of the Year. The Volunteer of the Year award traditionally goes to someone who has not only donated a large number of hours to the organization, but who also helps out in a number of different roles. This year Bill Bergsma, Jr. was named our Volunteer of the Year for helping out just about any time we ask, at just about any task we ask him to do. We would be remiss if we did not also mention his cheerful demeanor, and the wonderful cookies he bakes to bring to various events.
If you attended the event, thank you very much for coming! If you missed it, you can read my opening comments below, and see a slide show of just some of the volunteers who helped in the past year.

If you have been to our volunteer awards night celebration before, you know that we like to choose a theme for the evening. Last year our theme centered around hops, one of Issaquah’s earliest cash crops. This year we are celebrating our volunteers with a logging theme. I suggested that we all wear flannel shirts and cork boots, but was overruled. I had also hoped we could join together in a rousing chorus of “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay,” but once again was overruled.

Flannel and Monty Python aside, I’d like to recognize the Special Events committee for once again pulling together a wonderful event where no detail has been overlooked. I am doubly grateful to these people because not only have they taken on the task of organizing this event – they have done it on a volunteer basis. And that is the kind of dedication and support we so appreciate in our volunteers.

Allen Flintoft
Robin Kelley
Joan Newman
And finally, not a volunteer but a wonderful person anyway, my lovely assistant Karen Klein.

The lumber boom on the Eastside began with the Great Seattle Fire in 1889; all the lumber near Seattle had already been used to construct the city the first time around. After the fire, they had to look farther afield for new lumber sources and that is how the lumber industry took off on the East Side of Lake Washington.

As many of you know, the Issaquah area was home to hundreds of lumber and logging operations, from large lumber mills that spawned their own towns (like Monohon, Preston, High Point) to the very small family operations. And it is the very small logging operations that I want to talk about.

Small logging operations run by one or two or maybe three people were dubbed “gyppo operations.” At first this term was derogatory, carrying the implication that small companies were unscrupulous and cheated loggers at other operations out of their wages. The term eventually lost its negative connotation and referred to anyone with a small logging operation.

There are a lot of adjectives that have been attached to gyppo loggers. Some of the ones I came across were reckless, daring, fiercely independent, stubborn, maverick. But then I read this sentence by William G. Robbins of the University of Oregon: “Operating on little capital, substandard equipment, and always on the brink of financial failure, gyppo loggers multiplied in the Pacific Northwest woods in the two decades following the end of the Second World War.”

And I thought, that’s what Karen and Julie and I would be without our volunteers. We would be like those gyppo loggers, out in the forest, trying to eke out a living while we operate on relatively little capital, with substandard equipment, on the brink of a financial failure. It is very comforting to know that we don’t have to operate that way. It is comforting to know that we are working with a vast team of volunteers who won’t allow us to fail. And it is comforting to know that someone will always be around to answer our call for help.

Thank you so much for being part of our operation.