by Steven Dugan
American inventor and innovator Henry Ford once said: “…Anyone who keeps learning is young; the greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Homestead Docent Ann Salvador, a member of the volunteer staff since 2010, certainly takes that advice to heart. In addition to giving tours and working at festivals, Ann has volunteered at many of our smaller weekend events, which often have a focused theme. She sees them as learning opportunities. Ann is an elementary school teacher, and she is always looking for new ways to engage both her students and visitors at the museum. Aside from volunteering at the Homestead, she shares her love of the outdoors with fellow members of the Sierra Club and helps mentor kids of all ages through the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club. Ann said that she loves sharing the history of the Homestead, but she does admit that learning historical names, dates, and timelines made her panic, and public speaking was not on her list of favorite things to do (you sure wouldn’t know it by seeing her interact with the public!). We are very grateful that Ann got over her fears and for the numerous contributions she makes as a volunteer at the Homestead.
What motivated you to want to become a docent at the Homestead? And what keeps you motivated after nine years of practice?
Being a docent is like being a teacher. I am able to provide knowledge to the students and guests. The only difference is I don’t get to quiz the guests as they exit the grounds (LOL!). When I first started at the Homestead I was scared of being a docent because I was not confident with California history and I disliked talking in front of strangers. Now, nine years later, (yikes), I love telling the story of William Workman and Walter Temple because their lifestyle was no different from other people. The guests are able to relate with the Workmans and Temples with their struggles and successes. I also learn from the guests about their knowledge of California history.
What do you find interesting about history?
I love history because of my best buddy, Pam Rivera (also a Homestead volunteer)! I used to panic about dates and timelines, and she explained to me that it is not about the dates but the stories of the people of the time period. Once I started to focus on the stories of the past, I became intrigued and started visiting different historical places around Southern California. Visiting these places feels like completing a puzzle because I get to learn how different families from the past are connected to each other. But visiting historic sites isn’t the only hobby I enjoy. I also love to eat. My favorite Homestead events were the food workshops led by Ernest Miller (a wonderful culinary historian, chef, and teacher who we lost unexpectedly last year). I enjoy learning how food plays an important part in history. But making and eating that food, such as the hatch chilies Ernest helped us make, made it more meaningful. Yum!
How do you find that your career as a teacher has overlapped with your volunteer work at the museum?
As a volunteer, I am able to bring back what I learned at the Homestead to my students. In third grade, we focus on Native Americans in Southern California. The Kizh Indians are a great help in providing knowledge to the students. From past Kizh workshops I have helped with, I learned how important native plants are to the environment and to the people. I have taught my students how the Kizh have used different type of native plants to cure ailments from acne to headaches. It is also fascinating to learn how the Kizh tribe is quite active around Southern California.
How do you make a connection with your visitors when you give tours?
When I give my tours, I try not to preach at the guests. I want to have a free-flowing conversation with them as we tour the houses. At the beginning of the tour, I often ask them where they came from so I can try to relate to and make connections with their prior knowledge. Most of the guests on my tour live in the area near the City of Industry, which make connections easier. If they live outside the area, I’ll use other topics, such as food and fashion to make connections, especially in La Casa Nueva.
Every docent has a favorite story they share with visitors. What’s yours?
WHAT? I struggled to put together my tour together using all of the facts, dates, and themes we learned during docent training; and now you’re asking me to go “off script” and share my own stories? Of course, like every other docent, I do have a favorite story I share with my guests. I love telling the guests how quirky Mr. Workman was about his house, like having a granite facade and a staircase. Mr. Workman reminds me of my mom. My mom loves to update the house with the current trending style but in a budget just like Mr. Workman.
What do you want visitors to come away with after giving them a tour?
I want the visitors to rate me on Yelp: 5 out of 5 stars! Just kidding. I want my guests to learn that history is not boring! We can learn from history, and we can relate to people from the past.
Like many of the volunteers at the Homestead, you give generously of your time to other organizations. Can you tell us about them and what you do?
I have been volunteering with the Sierra Club LA ICO for over 14 years. This section of the Sierra Club focuses on providing low-income students and their families a chance to hike in the local mountains. We provide free field trips during the week or weekends. All of the members are volunteers. For the past 13 years I have been the secretary, but now I am the Vice Chair. In 2020, I will become the Chair of the group, a position that lasts for two years. I am also on the website committee, but I am not really a technical genius. Plus, I am a certified leader for the group, which means I can lead group hikes. Lastly, I am also part of the Fundraising committee. I am in charge of the annual REI (a retail and outdoor recreation services corporation) gift wrapping fundraiser during the holidays.
I am also involved in the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club. Kiwanis is an international club which focuses on helping students become leaders through their Kiwins Group (high school age), Builders Club (middle school age), and K-kids group (elementary age). I am a co-advisor for my school’s K-kids, which has been established for over four years. My K-kids club focuses on raising awareness for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Walk, hosting Kindness Week at my school, helping feed the Rose Parade volunteers, and different other service projects around their school and community.