by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was a beautiful spring afternoon and we couldn’t ask for a more picturesque setting than the West Lawn of La Casa Nueva for this year’s Volunteer Appreciation Day event, in which we honor all of those who give of their time and talents to make the Homestead the special place that it is.
Volunteers and their guests were feted with a fine spread of hors d’oeuvres from Hacienda Village Meats, drinks and a buffet dinner by Charla’s Tri-Trip, not to mention apple, cherry and peach pie for dessert. A particularly special treat this year was that we got to enjoy an excellent murder mystery dinner show put on by The Gourmet Detective, which has been putting on these performances for nearly thirty years.
My colleague Gennie Truelock, who was on the committee of this event with fellow paid staff members Jennifer Scerra, Robert Barron and Steve Dugan, is married to one of the cast members, Mike Truelock. Mike and the Gourmet Detective ensemble performed a 1920s-themed play within a play, sort of a take on Mel Brooks’ The Producers in that the producers of the show that was the focus of the play were trying to make money on a losing production.
Meantime, as reviews came in for the show and a participant, be they an actor or director, was mentioned for praise, they quickly wound up dead. Obviously, the guests at the performance were asked at the end to examine a list of characters and decide which was the killer.
With lots of comedy and silliness and a very talented cast, the performance was loads of fun for our volunteers and their guests. Obviously, when the stage is in the midst of the tables, there is a level of interactivity that cannot be had with live theater on stage. I even got pulled into the action as “Laurence Olivier” and had to go out and demonstrate my utter lack of coordinated dance moves with one of the actors. Anything to sacrifice for the sake of our amazing volunteers!
Before dinner and the performance, we honored many of our volunteers for contributions of years of service in increments ranging from 5 to 35 years. In fact, Ruth Green, a long-time docent, is still with us now, having begun volunteering for the Homestead in 1982, the year after we opened.
We also recognized those volunteers who reached milestones in hours of service, including 300 and 600 hours. While we do have levels from 1,000 hours and every 500 hours above that, this year was unusual in that there were no other volunteers at levels about 600 until the astounding 7,500 hours plateau, achieved by Phil Trujillo, who has also been with us nearly twenty years. In fact, we are going to recognize Phil all week by having his name and hours of service prominently displayed on City of Industry digital billboards along the 60 Freeway, as well as lunch with the paid staff this Thursday.
As I mentioned this evening, however, and have the last two years since I became museum director, we are thankful to all of our volunteers, whether they’ve only given a few hours in a short period of time and have donated thousands of hours and been with us for decades.
Volunteers give what they can dependent on their availability and schedules, as well as what opportunities we can offer them. Enthusiasm, skill and talent are not quantifiable, but they are qualitative. A core reason why our programs are so well-received and the museum well-respected are the dedicated efforts and abilities of our volunteers.
This afternoon and evening was our annual formal expression of our gratitude, but we make sure that we regularly thank the amazing people who devote their time to the museum and embody our mission statement of creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
As dusk arrived, a wonderful event ended and it was particularly gratifying to have so many of our volunteers and guests thank me for the evening, especially the murder mystery dinner show, which added an element of novelty. We’re going to have to think long and hard next year about what we’re going to do for Volunteer Appreciation Day 2020 with the bar raised as high as it was today!