Sharon Kudobeck loves to drive the "people-mover." Carrie Simpson and Mike Toreno, an engaged couple, turned their EMT training into an evening under the stars. Others, like Renee Hogan, Tom Searby and Regina Jordan, meet some of the "nicest people" while ushering and watching "fantastic" performances. And Park Ranger Audrey Lonsway is grateful for the park’s "gnomes," as she affectionately refers to her unpaid staff.
While their job descriptions differ, what these Vienna residents have in common – excluding Lonsway - is that they are volunteers at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
Jordan, an usher, is entering her 35th season as a Wolf Trap volunteer, and is assigned to the "Shouse box."
"I’ve met the most wonderful people here," said Jordan, "the guests and the other volunteers. The Thursday night ushers have a picnic every year; everybody is so friendly."
"There is a close bond," agreed Hogan. "I can’t believe how much of a family this group has become. Volunteering here is more than just seeing great performances."
The mother of a Wolf Trap park ranger, Kudobeck has been a volunteer ranger going on 12 years. She counts among her highlights the thrill of driving around the Tuskegee Airmen in her cart and the national fly-over.
"The patrons are very nice," said Hogan, who is in her 7th year at Wolf Trap. "So kind and polite even when advising them of ‘no-nos.’ Besides meeting nice people, you get the chance to see shows you would not have thought you’d like .... but then, the shows turn out to be fantastic.
"I think my favorite show was the Kodo performance. Huge drums, about 10 feet in diameter; it was a very dramatic presentation."
WOLF TRAP volunteers are like family, who also have the opportunity to broaden their musical horizons at no charge to themselves, the volunteers agree.
Although Paul Anka was a star long before Mike Toreno was born, Anka got Toreno’s pick as his favorite show, one for which he never would have thought of buying a ticket.
Jordan ranked the Scottish Military Tattoo as her favorite, while Kudobeck described the Buddy Holly story as so "fabulous," that she bought a ticket for the show the following evening.
This is Searby’s 13th season ushering, and he, too, said he has seen wonderful shows he never considered. Young ukulele maestro Jake Shimabukuro thanked the ushers for doing such a great job, recalled Searby, and a thunderstorm during a Bill Cosby performance caused a bit of a snafu.
"National parks are underfunded," said Searby. "I’m a big fan of the national parks and I am responding to their need for volunteers." Living close-by permits Searby the luxury of popping into Wolf Trap spontaneously, which he appreciates. "Getting tickets for ‘A Night in Vienna’ was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. It was a magnificent evening, a perfect summer night. The production was spectacular and we even ran into friends I had worked with in Vienna."
THE NATIONAL Park Service volunteer program is the larger of the two volunteer groups working at Wolf Trap. Of the 1,100 National Park volunteers there, 800 of those are ushers. Other park service volunteers assist the park rangers outside the gate driving the carts or manning the information kiosks, provide assistance at the Theatre-in-the-Woods, or staff the first aid center with trained EMTs and first responders, such as Simpson and Toreno.
Simpson and Toreno, EMTs out of the Dunn Loring fire and rescue station, volunteer together. Toreno came to Wolf Trap on a standby ambulance and was so "amazed" by the Park Rangers and the facility, he suggested Simpson see the other side of 911. Last season, the couple saved the life of an audience member and Garrison Keillor himself invited them backstage to thank them for their discreet professionalism during his performance. Carrie Simpson and Mike Toreno have developed such a kinship with Wolf Trap that they will marry at the Barns of Wolf Trap next April.
"We’ve finished up orientation for this year, but we’re always looking for volunteers every new season," said Audrey Lonsway, Supervisory Park Ranger, Volunteer Coordinator. "We’re developing new programs so we’ll need volunteers for recycling and as roaming interpreters."
LONSWAY is an outgoing young woman with a degree in music education. Working as a Wolf Trap Park Ranger was the perfect mix for her love of the outdoors and of music. She emphasized how much she loves her job and working with her volunteers.
"Volunteers commit to the same night each week," said Lonsway, "but we do have a ‘three-substitution’ policy, so a volunteer can switch to a specific performance. The substitution request service is really in demand. It gives the volunteers a chance to see a favorite performance.
"Wolf Trap could not operate without its volunteers," said Lonsway. "We have 130 National Park volunteers on duty every performance night, and there are 90-100 performances every season. The perks are great... nice people ... volunteers get to see shows free, and," Lonsway paused for effect, "they get this neat purple Wolf Trap volunteers’ pen."