– by Dan Fuller, Volunteer Coordinator
Guides, Gardeners, and Greeters, oh my!!!
People are often surprised that I am a Volunteer Coordinator at a cemetery. Though after only a small amount of explanation, my job and all the volunteer activities at Bellefontaine Cemetery & Arboretum, are completely understandable. Volunteerism in the St. Louis area is how we live. Large organizations like the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Zoo could not do what they do if it was not for their volunteer force. Likewise, with our volunteers, we are able to complete tasks that are not feasible with just cemetery staff.
Guides… Tour Guides and Master Guides are where the whole volunteer program at Bellefontaine Cemetery began. For many years, a small and dedicated force of Master Guides lead tours at the cemetery. Most activities were in response to requests for ‘step on guides’ for organizations bringing buses to tour the cemetery. Now over half of the tours completed annually are scheduled events which the general public can attend. You can check out our tours on our event calendar. With the help and support of our other two volunteer groups, new tours are being developed and different aspects of the cemetery are opening up to the public.
Gardeners… With 314 acres, 6,500 trees, and well over 100,000 daffodil bulbs, the job given to the horticultural staff seems impossible. Our Gardner Volunteers and our “Volunteer Work Days’ with organizations like ‘Great Rivers Master Naturalists’ allows the cemetery to complete large and important projects. Increasing the size of our butterfly garden, bee keeping, and tree planting are all tasks aided by our volunteers and in some instances only possible because of our volunteers. Gardening volunteers work side by side with horticulturists who freely share their in-depth knowledge that volunteers are hungry for as they peruse their own goals as gardeners. The bottom line is an enrichment of our natural world and the lives of those tending it which is in line with Bellefontaine’s mission. “I now consider the cemetery a ‘sanctuary’ for all the wild life and flora located here. Where else in an urban environment can you find so many different plants and animals?” Gary Meyer, Gardening Volunteer.
Greeters… This title actual encompasses different facets of assisting the public at Bellefontaine. Greeters help the many daily visitors to the cemetery with wayfinding, tour maps, and general cemetery questions. Genealogists work with specific families who have questions concerning ancestors who may or may not have connections to the cemetery and its history. Historical Interpreters research broader topics concerning the rich167 year cemetery history. They are often confirming oral histories regarding the cemetery and its residents.
As a volunteer Greeter, Carol Rice appreciates “the a variety of activities to accommodate a wide range of interests, the support and encouragement the volunteers receive from other volunteers and staff, and the vision to make Bellefontaine Cemetery more than just a burial place. The volunteers make the history, art, land and nature come alive for visitors.” Carol Rice, Greeter.
Oh, my!!! How do you become a Bellefontaine Volunteer? For many the first step is just coming out to the cemetery. Take an afternoon, stop in the office for a map, and then explore. Once you have your first exposure, sign up for one of the many tours or attend an event like Sips, Souls, and Strolls, Decoration Day, or Beer Barons where you can talk with staff and other volunteers. When you have an idea of your areas of interest, start the volunteer process by filling out the Volunteer Application...
No matter the title, our volunteers love having an opportunity to share their passion. Michele Thomas, one of our Genealogists, sums it up this way…”I never found a group of folks that make me feel so at home. Everyone is now part of my family. It’s a great place to volunteer and you learn so much about Missouri history.”
We look forward to meeting you!