Commentary by Larry Lannan
The school buses turn from Allisonville Road into the Conner Prairie complex, unloading students preparing to enter the world of Indiana in 1836. The students file into an auditorium for a brief introduction and video. They’re about to put themselves into the shoes of a 19th century fugitive slave. The introduction is provided by volunteer Sharon Marshall.
Sharon has been a volunteer in the “Follow the North Star” program the past three years and a volunteer at Conner Prairie for 12 years. She gives the students an overview of what they are about to experience. She explains the underground railroad and how that is a part of our local history.
She has experienced a number of volunteer duties during her time at Conner Prairie. She’s helped out with Symphony on the Prairie and provided tours at the historic 1823 William Conner House.
Sharon decided to offer her services to Conner Prairie because she enjoyed previous visits with her children. “As a mom, I took my kids here, I’ve been a chaperone on their school trips, and I just saw how it fit in what kids perhaps need to hear today about their local history,” Sharon said
Growing up in a family and rural community where helping others was a regular part of life, Sharon was easily drawn to volunteering. She was especially attracted to Conner Prairie because it’s been her experience that volunteers are valued there. “You get a sense here that your role is valued, your skills are appreciated, and that’s important.”
Providing tours of the Conner House is her favorite volunteer activity because she has such varied groups coming through to see the home. The preschoolers ask about the fireplace because they’ve never seen one before. An older person may recognize some of the utensils from growing up on a farm. Amish and Mennonite visitors often say the flooring is similar to their own homes. Foreign students are not as impressed with a 200-year-old house since they have seen thousand-year-old castles at home.
If you’ve thought about volunteering and are ready to make the next move, Sharon has some advice. “Make a phone call, look online or connect with someone you know that’s been a volunteer,” she said. “Try it out. If during the first couple of weeks you’re hazy about it, keep plugging away.”
If you would like to be a volunteer at Conner Prairie, call 776-6006 extension 264. You can also check out www.connerprairie.org.