Prairie passion: Fortville teen makes mark as volunteer at Conner Prairie


By Sam Elliott

Fishers’ Conner Prairie wouldn’t be the award-winning history park and museum it is without the contributions from its small army of volunteers.

Hundreds of youth and adult volunteers gave their time to help keep Conner Prairie running and guests entertained in 2015, but none gave more than Fortville resident Emily Nyman.

“We’ve got quite a few young people that volunteer and they can go as little as 100 hours in a year — and she was well over 1,000,” Livestock Manager Kevyn Miller said. “She’s definitely committed.”

Nyman set a new record for hours given by a youth volunteer in a single year at Conner Prairie in 2015, working a total of 1,066 hours without even realizing it in her third year of volunteering. She’s primarily worked in the park’s animal encounters area, helping care for upwards of 100 livestock including sheep, cattle, goats, hogs and more.

“March of 2013 was my first time out on the grounds as a volunteer,” Nyman said. “My first year I was only in animal encounters, which I’m really glad for… You have to do a lot of chores — clean up the barn, clean up the poop — that’s just the normal day-to-day stuff, but you do learn a lot about the modern ag and the historical agriculture and then you just have to help teach that to guests when they come in.”

Conner Prairie’s Youth Experience Manager Sarah Morin said Nyman became a natural with speaking to guests about the animals and the park’s rare heritage breeds. She was named one of 10 YACs — youth ag captains — and given more responsibility.

“They are leaders within the program that help mentor the younger ones and learn a little bit extra about the animals and veterinary science and rare breeds,” Morin said. “She has a really good demeanor… She has a really good way of putting people at ease with the animals, introducing what they are to guests and keeping both them and the animals safe.”

“She just really helpful and enjoys it, and the guests pick up on her passion from it,” Miller added. “Guests like to hear from a person who has enthusiasm with what they’re doing. That’s why it’s great for us to have somebody like Emily who’s happy and comfortable with what she’s doing. That passes on to the guests’ benefit.”

Nyman has fond memories of her days as a Conner Prairie guest when she was younger, saying her family began visiting the park regularly when she was about 8 years old.

“When my sister when younger, she wasn’t doing very good in social studies so we started coming to Conner Prairie to kind of gain more Indiana history,” she said. “And then we came like every single weekend, so I got to know a lot of the employees as their characters.”

Nyman didn’t have any background in agriculture before volunteering at Conner Prairie, but has enjoyed working with the animals and showing cattle in her spare time so much that she plans to major in animal science upon attending Southeast Missouri State University this fall.

“Just being able to find something I’ve become really very focused on and learning about has been really cool,” Nyman said. “It’s one of those things where I’m glad I finally found my place. Before, I liked reading, I did in OK in school, it was OK — but now it’s like I could be here every single day and I’d be happy with it.”

Her superiors are happy with it, too, so much so that Nyman has been added to the staff for this year’s upcoming spring and summer seasons at Conner Prairie. They hope the next generation of youth volunteers can learn a thing or two from her example.

“The thing I like about when she’s in her element is how the other youth volunteers look up to her and respect her as a mentor,” Miller said. “I know she’s making a huge difference in these kids’ lives for years down the road. They’re picking up traits that she’s been able to pass along and be an example for.”

Get to know Emily Nyman

Family: Mother, Elizabeth Cave; father, Russell Nyman Jr.; brothers, Camden Cave and Russell Nyman III; sister, Lidija Nyman; step-mother, Cecilia Nyman

Education: senior at Hoosier Academies; attending Southeast Missouri State University to major in animal science this fall

Hours volunteered at Conner Prairie in 2015: 1,066

Animals worked with: Sheep, cattle, oxen, goats, hogs, chickens, horses, turkeys

Favorite animal at Conner Prairie: English longhorn cattle

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