Backstage Pass: Volunteers held together by The Ringling glue

 

Backstage Pass: Volunteers held together by The Ringling glue

 

Date: October 9, 2013
by: Mallory Gnaegy | A&E Editor

 
 

There are three volunteers manning the welcome desk at The John and Mable Ringling Museum. One of them, Roberta Schaumleffel, or “Bobbi,” as her museum friends call her, greets another volunteer, John Fisher, as he arrives for his shift. She says that although she has logged more than 500 hours so far this year, he has probably doubled that.

One of their friends, who is also a volunteer scheduled that day, has been having a rough month.
“You need to go talk to her today,” Schaumleffel tells Fisher in a caring voice. The museum volunteers are a tight-knit group.

Schaumleffel explains that September at the museum is one of the slower months, but it gives the volunteers a chance to get to know each other better. During Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) from Oct. 9 through Oct. 12, there’s a lot of foot-traffic and people to greet — she likes it best when it’s busy.

Schaumleffel has volunteered for the festival since its first year. She and Fisher work the membership table in the front lobby of the museum.

“They were supposed to do the festival every other year,” she says, “but, after the first year was over, it came back to us that Mikhail Baryshnikov would like to see this event every year — he was pleased.”

The festival is a partnership between The Ringling and the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

And, speaking of Mikhail Baryshnikov, his performance in 2010 was Schaumleffel’s favorite RIAF event. She sat on the edge of her seat, wanting to cry, and could hardly breathe during the performance.

She mostly volunteers at the festival because she sees many members and recurring visitors, people with whom she can have “reunion chitchat.” The types of people to whom you ask, “How was your summer?” “What have you been up to?” or “How was Michigan?”

She says there are some who are drawn to one particular RIAF event. For example, Schaumleffel says her exterminator is a big fan of flamenco dancing and is planning to see Rocío Molina. Others get tickets to every event. Schaumleffel says that this year, she’s planning on buying a ticket to the closing-night party and attending as a non-volunteer. She’ll attend with some of her volunteer friends.

This group of friends, ages 56 to 88, socializes outside of The Ringling and gets together for dinner every once in a while — there’s a tram driver, a couple of docents, an ambassador who works in the pavilion and more.

“The Ringling is what we might have used to call full-circle banking but, instead, full-circle volunteering,” she says.

You make friends; you learn; you’re part of a support group; there are wonderful restaurants; there are events and concerts on the grounds; the museum is constantly changing; and you can sit out on the terrace and read a book if you don’t want to do anything else, she says. You can find her there some days.

For Schaumleffel, the biggest perk of her job is the camaraderie.

“Being with people whom you like, who like you and whom you have something in common with (is a perk),” she says. “It’s a bond — The Ringling glue.”

IF YOU GO
The Ringling International Arts Festival
When: Runs Oct. 9 through Oct. 12
Where: Various locations, from the campus of The Ringling to FSU Center for Performing Arts
Cost: Individual tickets $30 to $40; opening-night party $500; closing-night party $75
Info: Call 360-7399 or visit ringling.org

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