Betsy Vokac is a true native of the Great Lakes region. She was born in Illinois, grew up in Michigan, and has now called Milwaukee home for nearly 40 years. Betsy and her husband live in Bayside about a mile from the Center, where she has been a volunteer for more than a decade. In addition to being a Schlitz Audubon Volunteer Land Steward, Betsy is a board member and volunteer with the UW-Extension Southeast Wisconsin Master Gardener Program. She loves gardening at home as well, and helping people connect to nature. In her spare time, Betsy loves to read, play bridge, and travel.
How did you come to volunteer at the Center?
It was a fluke. On a whim, I used a promotion to purchase a membership. I had recently retired and was exploring opportunities for education and volunteerism. While checking out the website, I saw the Volunteer Land Steward program and contacted the Volunteer Coordinator. She suggested trying out a Monday because I could meet other volunteers at lunch.
Why is volunteering at the Center important to you?
I am always learning from other volunteers and from staff. I truly enjoy spending time with all of them. The Center’s Land Management team has a clear mission, and I feel like my contributions help advance that mission. I guess I’m giving and taking at the same time.
Share a memorable volunteer moment or experience.
The moments that stand out are the unexpected experiences, like when a staff member has taken the time to help me identify a plant, or when I’ve been working alongside a student who asked me questions about the project we’re tackling. I remember being outside on a very cold day when a group of preschoolers sat down at a distance to watch us burn some brush piles. We all stayed warm and had so much fun!
What have you learned while volunteering at Schlitz Audubon?
Well, I can now identify an alarming number of invasive species! On top of that, I’ve learned what threats they pose to native species, and how we might control their negative effects. I’ve also learned management techniques that I can apply at home, which is very rewarding. And I keep re-learning to appreciate all the gifts of connecting with nature, spending time outdoors, and to seeing myself as part of the bigger world.
What do you find rewarding about volunteering?
I love being outside, especially in winter, when it’s tempting to stay home and hunker down. And it’s so great to be with others who get equally excited at finding a new plant, looking it over, and trying to figure out whether it’s good, bad, or neutral. I will add that during the pandemic shutdowns, volunteering at the Center was a highlight for me. It was a way to do meaningful work, see friends (at a distance), and stay connected.
What is your favorite place, animal, plant, or activity at the Center and why?
How do I pick one thing? Hearing the first frog in spring, reaching the top of the bluff after working hard, having a friend point out the sound of a bluebird, listening to Lake Michigan on a hot summer day, taking in the nighttime sky… all of these, and more, are favorites.
If you knew someone was thinking of volunteering at the Center, what would you tell them?
I’d say that if you think you might like it, make a date and try it out. I might share that over 10 years ago, I showed up without a plan, and now, because I love it, volunteering at the Center is built into my weekly calendar!
Thank you, Betsy, for your decade of volunteering at Schlitz Audubon! We appreciate your dedication, as well as that of all of our volunteers.
Interested in volunteering? Learn more.