Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
Volunteers are a vital part of the Fort Leavenworth community, giving tens of thousands of hours their time and saving the post millions of dollars. This is the first of a series of articles on volunteers who support the post. They represent the dozens who will be recognized in a ceremony at 1 p.m. April 20 at the Frontier Conference Center.
Volunteering and doing community service work have been part of Vera Samson’s life as long as she can remember. Samson volunteers at the Frontier Army Museum, as well as the Memorial Chapel’s Episcopal services and its religious programming activities.
“Volunteering and giving back have always been something I enjoyed doing, and it was something you just did. Period,” Samson said. “I’ve been a volunteer ever since I was a Girl Scout many years ago. I volunteered most of my high school years as a candystriper junior volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.”
Samson first came to Fort Leavenworth in 1996 when her husband, now-retired Lt. Col. Mark Samson, was a student attending the Command and General Staff College.
Samson said serving as a volunteer has continued to be part of her life activities. When she married and after they had children, Samson volunteered for a wide range of activities, from helping set up for the wives club bazaars to doing work for Army Community Service.
“Mainly, though, I volunteered in our children’s classrooms for various things like day trips, school events or board service,” Samson said. “I also viewed this type volunteerism as another way to be connected with what was happening in our children’s classrooms and schools.”
She was part of the parent’s board when their son and daughter were attending the old Eisenhower Elementary School and said the group met monthly to discuss and plan various activities.
“By volunteering in the schools, I’ve been blessed to watch both of our kids grow up while also experiencing special trips or activities with them,” Samson said. “And, it was an excellent way to interact with their friends as well.”
As the children grew up, she said the opportunities to volunteer and assist also expanded. Samson volunteered and served as vice-president of the Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC Parents Club for three years.
“When our son attended Leavenworth High School and was in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps there, both my husband, Mark, and I were among the volunteers who assisted the program in numerous ways,” she said. “We served at football concession stands, car shows, hot dog and burger lunches, in addition to helping with many other activities where assistance from parents was needed.”
Page 2 of 3 - With both children now adults, Samson said the parameters and scope of the type of activities she engages are different as well. She volunteers at the Frontier Army Museum every Wednesday helping to preserve the museum collection.
“I was first involved when Lynda Bahr was the curator. My task was photographing everything in the museum. It began with all of the galleries in the museum itself, then progressed to include all of the artifacts housed in the archives vault room,” Samson said. “When Lynda left the museum, I was asked by Mr. (George) Moore to continue what we had been working on so everything in the collection would eventually be digitally photographed.”
Because it is physically impossible to have everything within the entire museum collection physically on public display, Samson said having artifact items available in a digital format and available to be accessed online for reference is a necessity.
“These images of the museum collection are also uploaded to the (Ike Skelton) Combined Arms Research Library website so as to be accessible for researchers needing information or pictures,” Samson said. “This can include researching anything from individual uniform buttons and actual complete military uniforms to CGSC yearbooks or unit flags.”
Pictures she takes are also used to update the item identification listing that each artifact cabinet has within it.
“Listings show a photographic image of the object, its name and drawer number within the respective archive filing cabinet,” Samson said. “The artifact catalog number is also annotated by the museum for further identification.”
Samson is also working inside the artifact cabinets replacing the old shelving liner materials with museum industry-standard sheeting.
“Changing the storage cabinet drawer linings to a museum-friendly corrugated plastic sheeting will protect artifacts — especially the leather items in the drawers as leather has oils inherent to it,” Samson said. “These oils were beginning to degrade the existing liners.”
Samson is also implementing a system of blocking out the artifacts so that they won’t shift in the drawer when opened and closed. After doing this, she said the museum catalog number and artifact identification numbers are written next to the items to identify their place in the drawer should they be used in an exhibit and then returned to the drawer.
“Everything has a place and everything in its place,” she said.
On the Saturday before Advent in Memorial Chapel, Samson will join a group of volunteers from the Episcopal and Lutheran congregations to thoroughly clean the chapel.
“It being the original post chapel, the building features ornate woodwork and artifacts worthy of such detailed care. The military maintains the facility, but we volunteers add significantly to that effort,” Samson said. “We meet each year and clean the entire chapel — all of the woodwork, the altar and pews. We also clean the floors and brass work.”
Page 3 of 3 - Samson said volunteers are critical to military communities.
“In such economic cycles, necessary jobs that used to be accomplished by paid, government employees may only get performed by volunteers,” Samson said. “My volunteering keeps me active in the military community, though my husband retired from active duty in 2008. I like meeting new people and am always learning new things while volunteering.”
Mostly, Samson said volunteering makes her happy, and she finds personal satisfaction in knowing that her efforts may help someone else in the community.
“I would encourage others to volunteer for the simple reason that it can make you a better person. Yes, it may make your day a bit longer, make you more tired or take up time you had planned to spend on a video game or out at a movie,” Samson said. “But, in the long run, the positives are numerous. You might learn a new skill; you might make someone smile who needed a smile from someone that day. Volunteering might lessen someone’s load. Or, it might make you feel better just to get out of the house and see something different for a few hours a day or week. You can make a difference volunteering. But, you’ll only know if you try.”