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Museum Volunteers Take Diverse Tasks

June 3, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ When Sharyn Tureck offered her services as a volunteer at the Smithsonian Institution, she was asked if she objected to handling human remains. She said no, she didn’t mind.

So she was put to helping wrap, store and label pieces of skeleton so anthropologists could work with them more easily. That was four years ago, and she’s been doing it once a week ever since.

``I enjoy the work and the people I work with,″ she said. ``We have a very good time there, sitting and talking with David Hunt ... he’s in charge of the work, he’s a forensic anthropologist.″

It takes almost as many volunteers as paid staff to run the Smithsonian _ which is one of the world’s leading scientific research bodies as well as the owner-manager of 16 museums and the National Zoo. There were 5,182 volunteers in the year that ended last Sept. 30, and 6,355 paid staff.

People who like jigsaw puzzles can fit together bits of ancient pottery from Israel. For those who prefer it, there’s mucking out to do in the zebra quarters at the zoo. It’s being done by a retired senior Pentagon official.

``If I had 5,000 more I could use them,″ said Amy Lemon, coordinator of the Behind-the-Scenes Volunteer Program. ``But,″ she added, ``it would take quite a bit of coordination.″

Volunteers see the public at information desks, as guides and as translators for foreign visitors. A lot more are busy behind the scenes.

Sisters-in-law Mary Crummit and Louise Hanbury have volunteered together for more than 15 years. They’ve transplanted thousands of pansies in the Smithsonian’s greenhouses for use around public buildings. The greenhouses are on the grounds of the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, where President Lincoln and his family came to relax in Washington’s hot summers.

Volunteers at the greenhouses get to tidy up the palm trees that the Smithsonian lends out for official occasions.

Crummit and Hanbury also worked together at the Museum of American History when it was putting together its display of first ladies’ gowns.

Marilyn Sue Cohen assembles fragments of pottery from Tell Jemmeh in the Gaza Strip, to help restore the pots to how they were 3,000 years ago.

``Some of the pieces are no bigger than a dust particle,″ she said.

She had been frustrated as an accountant for 30 years, she said _ she had always wanted to work in archaeology.

Fred Sterns acquired a concern for endangered species during extensive travel when he was deputy assistant secretary of the Navy. He’s afraid that in 50 years many of today’s rare creatures will exist only in zoos. So, retired and a widower at 78, he works at the zoo with storks and cranes and gazelles and especially with two specimens of Grevy’s zebra _ the largest kind.

``They fought so much they had to be separated,″ Sterns said. ``One of them is smarter than the other _ he’ll give you this hangdog look, as if to say there’s nothing he’d like better than to get back with that pal of his.″

Sterns can’t be in the enclosure with zebras _ they are nearly 5 feet tall at the shoulder and kick and bite when they’re frightened. He feeds them, and cleans up after them.


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