Tuesday, January 10, 2006

U.S. Navy Submarine Museum To Do The Docent Thing


The Day
By Jason Christley
January 09, 2006

Volunteers to help with visitors' queries

Groton — One of the most noticeable things about walking through the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum is a layout designed to invite a self-navigated tour of submarine history.

Which is fine — until visitors have a question.

And then the realization sets in that, outside of the employees in the museum store, there really isn't anybody around to supply any answers. It's a concern that retired Capt. Mike Reigal, the museum's executive director, hopes to remedy with the implementation of a volunteer docent program.

“It puts a real human face on the museum,” Reigal said. “There are times one can walk into the museum and not see anybody, except for other visitors. It kind of depersonalizes the whole thing.”

Reigal hopes to have the first in a three-step process implemented by early February. This would cover having volunteers at the door to serve as greeters and all-purpose question-and-answer stations.

The second and third steps would include having volunteers available to give lectures on particular exhibits and, eventually, lead regularly scheduled tours. The timetable for those steps would be based on volunteer interest and the number of museum patrons.

“The whole idea is to enhance the museum exhibit,” Reigal added.

According to Reigal, an estimated 150,000 people pass through the museum each year, which has served as the home for the Historic Ship Nautilus since 1985. Most of that traffic flows through from June to September, with the heaviest coming in July and August.

Sometimes, said Reigal, it's simply a matter of having somebody there to point out where the restrooms are or where someone can get a drink. Other times it may be to help a visitor understand an exhibit more clearly.

“Implicit in that is the need to have people there to answer questions and point people in the right direction,” Reigal said. “Because people do ask questions.”

Reigal has now begun to coordinate volunteers to serve as docents.

He met with members of the Groton base of the U.S. Submarine Veterans in December.

“We've got a lot of submarine guys with experience — that have been there — that can talk intelligently about the submarine life and community,” said John C. Carcioppolo, a retired master chief petty officer and commander of the Groton Subvets. “It's a chance for them to continue the submarine heritage that they once served in.”

Carcioppolo said close to 20 members have already volunteered.

“Once it gets started, we'll catch some additional people,” Carcioppolo said. “And we've got a lot of guys that are retired and have a lot of time on their hands.”

Subvets helps supply docents to other naval museums around the country, including the USS Pampanito Submarine Museum & Memorial at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and the USS Cod Submarine Memorial in Cleveland.

Those museums are privately run, while the Nautilus is the only submarine museum operated by the U.S. Navy.

Reigal, who has conferred with other museums in the region about their docent programs, hopes to have the volunteers begin training in the last two weeks of January so they would be able to begin serving as early in February as possible.

“It is a natural thing and it's time,” Reigal said, “so were going to do it.”



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