Karen March has been a volunteer—also called a docent—who responds to questions and acts as a guide at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
As a child, Karen gained an interest in aviation from overhearing her grandfather talk about a pilot who was shot down during the Cold War. She was captivated by the story of Francis Gary Powers, Sr., who flew a U-2 in espionage missions over the-then Soviet Union to photograph military installations and other sites. He was shot down in 1960 and captured by the Soviets.
Although she was originally from Wisconsin, Karen moved to the Seattle area to escape the harsh winters. She found a job at Boeing, where she worked on the 767 in the materials area.
After her retirement, she returned to Wisconsin and attended a meeting to learn more about volunteering as a guide for the EAA Museum. Most of the people who had worked in the museum were World War II veterans and their spouses—who all had a passion for aviation. They could respond to nearly any question about the airplanes or exhibits on display.
Becoming a Docent
Since Karen enjoyed meeting people and she loved aviation, she signed up and spent 14 years responding to questions from visitors to the EAA Museum. The busiest week is during the AirVenture in July, but the museum is open every day. She enjoyed giving tours of the Poberezny estate on the grounds and admits that after AirVenture week, she and the volunteers were exhausted.
“Like most volunteers, at the end of Sunday and the wind-down picnic, we are exhausted in a good way,” Karen said.
Although the most common question visitors ask is for directions to the restroom, Karen read as much as possible about the nearly 200 airplanes on display so she could be ready to respond to the queries.
One visitor asked to see Amelia Earhart’s airplane and refused to believe it was lost on an island in the Pacific Ocean. When Karen told her they did not have the airplane in Oshkosh, the visitor insisted that she couldn’t possibly be correct because his nephew had told him it was there.
Karen noted that there are two replicas of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplanes. The first was added to the museum in 1988 and is the centerpiece of the Lindbergh exhibit. The second was completed in 1991 and was originally kept in the Ryan Hangar at EAA’s Pioneer Airport but is now in the EAA Museum.
One qualification to be a good docent is to like meeting people. Each year, thousands of people from around the world visit the museum. A popular area is the KidVenture Gallery housing 16 interactive exhibits, including a half-scale model of an F-22 where kids can sit in the cockpit.
Some of the highlights of Karen’s involvement both as a docent and a member of EAA include the opportunity to meet some of the folks whose names are infamous in the aviation industry, including Burt Rutan, Dick Rutan, and Chuck Yeager.
Karen also met former prisoners of war from the Vietnam era and had the opportunity to hug a double spy. She also met Betty Skelton, an aerobatic pilot whose airplane Little Stinker is in the EAA Museum.
“Personally, I can go on and on about aviation and the various events and people encountered over the A/V and museum years,” she said.
One of Karen’s hobbies is to recreate vintage clothing from the early years of aviation. She would wear her creations during AirVenture week when she guided visitors in the museum. She has used aviation-themed fabric, including the attached photo of her in a yellow jacket and skirt which sports biplanes.
If you have a love of aviation and are willing to invest some time and energy in helping others learn about the history of aviation, consider becoming a docent. Find out more at www.eaa.org/en/eaa-museum.