Submitted by Barbara Michel
As 2017 nears its close, so too will the long volunteer service of Christine Balew and Sheila Mason. For over a decade, Christine and Sheila have come to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge every Saturday morning to greet visitors, answer questions, and improve guests’ experience at the refuge. They have helped thousands of visitors over the years. Sheila explains, “Day to day, we just sit back and talk to people. We meet the best people here! They come from all over. England, Australia, all the 50 states and Canada. It’s wonderful to get to talk to them all.”
Christine started volunteering 12 years ago when she started accompanying her friend Sylvia. After Sylvia retired, Sheila took her place, and Christine and Sheila have been partners every Saturday morning ever since.
“My first impression was that it was a hut in the middle of nowhere,” says Sheila with a laugh. “We started off at a little information booth at the Upper Lake. But for the last couple years, since 2015, we’ve been in the new visitor center. This is really a nice building, really lovely. We have a lot of good stuff here. Visitors love it.”
Every Saturday, Christine and Sheila carpool the 6 miles from their homes in Alamo to the refuge. They stop at the local gas station on the way to get hot chocolate and newspapers, and they usually bring snacks or books to share with refuge staff.
Christine says, “I do really enjoy volunteering. I always assumed that at some point I would feel old, but I don’t. I’m the same person I always was. I’m 81 now if you can believe that. I’m retired, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to fill up and enjoy. And I’m an outdoor person, so I like to tell people about the outdoors. The visitors are wonderful. Getting to know the staff has been fun too. We’ve gotten to know some really lovely people over the years.”
Sheila agrees that volunteering has been a wonderful experience, but disagrees on one key point: “I am starting to feel old. I’m beginning to feel that I just need to sit back and look around. I can jump in when something’s happening, but I can’t keep a regular schedule anymore.”
Since Christine can’t imagine volunteering without Sheila –“It would be so boring,” Christine explains –, the duo will work their final shift on Saturday, Dec. 30. “It’s time, probably. I’m not too excited about it, but it’s probably time,” Christine says with a sad smile.
For anyone interested in volunteering, Christine and Sheila have enthusiastic encouragement. “Go ahead, do it. Step up, enjoy it, find out what fun it is,” says Sheila. Christine adds, “You can always find something that you enjoy or something that you’re interested in. There’s so much work to be done, so many ways you can help.”
The National Wildlife Refuge System, as well as many other states and national government entities, relies on volunteers for a wide variety of work, from habitat management to visitor services. Volunteers can work part-time or full-time in a wide variety of positions. If you’re interested in volunteering, look for current openings at www,volunteer.gov, or contact your local wildlife refuge.
Even though Christine and Sheila won’t be manning the front desk anymore, visitors will still have a good chance of seeing Pahranagat’s longest-serving volunteers around the refuge. “We’re going to come back all the time to walk around the lake,” Christine says. “We used to walk around the lake every week. It was wonderful. Since Sheila had her stroke a few years ago, she can’t walk around the whole lake, but we can walk across the dike and back again. It’s a great walk around there. So there’s no need to have a goodbye party or anything. We’ll be coming back every other week or so when we’re walking around the lake.”