LeMay museum volunteers take car lovers down memory lane

LeMay-America’s Car Museum is heaven on wheels for people like Bill Simon.
As one of the volunteer tour guides, Simon gets to satisfy his own fascination with automobiles while fulfilling the curiosity of visitors who make the pilgrimage to the museum in Tacoma.
And there are opportunities for more people to join Simon in the museum’s volunteer ranks. Museum officials are recruiting for any of nine volunteer roles, ranging from guides to members of the “pit crew” who help visitors take turns in race-car simulators.
The unpaid staff members are important to the overall experience that visitors have at the museum. “We’re so grateful for the work they do,” said Jana Wenstrom, coordinator of the volunteers.
Most of the volunteers are asked to make a one-year commitment. Docents (tour guides) are asked for a two-year commitment that includes ongoing training and independent study.
The work is in shifts of about three hours Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. or 1:30 to 5 p.m.
Simon, who also is a substitute school teacher at high schools in Tacoma, reports for duty at the museum next to the Tacoma Dome a little less when school’s in session. But even during the school year, he averages 30 hours a month with the museum. That goes up to 50 hours during the summer. And he loves every minute.
“I’ve always been a car enthusiast. I appreciate the elegance of these classic cars,” he said.
One of his favorites in the LeMay collection is a 1948 Tucker. “It’s one of the museum’s premier cars. Only 50 were made,” he said.
The Tacoma resident has been volunteering at the museum since it opened in 2012. A friend who already was volunteering got him interested.
On any given day, the 165,000 square-feet museum displays as many as 350 cars, trucks and motorcycles from private owners, corporations and LeMay. That’s a fraction of the total LeMay collection, which reached a Guinness Book world record of more than 3,000 vehicles in the mid-1990s.
“The wide variety of cars is one of the things I appreciate the most about the museum. There’s always something new to see,” Simon said.
The museum is often a trip down memory lane for visitors, who often Simon their personal car stories. He recalls, for instance, a woman who reminisced after seeing a 1965 Ford Mustang like the one she was in when her future husband proposed marriage.
“I like hearing people talk about cars that made an impact in their lives, whether it was learning to drive while sitting on their grandfather’s lap or the first car they owned,” Simon said.
His own story is about a 1964 Chevrolet Super Sport convertible. “That was my favorite of the cars I’ve owned,” he said. “It was a hot little car. I’d love to have another one.”
Joining the ranks of museum volunteers can take a person in several directions, depending on the job they’re interested in:
• Tour guide. Docents conduct guided tours for school-age children, educators, seniors, visitors with special needs, and those for whom English is not a first language. Docents will provide a brief history of the museum and an overview of its programs in addition to answering questions about cars. Museum Educator
• Educator. Museum educators lead K-12 audiences in the discovery of automobile-themed topics in the subjects of American history, math, science, literacy, and the arts.
• Collection monitor. Keeps an eye on vehicles that are on display to make sure they aren’t being handled. Monitors also provide information about the museum, its history, and the collection.
• Pit crew. The crew assists visitors with “The Speed Zone,” helping visitors in and out of race-car simulators and orienting them to how the attraction works. The pit crew also helps out with the slot car race track.
• Greeter. Greeters welcome museum guests, distribute maps and information, and answer general questions.
• Photo booth attendant. In this role, volunteers help with taking souvenir pictures of visitors in a 1923 Buick. The work includes starting and shutting down a camera-computer and changing photo paper and ink.
• Events specialist. These volunteers are assigned to special events, greeting visitors in the lobby and helping direct them where to go, serving as a collection monitor in the galleries, or even dressing up in costumes to fit the theme of a party. Volunteers for weekend and evening events are particularly needed.
• Museum ambassador. This involves representing the museum at the museum and off-site events. This position can include setting up booths, positioning vehicles, and arranging signs, tables and displays for off-site events.
• Collection management. This crew is in charge of seeing that vehicles and artifacts are displayed properly and also well-maintained. Team members help with preservation, conservation and historical background. There may be call for detailing, washing and polishing vehicles while they’re on display, maintaining computer records of the cars, and moving vehicles to events and between displays.
• Administrative assistance. These volunteers may help keep records and files, operate office equipment, answer telephone calls, type documents, and do other office-related tasks assigned by a supervisor.
Prospective volunteers can contact Wennstrom, the volunteer coordinator, at jana.wennstrom@lemaymuseum.org and 253-779-8490, extension 1022.

Pat Jenkins, who wrote this article, is the editor of Senior Scene.

Classic automobiles at LeMay-America's Car Museum include the 1948 Tucker that tour guide Bill Simons (in red shirt)  talks about with admirers. (Jim Bryant/Senior Scene)
Classic automobiles at LeMay-America’s Car Museum include the 1948 Tucker that tour guide Bill Simons (in red shirt) talks about with admirers. (Jim Bryant/Senior Scene)