Guerrilla Volunteer Appreciation


As 2017 starts afresh, many of us are in the position of tallying, tabulating, and filling out end of year reports for 2016. In particular, I’m working on making sure every single one of our volunteer’s hours were tracked and recorded. As I do so I’m also thinking about how we’re going to show our gratitude for all these individuals spending so much time supporting our museum. Since many of you may find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share with you what we did last April in the form of Volunteer Appreciation.

We told our volunteers we were going to have a nice reception with nibbles and cheese at the Historical Park. At the reception we’d pass out our usual volunteer awards, watch our traditional slide show of the year’s activities and then all troop on over to City Hall together to be recognized by the City Council and Mayor. We did do all of that, and it was lovely. But what we didn’t tell the volunteers was that the week before their appreciation event we were going to visit their homes and leave a sign in their front yard which advertised to all of their friends, family, and neighbors what a great job they did at the Historical Park. We called it “guerrilla appreciation” and it was a huge hit.

There were eight different varieties of sign, each a riff on the phrase “An AMAZING Historical Park Volunteer Lives Here!” Some signs said STUPENDOUS, and some said MARVELOUS, but all were well-received. Before we’d even put out half the signs we were inundated with emails and messages from the volunteers. They took photos with the signs, posted them on Facebook, and even moved them so they’d be displayed more prominently in their yards. It also built excitement for the evening of awards and appetizers and turned what could have been a slightly boring awards event into an exciting celebration as volunteers retold their stories of how they’d discovered the sign, and what their loved ones had said about it.


The whole process was also a good team building event for our staff. We broke up into teams of two to go and deliver signs, each team taking a section of the city. It’s particularly fun to spend a whole day with your coworkers covertly placing signs in people’s yards.

An added bonus was that I was able to really understand how far some of our volunteers travel every day to volunteer with us. One of our most reliable volunteers (and one who is consistently in the upper percentile of volunteer hours donated) lives almost 45 minutes away and comes as many as 3 days a week through Dallas workweek traffic to spend a morning with us. Amazing! Some of our volunteers still have those signs displayed in their yards, even 8 months later. Hopefully, they remind the neighbors how great our friends are, but also that our Museum is still around and treats its volunteers well…


If you are considering your own form of guerrilla appreciation, I should warn you that there was some expense and time involved. Covertly verifying the addresses of the volunteers, mapping them, and organizing a team to go deliver the signs took a little while. The signs themselves were also an expense, although by ordering 80 we were able to get a discount through a friendly print shop.

All told, it was one of the most successful volunteer appreciation stunts our Park has ever pulled. And now I’m pulling out my hair trying to think of something just as good to do this year. Ideas, anyone?

-Danielle R. Brissette, ALHFAM member and  Museum Educator at Farmers Branch Historical Park, Farmers Branch, Texas

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Plough Monday: Jan 9

Since we have many religions, traditions, nationalities and faiths, it’s hard to keep up on ones that our own faith tradition do not fall under.

But as we delve into our new year, let us enjoy one tradition – maybe we can turn it towards multi-denomination: “Plough Monday” (In 2017: Jan 9), a tradition from England complete with dancing, a form of trick-or-treat, and costumes.

Can we history, heritage, and tradition-oriented sites start a new pre-season tradition?

Read on to learn more about how the new season might be blessed:

The medieval faithful people would bring their ploughs, seeds, and implements to church for blessings on the human labor and its tools for season to come. (Church of England, Seasons and Festivals of the Agricultural Year, p.597)

In the medieval period, when there was only one plough in each village, the village plough was brought into church for a blessing before ploughing began in Plough Monday.  By Victorian times, when many farms owned their own plough, a representative plough was brought into church and local farmers asked the Rector or Vicar to bless the plough.

ploughmondayAfter the blessing, the plough was traditionally pulled through the village led by a Fool and a ‘Betsy’ (a boy dressed as a woman).  The procession stopped at as many pubs and friendly houses as possible for revellers to demand drinks.  Pennies were also collected along the route.  Anyone not paying a penny was likely to find a furrow cut across their land by morning.  (Church of England, Diocese of Chester, “Plough Sunday”)

But why would men dress as a woman for this tradition?

It is traditional for one man in each Plough Monday gathering to dress as the ‘Bessy’, an old woman who we can link firmly to pagan goddess celebrations: she is the personification of the hag, the old woman of winter who, in the seasonal round of the year, will transform come spring into the virginal young goddess (From Convivio Press)

(Note how the name Betsy and Bessy are similar in the two sources)

Here’s how our North American  Old Farmer’s Almanac described it:

The first Monday after Epiphany (January 6) was the day for the menfolk to return to work after the holidays – although no work was actually done on this day. Dressed in clean white smocks decorated with ribbons, the men dragged a plow (plough) through the village and collected money for the “plow light” that was kept burning in the church all year. Often men from several farms joined together to pull the plow through all their villages. … In the evening, each farmer provided a Plough Monday supper for his workers, with plentiful beef and ale for all.


Dancing was always part of festivities. Plough Monday also had its own specialized version of Morris dancers, complete with disguised faces:

Molly dancing was performed by East Anglian farmworkers in the middle of winter. The style of dance we teach is therefore heavy, earthy and powerful, based on a simple “step-hop”, ideally danced in heavy work-boots. The original “ploughboys” blackened their faces as a disguise to escape recognition and the consequences of their mischievous actions.  (

mollydancersIn the past, Molly dancers sometimes accompanied the farm labourers to dance and entertain for money. They blackened their faces with soot to disguise themselves so they could not be recognised by their future employers.

Molly dancing traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris. The dances are still performed today. (Text and photos of the Molly Dancers and decorated plough from: See the videos and descriptions of dances also seen on that page)

What can you do to celebrate the new ploughing (or plowing) season to come, at your site, with your visitors, and in your lives?

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Happy New Year ALHFAMily!


Three Cheers for ALHFAM

Best wishes to you all for a healthy, prosperous, and joyous 2017. Let’s all look forward to the many opportunities we’ll have to come together again for fellowship.

–Deb Arenz

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Traditions-Change-Sustainable Future: AIMA’s 2017 Conference

Association Internationale des Musées d’Agriculture

The National Agricultural Museum of Estonia is pleased to announce the Call for Papers and information about CIMA XVIII – the 18th conference of the International Association of Agricultural Museums (AIMA). Save the dates: 9-13 May 2017; with an optional tour on 14-15 May). Plan to participate: propose a workshop, paper or panel, or join conversations around themes of interest to anyone involved with agricultural museums. These topics include:

  • Sustainable agriculture – past and future
  • Museum education and research
  • Digital media and IT in museums
  • Bread and traditional food
  • Fibre plants
  • Conservation and restoration (incl heritage engineering in agriculture)
  • Living animals in museums
  • Agriculture and rural life in art

Travel with colleagues on the optional tour following papers and site visits.

For the Call for Papers and information on tours, see the website dedicated to CIMA XVIII.

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Holiday Programming: A Time To Share


It’s that time of year again. Love it or hate it, if you work in a living history museum or a historic house of any type you are likely in the thick of holiday programming. While I work at a computer-focused job now, I recall fondly the days of making wreaths and decorating houses and watching the lanterns glow.

My own waxing nostalgic aside, I wonder, how is holiday programming going for many of you in the field? Is this time of year a great visitation boost? Do visitors want the familiar or have you been looking for ways to freshen up your offerings? Are you doing anything different to attract a larger, and perhaps new, audience?

Please share what is working at your site and any new ideas you’re implementing and . . .  take care during this holiday season.

–Deb Arenz

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A Chair No One Sits On


Lonely Chair.

The article Honest Museum Audio Tour from The New Yorker is a quick read and quite funny.  Having worked in museums my entire adult life and visited countless others, I related to much of the commentary in the author’s made-up audio tour: “Note this intricately carved chair, which was made in 1573. The first person to have sat in it is long dead. Now no one is allowed to sit in it.” Yep, I’ve thought that. I’ve also seen the Mona Lisa and the experience was disappointing. In my case also smelly what with it being summer and the plumbing overflowing in the nearby bathroom and the hoards of sweaty people with their arms raised to capture images on their phones to prove they were there.

Levity aside, the article got me thinking about museums I’ve worked in and visited lately and how I might construct an Honest Museum Audio Tour for each:

This is a tractor rusting on a lawn. There’s no way a farmer would allow such a valuable and expensive piece of machinery to deteriorate like that but we don’t have the money to run and maintain it. Hey look, there’s a cute calf, why not go feed it.

Here is an interpreter making a fabulous smelling meal. They’ll tell you all about it but you can’t eat any of it.

This is a quilt. Here’s an extensive history of it’s ownership with lots of dates that will make you want to curl up and take a nap under it.

Of course, those of us who work in museums know that there are all sorts of reasons why things are the way they are BUT it might do us some good to occasionally create our own Honest Museum Audio Tours. After we’re done laughing we might just realize where we need to make some changes.

–Deb Arenz

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Giving Tuesday. Remember ALHFAM.



From ALHFAM President, Tom Kelleher:

I am sure you will agree that this has been an eventful year. . . ALHFAM launched a new and more functional website, with full access for members to the ALHFAM Skills and Knowledge Base (ASK), improved membership management and up-to-date membership directories, and full access and services for our many Institutional Associate members. . . we have an updated logo . . .(and) many of us enjoyed a week of southern hospitality courtesy of the Louisiana Rural Life Museum at the annual ALHFAM conference in Baton Rouge.  Others have attended recent regional meetings of the Western Canada, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Western, Midwest and Mountain/Plains Regions, or a retreat hosted by the First Person Interpreters’ Professional Interest Group.   As wonderful as our Bulletin, e-Update, website and ALHFAM-L discussion list are, there is nothing like gathering together to learn from and share with skilled colleagues and wise kindred spirits.

Sadly each year we lose some of our beloved friends, including most recently Webmaster Blake Hayes and former Board Member Barry Herlihy, among others.  While ALHFAM will not be quite the same without them, the organization is what it is in large part because of them.

Today is Giving Tuesday in the United States and Canada.  It was created as a way for folks to give back, as a response to the crass consumerism of the modern holiday season. Therefore I take this opportunity to ask you to please number the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums among the deserving causes that you support.

ALHFAM members have a passion for bringing history to life.  You know the positive impact it has on people, especially the young. Our organization fosters, shares and preserves the knowledge and skills that make this possible. The ALHFAM board is committed to keeping membership accessible to all who toil in our chosen field. We remain the most affordable and useful professional affiliation around.  Yet even in a volunteer-driven organization such as ours, services to members including publications such as the ALHFAM Bulletin and Annual Conference Proceedings; hosting a website and the ALHFAM on-line discussion list; the searchable ALHFAM Skills & Knowledge Base; advocating for support of the museums and programs where we practice history; and nurturing emerging professionals and seasoned practitioners alike through affordable regional and annual conferences, come at a cost. These and other member services simply cannot be covered by basic ALHFAM membership dues alone.

I realize that there are many worthy causes deserving your support. Please make ALHFAM one of them.  A handy “Donate to ALHFAM” button at the bottom of our homepage makes it simple. As a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, contributions to ALHFAM beyond basic membership dues are tax deductible. No contribution is too small!

Or consider upgrading your membership to the Supporting or Patron level.  Or grow the ALHFAMily by giving an ALHFAM membership to a friend as a gift

Thank you for your support, and I wish you and yours a prosperous and very happy season.



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