Volunteers: True “Friends” of Pennsbury Manor

  • April 12, 2016
  • Posted By: Pennsbury Manor

This week we honor our volunteers; an integral part of Pennsbury Manor. Volunteers have had a tremendous impact on the site from the moment this program was first started. Our program currently consists of approximately 190 volunteers with diverse backgrounds and interests. We have history buffs, retirees, families, interns, people who love crafts, and many more! As volunteer programs go, we have a unique program where we offer volunteers a custom experience. They choose their schedule and what activities they want to pursue to help at a site that tells a very important story in our nation’s history. The average total number of hours put in by volunteers over the past few years is around 13,500 hours a year! The Pennsbury Manor programs that visitors love do not happen without our volunteers. We are truly grateful to have such a dedicated and passionate group! In honor of Volunteer Week, our volunteers were asked to write a little something about their volunteer experience at Pennsbury and why they volunteer.

A large portion of our program is made up of retried teachers. Many of whom brought their classes here for field trips in the past. One such former-teacher is Bonnie Post: “Growing up in the Gettysburg area helped shape my love of history. As a teacher for over 30 years working with 3rd and 4th grade students helping them to learn what it was like to live in this area over 300 years ago, led me to schedule many field trips to Pennsbury Manor for them to have a “hands on” experience. Always impressed with the educational experience and the professionalism of the tour guides on site, I knew that when I retired, this was something that I would love to do.

This is the start of my 3rd year of volunteering as a tour guide for many school groups that have chosen to visit the site to learn more about Pennsylvania history and William Penn’s colony that helped shape who we are today. I have enjoyed working with the staff at Pennsbury and have always felt welcome and appreciated for the time I spend there. It is important to me to continue to be involved in the many programs and events that have been a part of Pennsbury Manor for many years. Thank you all for being such a supportive group of colleagues and friends!”

Bonnie Post in period clothing next to the barn.
Bonnie Post in period clothing next to the barn.

Visitors being able to have a “hands on” experience is important to Pennsbury Manor. Many of those experiences are only available to the public because of our volunteer craftspeople. Sundays at Pennsbury and all of our big events rely and focus on our craftspeople. They are a specialized bunch who research, teach, demonstrate, and produce things for visitors to see and even try for themselves. Apprentice beer brewer, Walter Brosz, makes the brewing process of back in Penn’s time relative to visitors today: “While not a new volunteer to Pennsbury, I am relatively new in volunteering for beer brewing. What is important for me is the historical focus in what we do. Our demonstrations are done in the style that beer was made in the 17th Century. There is a focus to base brewing on original 17th Century recipes, descriptions of beer at that time, and specific beer done at Pennsbury in Penn’s time. At a time when local micro-breweries are popular, we offer to our visitors a unique historic insight and learning opportunity.”

Apprentice blacksmith Bob Whalen talked about his experience as a Smithy: “I’m a volunteer at Pennsbury because I love History. I think I always have, and this is why I majored in History at University. Although my career took a different path I am now able to pursue my passion in retirement. The pre-Industrial Revolution Blacksmith was the center of every American community and as such had a big influence on society. The blacksmiths hard work and artistry is evident in all aspects of early American life.  To understand how people lived and worked back then helps if this role is explored and understood. Imparting this information to visitors and watching their eyes light up with understanding is wonderful. Learning to work with iron (steel) and making all sorts of useful and interesting tools and other objects is also a big part of the attraction of blacksmithing. Working with the more experienced smiths has been a great experience filled with camaraderie and mutual interest. Although still only an apprentice blacksmith with two years of training, I enjoy my time and learning experiences at The Pennsbury Manor Smithy and have scheduled workshops out of state this summer to improve my blacksmithing skills and abilities.”

Long time volunteer Karleen Miller has been volunteering at Pennsbury Manor since 1981! Karleen is a member of Pennsbury’s Sewing Group, who make all of the clothing you see the interpreters wearing from scratch! They are a talented group who heavily research and spend countless hours at home and on site sewing, mending, and washing the clothing: “I enjoy being at Pennsbury and learning all the things that have happened since I was there the last. Since I have problems with walking, sewing is one of the few things I am still able to help with. The sewers are a great group of people who I enjoy spending time with. Many are much better at sewing than I am and have produced some very fine pieces of period clothing to be used by our guides.  I mostly mend the period clothing or make leucet cord, to be used as a draw cord in a number of items.”

Another member of the Sewers is Carol Cooper, who began volunteering because of her granddaughter: “My granddaughter, Emma Fleming, volunteered while in high school as a tour guide. During the summer she was a counselor and last summer as an intern. While guiding she heard about the sewing circle and knowing that I love to sew, asked me to join. I was hooked. I enjoy the women who show up on Saturday and share ideas, settle the problems of the world and especially because I learn something every month. I look forward to knitting the fingerless gloves, as I am also a compulsive knitter.”

One of the projects this year for the Sewers is making more fingerless gloves for our volunteers to use during Holly Nights, a candlelit nighttime program held on the first Thursday and Friday of December to kick-off the holiday season. The program features our craftspeople, music, Mummer’s Play, and much more! They will be knitting the gloves using the wool produced by our sheep. We hold two Sheep Shearing programs in May. At those programs, you can see volunteers processing the wool in its multiple stages. Andrea Scherer and her daughter Ann are part of Spinning Group:

“Volunteering at Pennsbury Manor has been a true joy for both me and my daughter. It was her interest in wool spinning that brought us to Pennsbury Manor, so I’m more following her lead than her following mine. We both love helping to care for the animals and have learned a lot about their use on the farm during the late 17th Century. Volunteering at is great way for children and adults to spend time together and learn about and participate in our community.”

Ann Scherer using a drop-spindle to twist the wool into yarn.
Ann Scherer using a drop-spindle to twist the wool into yarn.

Another mother-daughter duo who volunteer their time during Roleplay Sundays are Cheryl Neas and her daughter Toni Mohn. Cheryl talks about their experience as members of our Living History Theater, who perform short shows on various topics and events that happened in Penn’s colony. Some of the more popular programs are The (Witch) Trial of Margaret Mattson performed at Trick-or-Treats at the Manor in October and The Mummer’s Play performed at Holly Nights.

“I have been volunteering in the roleplay living history program since late 2002, soon after I moved to Bucks County. I had moved here when I got married after living closer to Philadelphia; the volunteer activities I had there were getting tougher to fit in from the longer distance and after a visit to Pennsbury Manor I was interested in spending time here. The roleplay program appealed to me because the evening and weekend times fit my schedule and because, unlike answering phones or filing, it involved work unique to Pennsbury and taught me a lot about local history, and was different enough from my day job in public policy that it would stay fun and not feel too much like work. Since I completed volunteer training in October, my first activity was Holly Nights. I was supposed to make my debut with a small part but the person playing Hannah Penn was running late and since my assigned part was one the play could do without I got switched to Hannah Penn, even though I had to read off the script!

Gulielma Penn (Cheryl Neas) and Leticia Penn (Toni Mohn). 2009
Gulielma Penn (Cheryl Neas) and Leticia Penn (Toni Mohn). 2009

A few years later I had my daughter, which necessitated rearranging my personal time but

The Ghost of Captain Kidd (Toni Mohn) and William Penn (Neil Farber). 2015
The Ghost of Captain Kidd (Toni Mohn) and William Penn (Neil Farber). 2015

after a few months’ “maternity leave” I was happy to come back to Pennsbury. And a few years after THAT, she decided to come with me. Though we joke that her first roleplay appearance was in a program in which I played a pregnant Mary Lofty, this picture is her first official appearance as Letitia Penn, age four in 1682  (with me as Gulielma Penn) on Charter Day 2009. (We had to change the script a bit because four-year-old Toni, beginning to read, objected to Letitia saying “I can’t read a book! I’m only four years old!”) Over the years we have tracked down characters of the appropriate age as she grows, but the most fun for her is Holly Nights. The other picture is last year during Holly Nights, her third as the Ghost of Captain Kidd.”

Our last volunteer story to share comes from Jo-Anne Wilson who does help in multiple

ways. Many of our volunteers, like Jo-Anne, don’t just like to do one thing, and like to try all of what Pennsbury Manor has to offer volunteers: “I was encouraged to be a volunteer by another volunteer when I went to the opening ceremony of the wonderful historical exhibit at Pennsbury Manor. I really love Pennsbury Manor and enjoy being a volunteer. One of the fun things to do is to hand out candy to children for Halloween at Tricks & Treats at the Manor. But I especially like dressing up in Period Clothing for Sheep Shearing Day and Holly Nights. I admire Governor Penn so much for his Holy Experiment and his being a real “Friend” to the Native Americans. Helping Pennsbury’s Gardener with planting seeds in the Kitchen Garden was my first desire to help as a volunteer as well as explaining to the

Jo-Anne Wilson handing out candy at Trick-or-Treats at the Manor.
Jo-Anne Wilson handing out candy at Trick-or-Treats at the Manor.

school children the plants that were grown and their uses in the 17th Century. Whether hosting in the Worker’s Cottage or doing laundry, all my experiences were good ones. Even got my hubby and my little (preschool) grandson to volunteer that first time in the Garden—my grandson could explain all of what I spoke about to his parents once home. My younger granddaughter, Amberlyn, also wants to help with the horse and farm animals one day.”

Thank you to the volunteers who have shared their stories and thank you to all of Pennsbury Manor’s volunteers for everything that you do! You are true “Friends” to the site. Happy Volunteer Week!

By: Dani Gress
Volunteer Coordinator


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