It all started because of a rain delay–volunteers for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor had been invited to get a private tour of Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, but the bad weather pushed the event into May. I had planned to bring along my oldest grandgirl, but then I realized her birthday was the day after this rescheduled fun event.
I asked if we could squeeze in singing happy birthday to Nicole during the outing. How about lighting candles? Yes, but please bring the candles and something to light them, I heard. But what would we have to place the candles on? Another brain wave hit me–Nicole likes cake all right, but she really loves pumpkin pie. There was little time–could I find a pumpkin pie (and candles!) before it was time to go on our tour?
Market Basket to the rescue. They had both birthday candles as well as a fresh pumpkin pie. I picked Nicole up at the bus, got some food into her before we left, helped her finish her homework, and off we went to Mendon.
Southwick’s Zoo has been a fixture in Mendon for years, and is still a family business. Justine Brewer, co-owner of the zoo, is on the board of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor. This private tour was a benefit for volunteers, and a chance for many of us to become more aware of a wonderful attraction in the Blackstone Valley. My grandgirl had visited the zoo with other family members before, but this time, we (38 volunteers and friends)had the entire zoo to ourselves. Plus, it was at the end of the day, dusk, when many animals become more active. It was feeding time too.
We looked over the fence where the kangaroos were, and spotted a baby joey poking its head out of its mother’s pouch. Other kangaroos hopped about, demonstrating their jumping skills. Soon the whole group, guided by Betsey Brewer Bethel, co-owner, headed to the rhinoceros area for a rhino encounter.
In groups of four, we went into an enclosure where two rhinos, Thelma and Louise, quietly munched on fresh hay.
Large stanchions stood between us and these massive animals. My grandgirl was nervous, but went with me and stood near the rhinos. We soon made room for others to get a chance to share in this experience.
As we visited the tigers, the lions, the giraffes, the deer, and the zebras, we got glimpses of how the animals behave when they’re active and interested.
The tigers stared right at us.
The zebras kicked up their heels and chased the emus. The giraffes stepped out of their (very tall!) barn, checked us out and then headed back inside to bed down for the night.
The deer in the deer park walked right up to us, some quite eager to snatch (approved) snacks right out of our hands.
Throughout the visit, volunteers chatted with each other, got acquainted with other volunteers, or simply enjoyed the outing.
As the sun set, we gathered in a picnic area where cupcakes and juice were served, and finally,
birthday candles were lit.
Everyone cheerfully sang happy birthday to Nicole as well as another volunteer whose birthday was that day as well. Nicole was more than happy to share her pumpkin pie and blow out candles together.
There are a lot of benefits to volunteering. Few, I suspect, volunteer with the Corridor to get the benefit of a private tour of Southwick’s Zoo. The Corridor has 197 volunteers on file, but including folks who show up for even one day to help out, last year there were a total of 1037 volunteers! The reasons to volunteer are as varied as the people who step up to take on the tasks volunteers fill. The governing board of the Corridor, bike patrol, trail ambassadors, historical interpreters, people who head up clean up efforts, those who simply show up for announced programs, and so many more all work together, helping make this area a great place to live and work in.
And once in a while, a special girl gets a birthday party unlike any others, with a whole bunch of folks ready to wish her well. Thanks so much, to the folks at Southwick’s who invited us, to Suzanne Buchanan and Bonnie Combs of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, and to all the volunteers, for every hour you spend helping to make this part of the world a better place.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! On the board of directors of the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com