by Brenda Brown, PR & Marketing Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Volunteers are love in motion
Rosalie and Cecil Bailey inspire me. They inspire me with their collective life story as a married couple and their individual life experiences as two people who took different paths volunteering, who both found their calling. This March, we honor Mr. & Mrs. Bailey as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden volunteers of the month. I sat down with them to find out how they came to volunteer at Lewis Ginter and what experiences they’ve had while serving at the Garden — I got a lot more.
I’ll start with Mrs. Bailey who by every definition gave me the impression of a dedicated and grateful woman and who serves in the Garden gift shop twice a month. She’s been volunteering for 23 years, and — 21 years at Lewis Ginter. She found her niche’ for volunteering early in life because she starting in the gift shop at Children’s Hospital on Brook Road. Mrs. Bailey told me how much she enjoyed working in the gift shop there at the hospital, and she remembers hearing about Lewis Ginter’s plans to open a gift shop in the Bloemendaal House. She was excited about that because she lives close to the Garden and thought how nice it would be to take her passion for volunteering in this particular role of Garden Shop cashier at the gift shop.
When The Garden Shop was scheduled to open, the shop was staffed by Mrs. Bailey and one other volunteer. She says it was because of the generous donors during those times and the great vision for the Garden that she has been able to see those plans and other expansion plans come to life. She talked about how the Garden has changed so much over such a short period of time, and remembers that the Blomendaal House gift shop did not have a storage room but had shelves under the display counters for storing stocked items. Today, she says, the shop has plenty of room for storage.
What opportunities has volunteering given Mrs. Bailey? Making new friends, connecting with people from all walks of life and the enjoyment of working in such a beautiful and inspiring place. She says she remembers meeting a Garden guest from Connecticut who was shopping in the gift shop during spring. She talked with her and assisted her in making her purchases. This same guest came back at Christmas and she looked at Mrs. Bailey and said, “I was here in the spring and you were the lady who helped me.” Mrs. Bailey says it is a good feeling to realize that you can make an impression on people by helping them and talking to them while you are doing something you love to do. She wants to be clear that working in the Garden Shop is much more than “ringing up” guests’ purchases. “It’s [connecting with] the people you meet from all over. I share some history about Richmond while they shop and offer suggestions for some other places they might visit. I just love talking with them and making new acquaintances.” She explained that the relationships she has built with Garden volunteers has given incredible meaning to her life.
I asked Mrs. Bailey if she does any of her shopping here at the Garden shop. She said, “Oh yes, I do my Christmas shopping and gift shopping right here. There is that challenge of working around such beautiful things and not purchasing everything you’d really love to have.” Mrs. Bailey reminds guests as they finish their shopping that there is a leaflet in the gift shop that gives some great history of the Garden and explains how the Garden has transformed over the years from a somewhat neglected and overgrown property to the Richmond Region’s most popular paid attraction. And she has been here to see that transformation.
Mr. Bailey is a volunteer at heart too, both at the Garden and elsewhere. Before he joined the Garden’s volunteer workforce, he’d logged 23 years of volunteering on The Salvation Army Board of Directors, and continues to serve on the Board of Directors at the The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. Mr. Bailey however has taken a different approach to serving the Garden guests.
Mr. Bailey worked for 32 years as the vice president of sales for C.F. Sauer. While he was working and Mrs. Bailey was volunteering her admiration for the Garden peaked his interest. When Mr. Bailey prepared to retire from his job, he wondered what he could do as a volunteer at the Garden. Mr. Bailey wanted to learn more about things growing in his own garden that were not fairing so well at the time. He jumped right in as a Garden Guide because he figured if he was teaching others about what was in the Garden then he would learn something himself. At the time, the Garden was still relatively small — there were only 3 ½ acres of perennial garden beds at the Flagler Perennial Garden. There has been steady progress since then and Mr. Bailey know first-hand how the Garden has been transformed over the years.
Mr. Bailey says it was challenging to learn botanical Latin names for all the plants he’d point out during group tours.
“It keeps my mind sharp, and I enjoy having the knowledge to tell the guests about plants here at the Garden and then answer questions they might have about their own garden experiences.” Mr. Bailey gives lots of tours, mostly during peak season, which is mid-spring to early summer. It is typical for him to give about 3 tours per week and they generally last an hour depending on how many questions the Garden tourists have. He says that he wants to take his time giving the most beneficial and comprehensive information to all tour guests. Group tours and tours for individuals are available and are scheduled through the Garden registrars office.
I asked Mr. Bailey to talk about some of his most memorable tours and he beamed with excitement in anticipation of sharing. He described tours with guests who come from all over. Others come because they are already botanical garden enthusiasts and during the tours they will start to compare their experiences of other gardens to this one.
“I’ve had tours with the blind and for a tour guide to try to explain something to someone who has never seen it before requires creativity. I would go to places like the Conservatory and ask them to feel the large-veined velvety leaves of some of those plants. I took the extra effort to describe in as much detail as possible what the plants look like and how they all look together and why they are together. Then I took them down to Sydnor Lake to let them hear what they could not see. They listened to the moving water, the splashing of the ducks and the chirping of the birds. That was quite the tour and it reminded me of how important it is to enjoy nature around me”
Mr. Bailey has been retired for 12 years now and he’s still giving tours at the Garden. He, like many other Garden volunteers help at the spring and fall plant sales and at Garden Fest of Lights. I asked him if he’d tell me what he thinks the Garden means to the Richmond community and surrounding cities and the people it serves. He said, “There are lots of people in Virginia who are garden people, but the Garden is more than a beautiful place to visit, it is an educational outlet and a primary source for educating people who are looking to discover new aspects of nature and the garden they never knew.”
As volunteers of the month, Mr. & Mrs. Bailey will enjoy a privileged “volunteer of the month” parking space, a $25 gift certificate and will be featured in the volunteer newsletter. Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Bailey for your unwavering dedication to the Richmond community and to the Garden. The Garden is a better experience for everyone because you both have invested so much of yourselves to continue its legacy.