The Firekeeper: A Heartwarming Story
One thing I hear over and over again about Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights is that our staff are welcoming, friendly, and go out of their way to help visitors. It makes sense. Hospitality is one of our five core values, something we strive for each moment of each day with our guests and with each other too. I don’t know if our culture of hospitality has attracted so many warm and caring volunteers; or whether they have helped to shape this culture. It matters not. Our volunteers are the heart of the Garden; they provide the energy, sustenance and lifeblood to this special place.
Our strategic plan reminds us all that Lewis Ginter welcomes and celebrates individuals from diverse communities as visitors, members, partners, volunteers and staff. You’ll find this true in any nook or cranny of the Garden, and nowhere more prominently than at the Kelleher Warming Fire. The person tending this fire could be a staff member or volunteer, depending on the evening. Either way, the firekeeper doesn’t mind standing in the elements feeding wood to the fire; he, she or they revels in the atmosphere there. Long-time volunteer Buz Sawyer is one such hearty soul. He finds it energizing and invigorating to see and meet the hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors each night who stop by the fire to warm up, toast marshmallows for s’mores, enjoy hot cocoa and reflect on the delights of the holiday season.
Sawyer, who along with his wife Barb, has been volunteering at the Garden more than most of us remember, recently sent me a note about a remarkable experience he had at the fire. “As volunteers,” he writes, “we frequently get asked about our motivation. Friends, guests, and even staff often wonder how and why we do what we do. For me, the usual answer is that I get a lot of joy from it. Making people smile and have a memorable experience is often enough. I, and many of my fellow volunteers, can admit that we can arrive at the Garden feeling a bit worn out from our day. We know that the first interaction with a new person can boost energy in a way that is difficult to explain.”
If you don’t believe that the Kelleher Warming Fire is a magical place, read on from Sawyer’s note: “Then there are evenings like this past Saturday evening when a single personal encounter feels like rocket fuel. Let me explain,” he continues. “Sometime around 7 p.m. or so a man walks over to me and says ‘Buz Sawyer?’ I replied, ‘Well yes!’ He responded simply with ‘Bill Maine!'”
“Everyone at the warming fire must have thought I had lost my mind. I nearly turned over the bucket with the s’more sticks to grab him and give him an enormous hug! He said, ‘What’s it been, 48 years?’ In reality, it had been 49 years since we last met. You see, he is a fraternity brother of mine and one of the guys that made me join the fraternity in the first place. I often tell guests that my volunteer efforts give me back much more than I give. If I had not been at that fire Saturday night I would not have had that encounter. Don’t forget that each of the dedicated volunteers the Garden has can tell you similar stories. So I say thank you for the opportunity the Garden gives us to make these memories. This is one I shall always cherish and never forget!”
You’ll find Buz Sawyer tending the warming fire every Monday or Saturday night during GardenFest. During the warmer weather, you can find him volunteering in the Children’s Garden or helping out with our summer camp programs. He is one of the countless volunteers who make this place special. When visiting, if you happen to see a volunteer with their signature lanyard name badge, please thank them for their service.