2017-2018 Annual Report

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Volunteer Spotlight: William D. Wallis

Bill Wallis in an American Section store room in the Mainwaring Wing.

A retired engineer and program manager, Bill Wallis has brought the organization and focus honed through his career to the Penn Museum’s American Collection, volunteering for a weekly six-hour shift for 16 years (!) and has really become an important and integral member of the American Section. After assisting in moving parts of this collection to the Mainwaring Wing, he masterminded and executed the massive work of rearranging the American collections by ethnographic group, rather than the original system (from the Museum’s earliest days) of sorting by object type. Bill was also a Mobile Guide for more than ten years, going into Philadelphia classrooms to present material to elementary and middle school children, and volunteered in the Museum’s Archives. Here Bill shares what drew him to the Penn Museum and motivates such extraordinary service.

From an early age I’ve been interested in Archaeology, and while studying Engineering at Cornell I took as many electives in Anthropology as I could. During a career that included six years working in Europe and China, the family often (occasionally reluctantly) visited prehistoric sites and digs during vacation trips. I subscribed to Archaeology magazine and had noticed that the Penn Museum was referenced in about half the articles, so it was natural to look for volunteer opportunities at the Museum when I retired.

What I found has been far more than an enjoyable activity. From the beginning, the staff challenged me with projects that gave me a chance to learn in depth about some of the Penn researchers and their findings. Learning from lectures and books can’t compete with interesting hands-on work. Another positive aspect of coming in to the Museum is the terrific community of other volunteers who bring different backgrounds. We learn from each other as we work, and sometimes socialize, together. And this includes the work-study students, who provide a window into today’s young people, a help in understanding our grandchildren.

From the beginning, it has been a great honor to be part of the Museum. It began with the trust shown in being allowed to work with the objects in this extremely valuable, world-class collection. This also includes being trusted to manage projects on my own, such as organizing the large North American basket collection or rearranging the whole American collection. I’ve been given direction, and then allowed to determine the details and process and proceed. Being accepted as part of the “team” is also gratifying. To sit and chat with the staff at lunch and hear their stories about work, or discuss topics of the day and personal experiences, continues to be a jewel in volunteering at the Museum. Finally, at least once a day there’s the “WOW” moment that comes from seeing a fabulous object for the first time, or coming across a familiar, but equally amazing, object by chance.

Bill Wallis and family members in front of the sphinx statue