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From Bob Hope to Robots to Presidents, Docent Has Taught Them All

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Bobbe Dyke has more than 3,000 tours under her belt, having volunteered for the National Air & Space Museum for more 30-plus years.

Asbury Solomons resident Barbara Dyke, called Bobbe by family and friends, may have lived on the water for a good portion of her life, but it’s what flies, not floats, that she knows best.

A docent at the National Air & Space Museum for more than 30 years, Bobbe has 100 times that number of tours under her belt – 3, 767 in all. Recently, she scaled back from twice-weekly duties to just once a week.

Here, Bobbe shares some of the experiences she has accrued working at the museum – a record of service that earned Bobbe induction into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame last year.

Q: So tell me what a typical day is like giving tours at one of the busiest museums on the National Mall.

A: It’s fun. I do a lot of VIPS, but they’re not my favorites. I’ve given tours to the past, the present and the future kings of Norway, and I’ve given tours to Barbara Bush and the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter – after his presidency. That was a big tour. I think they brought their entire extended family. The one I got most excited about was Bob Hope. That was fun but it was difficult because he was so gracious and people kept coming up and wanting autographs. Usually with someone like that, we have so much security that people can’t do that. I remember that it was Halloween and he and his wife had to get to their son’s house somewhere in D.C. so they could take the grandchildren out trick or treating.

Q: What are the most challenging tours?

A: My most difficult tour was to a robot. I came into the museum one day and a colleague said ‘How would you like to give a tour to Robert Redford?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m available!’ But instead, here came Robot Redford. A company was in town that day to demo a robot for NASA on how they could use robots in space. They came to the museum afterwards for publicity. He looked like R2D2. He was running around asking me all these questions and coming up with flip answers. It was hard to keep a straight face. He was asking me really good questions. I was amazed at how knowledgeable he was, but what I didn’t know that one of the engineers was in the museum operating the robot’s voice – and he was reading all the labels and feeding him these questions.

Overall, school tours are the most challenging, but they’re also the most rewarding if you feel like you have reached them. I taught math and science in junior high and high school, so I have some experience in working with younger people.

Q: What goes into giving a good tour?

A: It’s hard work. It takes a lot of studying to learn all of that information. New docents receive 80 hours of classroom instruction, and then you have to develop your own tour. I’m a mentor to a docent-in-training, and it’s my job to help him do that. After that, we have monthly training to learn about new artifacts and exhibits and to review. There’s just so much, you have to review.

People come in thinking it’s a museum of machines. But the way I tell the story, it’s really more about people’s hopes and dreams and successes and failures. The machines represent that. It’s the personal stories and background that make it come alive.

Q: Why did you choose to volunteer at the Air & Space Museum?

A: Well, I have an Air Force background. My father was in and we lived all over the world following his career. My husband was in the Air Force, too, so I have been around airplanes for a long time. After he retired, he went to work for a company designing airplanes and space craft. And then I have my science teaching background.

I didn’t actually volunteer for the museum, though. A friend of ours put my name in as a docent before it even opened. One day I got a call saying, ‘I understand you’re interested, when can you come in for an interview?’ I said, ‘What?’ But I love it.

Q: What are your views on the importance of volunteering?

A: It’s so important – not just to the volunteers but to the places they volunteer. I was very honored by the volunteering award I received from the Maryland Senior Hall of Fame, but I think there are a lot of people right here at Asbury Solomons who volunteer a lot more than I do and should be honored, too. I’m not just saying that; it’s really true.

More and more places should take advantage of senior volunteers. Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re useless. We can contribute a lot to the younger generation and to the world as a whole.