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Omaha Magazine

Drawn to It: Volunteer Celebrates 20 Years at Joslyn

Jun 25, 2021 04:43PM ● By Kara Schweiss
red haired woman on pink stone stairs

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Like many natives of Omaha, Susan Henshaw remembers visiting Joslyn Art Museum as a grade-school student. Her father told stories about seeing Sarah Joslyn out and about near the neighborhood he grew up in, not far from Sarah and George Joslyn’s Gold Coast mansion. The Central High School alumna enjoyed the daily view of the museum’s Georgia pink marble facade throughout her teen years. 

“I’ve always been drawn to it,” Henshaw said. She became a regular visitor to the fine arts museum as an adult, and as a member and supporter, even during her busiest working years in the insurance and banking industries. In 2001, an ad in the members’ magazine for weekend volunteers caught her attention.  

“It was kind of like an epiphany,” she recalled. “And the rest is history.” 

“The time Susan has spent with us has been shared amongst a variety of different positions previously, and she’s actually holding five different volunteer positions at the current time,” Membership Manager and Campaign Assistant Katie Herring said.

The contributions of volunteers like Henshaw are essential to the nonprofit Joslyn Art Museum, Herring said. Henshaw serves as a Joslyn Information Assistant, the same position in which she began volunteering 20 years ago. Her other work includes development volunteer, Hitchcock Museum Shop volunteer, ticket-taker volunteer, and volunteer trainer. Herring likens her to an “auxiliary staff person.”

“She has such a passion for the museum and is so willing to help with anything we can think of asking her…The help from her as a volunteer is completely unmeasurable,” Herring said. “Her volunteerism has assisted us in more ways than we can count, and that’s just for the staff. If you think about the number of visitors she’s assisted and the number of people she’s helped connect with the museum, her reach in 20 years is kind of limitless.”

Henshaw’s volunteer training was scheduled shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, a period when people were staying close to home following the shock and uncertainty of a national tragedy. She recalled that the museum was nearly empty when she arrived for volunteer training and that her conversations with the trainer echoed in the open spaces. “It was almost kind of eerie.” 

Before she retired from her 27-year career at First National Bank (“If I like something, I stick with it.”), Henshaw primarily served at the museum as a weekend JIA. Once her schedule opened, she was able to cross-train into more positions. Henshaw said she’s been able to apply much of her professional experience to her volunteer work at the museum, with attention to detail that long ago became second nature. “Working for a bank, you have to be awfully careful what you’re doing,” she explained. 

Henshaw said she has also enjoyed the opportunities that allow her to reach outside her comfort zone, such as working in the Hitchcock Museum Shop. 

“I’d never worked retail, so I was hesitant to try,” she said. “But I’ve learned so much.” 

Henshaw said she especially enjoys her interactions there with the youngest patrons. She’s become acquainted with the museum regulars, and when Joslyn gets busy during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting or the College World Series, Henshaw looks forward to making new connections. 

“You would not believe the people that I have spoken to from all over the world,” Henshaw said. 

She enjoys the constant exposure to the museum’s artworks in its permanent collections, and Henshaw said she has also seen so many impressive exhibitions over the years that it’s impossible to choose a favorite. But she leaves the creation of art to others. 

“I can’t draw a straight line. I have taken the art classes [at Joslyn] and the instructors are always very kind, but I have no artistic talent whatsoever,” she said.

As a former volunteer, Herring said she understands why Henshaw keeps giving her time and talent to the museum.

“There’s a certain level of satisfaction to be able to help engage people at the museum, to see that excitement on an adult’s or child’s face alike, when they see something they’ve never seen before or they’re genuinely excited about something,” she said.  

Henshaw said her volunteer experience has enriched her life. 

“They always tell me ‘thank you’ when I leave, but I’ve learned so much about the inside workings of a nonprofit from them and the staff is just amazing.” she said. “I have made great friends there, and I have learned so many new things.”

Visit joslyn.org for more information.

This article originally appeared in the 60Plus section of the July/August 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.