Museum Docent Wins Award

SDASM Docent Wins “Inspiration Award”

The Friends of Balboa Park Millennium Awards Luncheon recognized five selected volunteers to receive Inspiration Awards.   These prestigious awards recognize those who have contributed countless hours of community service to Balboa Park or to one of the organizations in the Park. 

One of this year's winners was our very own Henry "Snake" Houghton.

With a call sign like Snake, you have to be good—and Harry “Snake” Houghton is, literally, the volunteer’s volunteer. Shortly after his qualification as Docent seventeen years ago, he deepened his commitment to serve as a combination of statistician, administrative leader, and welfare coordinator for his fellow volunteers at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Snake currently shares Volunteer Coordinator duties with a designated staff member.

Snake joined the San Diego Air & Space Museum in 1994, and since then has devoted over 10,000 hours (we just gave him a cake in honor of the occasion) of “official” volunteer service. His actual time is considerably higher—Snake does a great deal of homework, compiling service hours, years of service, awards eligibility and general demographic data for the Museum’s volunteers.

Snake is also one of the Museum’s resident experts on modern fighter aircraft. As a Navy fighter pilot, Snake flew the F-4 “Phantom” jet in tours overseas, including missions over Vietnam. He was later involved in weapons development at NAS Point Mugu and obtained his Masters Degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. After he retired in the late 1970s, he worked for Cubic Corporation until 1994.

One of the beauties of volunteer museum staffing is the ease and economy of the associated informal administration; but soon after Snake arrived, he realized that the volunteer program was simply too informal. On his own time, he transcribed, corrected and simplified volunteer records; he then put together a master database—still used to this day—and generated reports and statistics via that database. The impact was dramatic—suddenly the Museum management could get real-time metrics about who exactly the volunteers were and what they were actually doing. For his part, Snake focused on volunteer productivity, attendance, recruitment and—ominously but importantly—the growing attrition rate.

With access to the raw data, Snake quickly became the “go-to” guy for information about the volunteers. Snake spoke with authority, communicating up and down the chain of command with Museum management and fellow volunteers. As a co-author of many of the Docent and Volunteer Policy directives, he helped create the current volunteer administrative structure at the museum. 

Snake is still very much a leader at the Museum—he still assists with the Docent Training program, and still supervises the Volunteer Awards Program (including our annual Volunteer Appreciation Night), setting a standard  since emulated by other institutions. Snake is a necessary element in any meeting dealing with volunteer retention or Docent issues, including recruitment, training and administration. According to Museum President and CEO Jim Kidrick, “It’s fair to say that Snake represents the conscience of our Museum’s superb volunteers—and he does this in a very helpful, very positive way.”



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