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National Museum of American History Honors Outstanding Docents

April 24, 2011
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will pay tribute to four of the museum’s longest-serving docents during a special May 4 ceremony. The annual ceremony is the museum’s effort to thank its approximately 200 docents for their service. Four women will receive individual recognition for reaching milestone years of service in 2011: Mary Wood, Rita Barr, Geri Misner and Cathy Lyons.

“We have a number of docents with significant years of service,” said Andrea Lowther, manager of visitor programs. “It is always a treat to take a moment and acknowledge the very special role they have played in the life of the museum.”

Mary Wood (Gaithersburg, Md.)

Mary Wood is the fifth docent from the museum to achieve 40 years of service. Wood said she first decided to become a docent after her three children had moved out of the house. “I needed some stimulation,” Wood said. Wood began her career volunteering with the medical history collection. With several physicians in her family, Wood had some background in medicine.

Wood is most remembered, however, for her service in the Industrial Revolution exhibit which, before renovation, was home to a steam engine. Wood said that when she turned on the compressor to operate the steam engine demonstration, “people just came out of the woodwork.”

“I feel that it is so very important for people to realize that at one point, Americans were the ‘big shots’ of the industrial world,” Wood said.

After so many years of service, Wood still enjoys volunteering for the animated interactions she has with visitors—asking them questions and encouraging conversation on little-known historical facts.

“I feel like I’m making an impression on people,” Wood said. “I feel like I am giving something back.”

Rita Barr (Rockville, Md.)

This year marks 35 years of service for longtime docent Barr. A Baltimore native, Barr grew up in Northwest Washington and has lived in the district for most of her life. Though she has volunteered at many different exhibits throughout her years of volunteering, she most recently spends her time in Spark!Lab working with young children. Barr said she has always been interested in kids and loves closely working with them in the Spark!Lab.

Barr has enjoyed every moment of her time as a docent. During her interview she recalled visiting many Smithsonian exhibits for her own pleasure and meeting with other docents for lunch after their tours. “It was always just a great day,” Barr said. “I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot and I made great friendships.”

Geri Misner (Rockville, Md.)

Celebrating 30 years of service, Misner first became interested in volunteering after seeing a classified ad for docents at the museum in the Washington Post. “It’s been a wonderful 30 years for me,” Misner said.

Misner has experience in many areas of the museum. Aside from giving Highlights Tours, Misner worked closely in the “Gunboat Philadelphia” exhibition and electricity exhibition, before the museum’s reopening in 2008.

Misner has many fond memories giving Highlights Tours at the museum. Having the opportunity to show visitors the original Kermit the Frog Muppet was a special experience. “After all these years, that’s what sticks out in my mind,” Misner said. “Jim Henson, his creator, was very important to our area.”

Cathy Lyons (McLean, Va.)

Celebrating 20 years of service this year, Lyons was a frequent visitor to all Smithsonian museums before becoming a docent. “I knew that being a docent would afford me an opportunity to learn about history, the work of the museum and exposure to first-class curators and historians,” Lyons said. Throughout her 20 years of service, Lyons worked with interactive, hands-on carts. More recently, she gives Highlights Tours and Spotlights Tours in “First Ladies at the Smithsonian.” Lyons said that it is hard to pinpoint a favorite aspect of working at the museum. She continues to enjoy the friends she has made among other docents and the visitors she meets from all over the world.

“My world has been expanded and enriched by the experience, and I hope to continue for a long time to come,” Lyons said.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, visit For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY). # # #