In 1987, my daughter Debbie and her husband, Greg Robus, founded Workamper News, a publication with listings of jobs and volunteer opportunities for RVers who want to combine work and travel. I became their staff writer, seeking out stories of RVers doing different and interesting jobs. My focus on writing turned from children’s books to profiles of Workampers and their destinations.
One of my first assignments, Henk and Georgia Parsons, became friends who stayed in touch. Volunteerism is a way of life for the Parsons, dating back to their retirement and a decision to live full-time in a motorhome. Over the past 20 years, the energetic Workampers have accumulated memorable experiences and picked up numerous awards, including the Volunteer Accessibility Achievement Award in 2004 for their work in Yosemite National Park. Inside the park, they conducted hundreds of accessibility evaluations of facilities, services, programs, and activities. Their findings went into the 20-page Accessibility Guide to Yosemite National Park. Following a 2010 summer-long trip to Alaska, the octogenarians returned to Yosemite to volunteer again for the remaining months of 2010 and for 2011.
Additionally, Henk and Georgia have contributed thousands of hours to the betterment of other national parks (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Corps of Engineers projects. They started their first volunteer assignment one winter at Corn Springs, an isolated BLM desert campground in California. Although they took one paying job for Hamilton Stores (former consessioner) in Yellowstone National Park their first year on the road, the couple thrives on volunteer assignments that give them a sense of productivity. One summer, they volunteered at another BLM property, the John Jarvie Historical Site, a Utah ranch and trading post dating back to 1890. In 1996, they received a National Award from the Department of the Interior, signed by Jim Baca, director of the BLM at that time.
Henk and Georgia traveled south and took assignments as volunteers for the U.S. Army Engineers, working out of the Corps office in Fort Meyers, Florida. “We developed our own water safety program and presented it to thousands of area school kids,” Henk says.
On loan from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Henk and Georgia consider their role as translators (they fluently speak several languages) for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, one of their favorite assignments. They arrived a year early to help locals prepare for the event.
A volunteer assignment for the NPS at Fort Sumter placed the couple in the middle of historical landmarks for both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. For a summer, Georgia entered into a computer letters that George Washington had written and the various replies to his correspondence. On another assignment, the couple documented in a computer the will of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. concerning his gift of land for Acadia National Park.
In September 2007, the NPS flew Henk and Georgia to Glacier Bay National Park, near Juneau, Alaska, to set up a document scanning program that they had developed over the previous two years at Yosemite National Park. “In a month, we scanned 3,000 pages of documents relating to a Vessel Management Plan. We also trained one of the local Rangers to complete the work,” Henk says.
Early in October, the Parsons visited overnight in my hometown, Heber Springs, Arkansas. Georgia presented me with a book she has recently published—Sarah’s Diary—transcribed from her great-grandmother’s journal of a trip from Kansas to Washington with a wagon and team back in 1889. Now I know where Georgia gets her wanderlust. Henk? Maybe he simply follows Georgia’s lead.
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Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com