At the Aquarium
The Aquarium’s longest-serving volunteer, Anne “Susie” Buttrick, will be among the 1,500 volunteers honored tonight at the annual Voluntern Appreciation Night.
Susie has volunteered for all 50 years the Aquarium has been open.
The following article was published in the summer 2019 issue of blue magazine.
Susie Buttrick has been volunteering at the New England Aquarium since before there was an Aquarium.
When we opened our doors in June 1969, Susie was already part of a group of small, but dedicated volunteers already preparing the Aquarium for visitors. In the 50 years since, she’s worn a lot of hats. From visiting local schools for classroom presentations to engaging young ocean protectors in the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank, there’s hardly a part of the Aquarium that Susie hasn’t touched.
“I am going to be 86 this summer, and some days, at this age, you sort of forget what it is you’re supposed to be doing. But on Wednesdays, I always know what I’m supposed to be doing!” said Susie. Because on Wednesdays, she drives to Boston from her Concord home to volunteer at the Aquarium.
Susie, who majored in zoology when she was in school, started volunteering at the Aquarium when her youngest child entered prekindergarten, and she’s been volunteering her time ever since. Nowadays, she is focused on visitor experience—whether that’s answering guests’ questions, providing ocean trivia, or helping visitors handle tidepool animals in the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank.
“Over the years, the things that I have learned and taken to heart are just innumerable. There’re so many bits and pieces that I’ve learned over the 50 years,” said Susie. “Even just the fact that I can go 50 years later is amazing to me! It’s very rewarding and it’s something I’m very proud of.”
In her more than 12,000 volunteer hours, Susie has seen a lot of change. She loves that the Aquarium’s vision has grown over the years to a global conservation focus.
“It’s become much more professional, both in the volunteers and the staff and what the values and the goals are,” said Susie. “What we’re doing now is so much more than just a fish tank.”
When Susie reached 30 years of volunteering, she received an award of $1,000. She decided to donate it back to the Aquarium, sending the money to the Education Department, where she had volunteered for so long. In 2006, she decided to continue that generous philanthropy by creating an endowment fund: the Buttrick Fund for Volunteer Programs. Each year, the Susie Buttrick Award endows $1,000 to an Aquarium department that utilizes the volunteer program.
“One of the things that’s changed over the years is the quality of the volunteers,” said Susie. “People aren’t just dropping by with nothing better to do anymore. They’re getting educated. They’re getting to be part of something very worthwhile.”
She says her favorite part of volunteering has changed over the years, but now it’s that she always feels happier after she’s been at the Aquarium.
“It’s fun, and I’ve gotten to meet a whole lot of different kinds of people,” said Susie. “People who are interested in the ocean and not so interested. As a volunteer, you stand up for the Aquarium and make your mark known. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!”
Her favorite exhibits? A tie between the giant Pacific octopus in our Olympic Coast exhibit and the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank, where she gets to interact with some of the Aquarium’s smallest fans.
In her words, “It’s been a ride. The Aquarium is a wonderful, wonderful place to be.”
“I do think Wednesday is the day I enjoy most of my week,” said Susie. “When the time comes and I have to step down, I’ll have to say I enjoyed every moment of it.”