Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Joyfully caring for the animals in the exhibits

PTMSC volunteer Lori VanDeMark

Volunteer Spotlight: Lori VanDeMark

Lori VanDeMark grew up in the Olympia area and has always loved the Puget Sound. She said that even though she spent a lot of time there when she was growing up, “I didn’t feel like I knew a lot about the plants and animals that lived there.”

Lori and her husband bought a home in Cape George in 2019 upon her retirement from a career as a dental hygienist, and she began volunteering at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center that same year.

“Once we moved to the Port Townsend area and I was close to the water again, I really wanted to learn more,” she said. “I was looking for a way to volunteer and do something in the community where I could get to meet people and learn something along the way and this really fit the bill.

“And once I started looking into it shortly after we moved, everybody was so friendly and kind and positive, and I liked the mission!”

When Lori was asked about one of her favorite aspects about volunteering at the aquarium, she said, “You know, probably the proximity to Sylvia,” a giant Pacific octopus. “I know that’s not surprising, as he’s so fascinating.”

She has since expanded on her octopus knowledge through research, as well as watching the oft-mentioned documentary, “My Octopus Teacher.”

One notable experience as a young woman helped inform Lori’s fascination with the natural world and conservation issues in general.

“I remember noticing a beach that we went to a lot in the South Sound. All of a sudden, the sea stars were gone. I had the feeling like I was witnessing an extinction, it was so noticeable. I even noticed they were gone before I heard about sea star wasting disease, and that really kind of hit close to home and made me more focused on conservation,” she said.

Lori and her husband are the parents to two young men. The eldest is a build engineer at SpaceX in Southern California. He’s worked on the Falcon rockets and then on the Falcon Heavy and the Starship.

“He is on the development end of things and works with the theoretical designers and the actual builders to make prototypes and tests. It’s a very exciting job with a ton of hours,” she said.

Lori’s youngest son is a student of the Japanese language, whose studies in Japan were interrupted due to the pandemic. He now lives in the area, hoping to return to his studies in the near future.

Hobbies for Lori include gardening, home improvement, kayaking and knitting. She confidently assured me that she could teach me to cable stitch, a technique I’ve found too daunting to attempt!

It was so wonderful to meet this delightful volunteer and it is so gratifying to know that she is assisting with the operations of our aquarium.

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Volunteer spotlight: Patt Roche

Patt Roche on the pier after 
assisting in the aquarium. Photo by PTMSC staff.

Elephant seals and cougar encounters - exploring the natural world with Patt Roche

The wonderfully charming Patt Roche chose the Port Townsend Marine Science Center as the first place she wanted to volunteer upon her retirement. We took some time for a chat on the Fort Worden pier following her morning shift as an aquarium aide.

Patt grew up in Napa Calif., but made her way back to her home state of Washington 27 years ago when she “... loaded up a trailer and headed north.”

“I wandered into Port Townsend for breakfast one morning and before I knew it, I was signing a lease on a little studio space and then found a place to live, and it all worked out.” she said.

Ultimately, Patt “opened a little arts and crafts gallery,” as she referred to it, in the Hastings Building in downtown Port Townsend. It was called the Roche Gallery & Studio and she happily operated it until 2012. The owners of the Hastings Building, where the gallery was located, made some management changes at that time and she took the opportunity to retire.

Patt’s initial involvement with the PTMSC was as a greeter in the gift shop, back in the days when the entirety of the PTMSC exhibit space was out on the pier.

“I loved coming out here then. I remember when I first started visiting, it was all in this building (gesturing to the aquarium building behind her), it was so sweet! The little aquarium, and back in the classroom was a gift shop. Everything was contained out here,” she recalled.

At first, Patt was a volunteer in the gift shop, and also put herself on the list as a fill-in volunteer as an aquarium aide.

“I didn’t have a regular shift [as an aquarium aide], but I was on the list if they had vacancies, and they could see I was game to come on,” she said.

Patt can’t recall precisely how long she has been volunteering at the aquarium, where she has been performing the same tasks each day for years.

“I clean the four tidepools, with the same routine each day. I start out in [tidepool] #4, see how everybody is doing, and then move on down the line.” she said.

Patt has also volunteered for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, with her most memorable aspect of that job managing the “big elephant seal that liked to go to Waterfront Pizza!”

When there was a moment in her life that inspired her love for the natural world, Patt instead recounted a terrifying encounter with a cougar when she was young.

“As a teenager in Napa, California, we lived in a canyon. One night, I and three of my friends were taking a moonlit stroll down to a swimming pond about a quarter mile from my house.

“For some reason, we all had hair standing up, with prickles on our neck — we were uneasy. We got down to the pond and were ready to dangle our feet in the water and hang out and then all of a sudden, something about 50 feet away from us let out a horrific scream!” she said.

“It was a cougar, apparently trying to decide which one of us it was going to have for dinner. By then we were all in the water, thinking ‘cats don’t like water.’ We were out in the middle of the swimming pond treading water when all of a sudden headlights appeared,” she recounted. 

Turns out, it was her mother, who had also had an uneasy feeling. She piled all the soaking wet girls in her car and rescued them from the encounter. Although the cougar was known in the area, a patron of the local gun club had taken a shot at it, injuring it and impacting its ability to feed itself.

PTMSC is very grateful to our dedicated aquarium aides who help keep the tanks clean, and the animals fed.

Patt’s favorite aspect of volunteering?

“It is always an interesting experience! she said. “I like keeping weekly tabs on Sylvia [the giant Pacific octopus] to see how she is doing. And just being on hand when something interesting happens.” she said.

Thank you Patt for all you do for PTMSC!

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.