When we published our blog about volunteers on Wednesday, we held back a bit. Volunteer Coordinator Sue Schmidt has been with the ship since IOWA was liberated from the “ghost fleet” and spruced up in Richmond, before moving to her final home in LA. The perspective Sue gave us was so good, we merely teased it in that email. Here’s the rest.
BB61: How did you get involved with the ship and what impact has it had on your life?
Sue Schmidt: Jonathan sometimes says that I was the first person hired by the Pacific Battleship Center [PBC]. I’m not sure if that’s technically true, but I was certainly among the first people hired after PBC was awarded the ship by the Navy and moved out of mothballs in Suisun Bay to the northern California port of Richmond. I had a background as the volunteer coordinator at San Francisco Maritime, I live next door to San Pedro, and I’ve worked a bit on boats, so a lot of things about it made sense. It turned out to be a better fit than I expected. Let me explain.
When I first came to the ship, I needed a job. I knew little about the IOWA and less about the Navy and the military in general. It’s been a fascinating and welcome education though. I am a self-described “peace and love hippy chick” working on a battleship – and loving it. That doesn’t just happen. When I was first hired, I was known to make the comment, “I’ve inherited an alien city, and it’s my job to populate it.” While that statement is somewhat accurate on a metaphorical level, what I experienced was so much richer than that.
Weeks and months of very long days away from my family during the refit in Richmond gave me a chance to reconnect with hard working adults after a seven year hiatus having and raising my first child. Richmond gave the crew an opportunity to bond through cold, wet, dark, and filthy conditions. We bonded in the face of almost insurmountable challenges and persevered through sheer force of will and relentless humor. We had no water, heat, people, or money and very limited light and internet. We were all working in the Ward Room and we were freezing, bundled for bear, and trying to type in gloves. When the internet cut out, we’d have to follow the string of lights all the way up to the 0-11 to jiggle the wire to get it working again. You get the idea.
Our illustrious leader, Jonathan could do stand-up. He would get an irreverent banter flying so thick and fast, we just couldn’t stop laughing. Whether it was an impromptu reenactment of Flash Dance or a deep dive into the secret lives of dolphins, the appropriateness of pickles, or a special recipe for buffalo wings, we would be howling, crying, and trying not to wet our pants with laughter in the wild-west of the early days despite working to near exhaustion on a daily basis. I still have images in my head of Mike Getscher trying not to puke he would laugh so hard, doubled over trying just to breathe. We all were! The importance of BBQ61 cannot be over stated. The point is that the core group of the organization had an experience that brought us together in a way that is rare and wonderful in all of its impossible glory, and one that cements us still.
Back to my improbable bent, and the wonder of unexpected outcomes. Before the IOWA, had you told me that I would be working on a battleship, I would have thought you were nuts. What I discovered was serendipity. I found an absolutely stellar group of people who befriended me, challenged me, and opened my eyes to my own unacknowledged biases about a world with which I was unfamiliar. Not only is it the best management team I’ve worked with but the volunteers are wonderful. It’s a cast of characters that bring tremendous passion, talent, grit, and drive to their efforts on the ship. They are knowledgeable, quirky, inspired, and fun! They bring a wealth of experience and a broad array of backgrounds and perspectives – many quite different from my own, but that’s the beauty of it. I found an open, welcoming environment, and a community that is bonded through service (a bit like the military in that sense, the ultimate “melting pot.”) What I have learned is not only the value, but the necessity of spending real, quality time with people that have different experiences and perspectives. We don’t learn and grow as people if we only surround ourselves with voices that reflect our own and opinions that support what we think we already know. I have found friendship and warmth and humor in a group that I never would have known if it weren’t for the IOWA. It’s constantly morphing, and sometimes messy, but it is a family. What a gift.
BB61: How would you describe the ship to someone who’s never experienced it?
SS: Battleship IOWA is a marvel of architecture and engineering. She’s the pinnacle of the technology of her day and a bridge between the analog and digital worlds, but it’s the human stories that bring her to life.
BB61: What would you say to potential donors about why they should support IOWA’s mission and programs?
SS: The IOWA’s massive architectural, engineering and historical significance are undisputed. Pacific Battleship Center brings some of the best talent in the business together to preserve and interpret this American icon through educational programming, veterans services, and as a community platform that is recognized as the catalyst that has driven the transformation of the LA Waterfront. As an organization, we are nimble enough to to get things done quickly, transparent and efficient in how funds are handled and spent, and have a track record of leveraging our dollars and donations to do extraordinary things.
BB61: Describe the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Battleship IOWA.
SS: Metamorphosis – I’ve had the opportunity to to see and be a part of the monumental changes to the ship over the last eight years and to contribute to the growth of our organization. We’ve come such a long way!
Sue makes a good case. We hope you’ll join the team and SUPPORT OPERATION CRUSH COVID TODAY!
If she’s also inspired you with how incredible it is to volunteer with Battleship IOWA, click here for information on how to sign up!