116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
What do you do when you’ve got time and energy to spend? Volunteer. The History Center has a volunteer named Jan Carmer who shares her time and talents generously. When the Douglas Mansion opened to the public in 2018, Carmer started volunteering there.
“I used to volunteer at Brucemore, and the two mansions are related,” she said. The Douglas family first lived at Brucemore, before exchanging homes with the Sinclair family in 1906 to move into what is now called The Douglas Mansion. In 2014, the Douglas Mansion was purchased and restored by The History Center. “I like the history of it,” says Carmer, “and we saved a mansion!”
Carmer volunteers at the museum’s front desk, taking admission and selling souvenirs. She also is also known for being one of the first people to step forward when volunteers are needed for an event. Due to COVID-19, the mansion has limited hours, so Carmer’s weekly volunteering maxes out at about eight hours a week. In the past 12 months, Carmer has given 232 hours to The History Center, and she said she’d do more if she could.
Carmer finds a unique connection to the center, with family ties going back generations into Cedar Rapids history.
“Are you familiar with Penford’s explosion in 1919?” Carmer asked. “Thirty-some employees died. Two were my aunt’s father and brother. I grew up hearing that story. You grow up with some history, and you share it. You’ve got to pass it on.
“My brother who lives in Cedar Rapids retired from Alliant Energy. He started working there in the 60s when it was still Iowa Electric Light and Power. That’s part of Cedar Rapids history, too,” she said.
The History Center is currently running an exhibit on Alliant Energy’s history in the area.
“People are just amazed,” said Carmer. “They like to hear the past and they like to tell their stories. You do a lot of listening when you work at the museum, because everyone’s got their stories.”
Volunteering is extremely popular with older members of our society. A study by the U.S. Census in 2019 showed that baby boomers have the highest number of volunteers by generation, with over 30 percent identifying themselves as a volunteer, including Carmer.
“You need to stay busy as you age,” she said. “You need to be out in the public. You need to feel useful. Volunteering will do that. Everybody needs to feel needed. The History Center staff is very good about making you feel needed. I never go into work a day that I’m not thanked for coming.”
The History Center Executive Director Jason Wright said the organization is beyond lucky to have Jan Carmer as a volunteer.
“In an era when it is so very hard to find people willing to serve nonprofit organizations on a regular, consistent basis, Jan is enthusiastically willing to commit to a weekly schedule. Jan is always cheerful, and quick to provide our visitors with entertaining and interesting historic facts about our facility,” Wright said.
This summer, Jan Carmer was honored by The History Center through the Governor’s Volunteer Awards.
To anyone with a passing interest in volunteering, Carmer has this to say: “Come in and give it a try. You aren’t going to know if you like something unless you try it. (Volunteering at The History Center) takes a certain person. You’ve got to like history a little bit, you’ve got to like people, but everyone should try volunteering. You get back more than you give.”
Know someone using their energy to make our communities better? The Gazette is partnering with Alliant Energy to spotlight and share stories of people who are using their energy to make our communities better. Focus areas include: hunger and housing, workforce readiness, education and literacy, environmental stewardship and diversity, safety and well-being. Nominations can be made by completing the form at: www.alliantenergy.com/poweringbeyond.