SPARK volunteers: The magic of Ken and Bill

People often ask us here at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention how we run the entire operation — including galleries, membership, field trips, administration, bookkeeping, weekend shows and tours — with just two employees.

The answer is simple: We don’t.

We just couldn’t do what we do without our team of volunteers, who help with everything from Gift Store inventory to cleaning mirrors in the washrooms to joining our board of directors to guiding guests on their tours of the museum.

That last group — our docents — is in the spotlight today. In particular, the incredible docents Bill Englander and Ken Voelker.

Bill, an inventor, has made two of our most popular interactive devices, and Ken is an outstanding educator with a knack for enthralling our youngest visitors. Let’s learn more about them.

Ken Voelker

Ken Voelker does what he does best: holding young visitors in rapt attention at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham.

To understand Ken’s success as a docent, all you need to do is read visitor’s reviews. Consider this one: “A gem of a museum. A treasure trove of gadgets and information with lots of demonstrations and hand-ons. Very knowledgeable and helpful staff, especially Ken. … If u have kids go with Ken, he kept my 6 years old daughter mesmerized for 1 hour.”

That describes Ken perfectly. Knowledgeable, helpful and great at mesmerizing young learners.

“I love working with kids,” Ken says. “Each one is a different challenge, because you have to think on your feet to figure out what’s going to catch their interest. Maybe it’s having them help you with a science experiment, or teaching them to send their own Morse Code message, or helping them to operate a switchboard — or maybe they’re the kind who just want to hear some of our great stories. In any case, the payback is tremendous, as you get to watch a child’s outlook transform from ‘why did you drag me here?’ to ‘please Mom, can’t we stay? He still has more things to show us’.”

Bill Englander

Bill Englander stands near one of his mesmerizing inventions at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham.

“I’ve seen Bill Englander holding court in SPARK’s popular Static Electricity Lab for hours at a time,” says Tana Granack, SPARK’s operations director. “Visitors of all ages are delighted with the snap and crackle of Bill’s demonstrations, making science as fun and interesting as it should be.”

Bill’s as successful as he is at dazzling visitors because of his passion for science and his dedication to sharing that passion with others. Bill makes SPARK Museum’s fantastic artifacts come alive for visitors and students of all ages and all backgrounds and from all over the world.

“Every day at the museum, we talk to many people about many things,” Bill says. “The collection is diverse in scope and depth; there are literally thousands of facts, vignettes, stories, anecdotes and experiences that staff and patrons can share about the history of electrical invention. And that’s the fun of what we do. Talking with people about things that interest them, I can see the excitement in their eyes at learning new things.”

Some of the excitement in the eyes of visitors comes from gazing at — and into — devices that Bill has created, such as the mesmerizing infinity portal hanging near SPARK’s front desk.

“I’ve been a tinkerer since boyhood,” Bill says. “My dad would give me castoff electrical motors from advertising displays, and my grandpa gave me switches, lights, magnetos and old telephone equipment. This fed my insatiable need to make things. I joined the museum staff because I love innovation, which is the museum’s raison d’etre. It is filled with unique treasures representing the products of the greatest thinkers (and tinkerers!) on the planet. I’m ‘living the life’ of Franklin, Hertz, Tesla and all the other Wise Men of Electricity.”

Museums are a service industry

What do people like most about SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention? It’s not the newly interpreted galleries or the priceless artifacts. It’s not the the MegaZapper show. It’s not the 16 interactive devices and displays or the super cool Gift Store.

Those things might be amazing, but they’re not what visitors love the most.

No, the most frequent comment from visitors about what they loved about their SPARK experience is the service provided by wonderful docents like Bill Englander and Ken Voelker.

We couldn’t do what we do at SPARK without them.