< Back to Blog

Volunteers: The VPAC’s Heartbeat

Date: March 19, 2024
Author: Cat Hayes
It Takes a Village: Volunteers make it happen

The spirit of community involvement upon which the VPAC was built is perhaps most visibly exemplified by the numerous volunteers, without whom the venue would struggle to open its doors. Since its inception, the VPAC boasts a list of over 700 volunteers helping with everything and anything needed at the venue.

“They are a very important component of what goes on at the venue,” Alexia Jurschak stated simply.

For the last seven years, the VPAC has implemented a tracking system to log, among other things, volunteer hours. “The volunteer with the most hours in that seven-year period has given over 900 hours of their time. The high achiever in the past year has volunteered more than 100 hours,” noted Cameron Morgan, executive director. “Collectively, more than 32,000 hours of volunteer time were logged in the last seven years, which is just mind boggling.”

What do the volunteers do?

Pretty much everything: checking tickets, ushering patrons to seats, helping artists sell their merchandise, accommodating late seatings, finding the nearest exit, checking coats, checking temperatures (which thankfully is a thing of the past), and giving directions from the parking garage to the venue and back. One volunteer even helped with data entry as she recovered from a broken leg long ago, recalled former VPAC employee Jen Mason.

VPAC volunteers put in work, but they also have a lot of fun!

For a weightier and more detailed job description, one need only check the Volunteer Manual, which was drafted and is continually updated by longtime volunteer and assistant house manager Tom Russo. “Every job description is in there, all the expectations,” making these duties much more uniform when the inevitable turnover happens or someone must fill in last minute.

“They come and go,” noted John Merritt, part-time house manager and volunteer since 2008. “But some volunteers have been here since the beginning.” Merritt visited the VPAC during Texas Ski Council trips to Beaver Creek and was inspired to be a volunteer because of his love of performing arts. As he got to know the volunteers, he realized each one was as varied as the people in the valley and the performers who visit the VPAC.

Each also plays an important role at the venue. “Sometimes the volunteers are the only ones connecting with the patron when they come to shows,” Merritt observed. “They’re not seeing the staff or the house manager, but they are sure interacting with our volunteers. They truly are the face of the VPAC.”

Many interviewees discussed the volunteers’ backgrounds and careers prior to landing at the VPAC.

Says Tom Russo, “One volunteer was a theoretical physicist before coming to the VPAC. Another has a PhD in management accounting and wrote the most widely used textbook on the subject.” Still others came from cruise ship backgrounds – one couple taught line-dancing for cruisline passengers – while others were moved not only to volunteer but also become patrons. Regardless of their prior lives, each contributes their own special sauce to the venue.

Russo officially moved to Beaver Creek in 2003, and “I didn’t know anyone,” he said. “I volunteered to meet people.” His love of performance deepend during his time in Moscow in the 90s, where he noted, “You could go to the Bolshoi theater minutes before any performance and get a $15 orchestra ticket to see amazing performers.”

Tom may have gotten more than he originally bargained for, as he went from volunteer to part-time summer house manager to year-round assistant house manager. As he worked his way into more responsibility at the VPAC, he became a standard fixture at the venue, similar to the woven carpet and the acoustic banners.

“I always stand in the same place. I see everything going on, and every volunteer knows where to find me if they need help,” he shared.

Former employees Martha Brassel and Jen Mason fondly recalled volunteers Thelma and Herb Rubenstein, both now deceased. “Thelma stood by the door to greet guests,” Martha remembered. “She always had her little handbag dangling from her wrist,” and she often wore a fur coat to and from the venue. Speaking of fur coast, Mason  has other memories involving fur coats, which volunteers were tasked with hanging up at the coat check area. “One of the coat racks was so bogged down with heavy fur jackets, it just buckled under the weight,” she shared. “We worried that people were going to leave with the wrong jackets,” but at the end of the night, everyone thankfully went home with their own.

Volunteers often do get to watch the shows at which they volunteer, although John Merritt is certain that’s not what drives most of them to continue giving their time. “It’s not about seeing a show for free, it’s the love of the facility and what the facility does for the community.”

Tom Russo shared that not many people realize that the volunteers also underwrite one performance annually. “They get to attend a pre-performance reception in the May Gallery, and they’re recognized before the show.” Just one more way in which these dedicated folks give of themselves to the VPAC. This year’s volunteer underwritten performance is the upcoming BODYTRAFFIC show on March 22.

Kenneth Howell, bartender extraordinaire, pours a drink for a patron.

Former ED, Duncan Horner, felt that the volunteerism evident at the VPAC and in the Vail Valley was a multi-generational phenomenon. “People who originally came knew it was a new community, and the generations who followed have continued in the same spirit of wanting to make it work and make it happen.”

Volunteers aren’t just nice to have at the VPAC. The hundreds of individuals offering their time and energy over the years are just another thing that sets the VPAC apart from other performing arts venues around the globe.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” VPAC chair Doug Rippeto emphasized.

Said Martha Brassel, who is still part of the VPAC’s parent company, the Vail Valley Foundation, “I still have some of the volunteers’ nametags in my desk. It’s so hard when they pass away, many of them became like family.”

The legacy of this group will live on as the VPAC navigates the next years and decades, continuing to be the friendly faces of this world-class venue.

Interested in learning more? Check out our volunteering page!

Back to Top