An ironworker all his life, Buck was 63 when he retired from his job for the city utility. He had been a pilot of a small seaplane when he was young, but with work and family, he lost his interest due to lack of time. After he retired, Buck started thinking about flying. He read books and magazines to get up-to-date on what was happening in the aviation industry. He was fortunate because he lived in the Seattle area where the Museum of Flight resides. He would go to the Museum often and listen to speakers and check out the exhibits.
“I was 72 when I joined the Board of the local chapter of Friends of the American Fighter Aces Association. This was a group honoring fighter pilots who had shot down at least five enemy aircraft during World War I, World War II, Korean or Vietnam wars. There are only 1450 aces that have ever existed,” he said. “As I read and study about them, I found it all fascinating,” he noted.
He went on to tell me how his volunteer job developed. “I’m a quiet man with no interest in speaking in front of people, simply because I’m too afraid. When I was young, I tried to do it, and I couldn’t get up the nerve to talk in front of a small group. Once I retired, I was interested in becoming a docent for the Museum of Flight. That’s what motivated me to overcome my anxiety of speaking in public—the desire to do that job where I’d be giving a 60-minute presentation,” he shared.
Buck took a public speaking course plus he joined a Toastmasters group so he could work on his presentation skills. Why Toastmasters? This organization helps you master public speaking and become a more confident communicator. He joined a local chapter (there are over 16,600 clubs with 375,000 members.) The club meets weekly with members having various assignments involving speaking, evaluating a speaker, and leadership duties. Members are all ages, with 52% of members 45 or older. 10.4% are retired like Buck was.
It took months for his confidence and ability to improve. Then he began the process of applying to be a docent. It’s a volunteer job at the Museum of Flight where he would talk about a topic of interest and create a presentation between 60 and 90 minutes long. This was a very complicated application process taking three months of effort including memorizing a presentation and giving it before the committee, perfectly with no notes, before you’d be allowed to talk to any guests who came into the Museum.
He said, “I’m the oldest guy here. What propelled me on is you do get to pick your favorite topic and talk about that. It has to be the one you plan to offer to Museum guests. I did tons of research. I love to learn, and that’s what you need to do this. I had to come up with all the facts and information myself and then actually create this speech. It wasn’t easy, but I felt it was pretty important”.
For the last three years, he’s been a docent offering speeches every Friday at the Museum. It’s a non-paid job.
“This work will keep your brain active. I’m expected to learn new material continually. Plus the people I met. There was the 90-year-old man who helped designed the Hubble Telescope, Bob Alexander. Moreover, I’m super proud to say I have personally met twenty-one astronauts. I was most impressed with meeting Jerry Ross whom I’ve gotten to know rather well. Jerry had spent the most hours walking in space, something like 58-59 hours.”
When I inquired why he took on such a big learning adventure, he said, “It’s to share my interest in the Flying Aces with the public. I so enjoy meeting people who come in here. Many come from all over the world. This center is large. We have space camp and a big aviation high school that’s part of this organization. The Museum of Flight is designed to educate people. We served 160,000 kids last year. I feel like I’m the least educated person working here. Most of them have masters degrees and, I didn’t even go to college. I found something that I loved, and to me, it’s making a difference. I so enjoy it and look forward to the hours I spend working on this hobby and volunteering.”
Buck is an excellent example of someone who didn’t let the fact he lacked the skill of public speaking, or a college education keep him from doing a job he wanted. You may need to join a Toastmasters group to work on developing your speaking skills. Margaret Page, 2nd VP of Toastmasters International, was thrilled to learn about Buck’s story. She travels from Vancouver, Canada, and brings her young grandson Gavin, down to the Museum of Flight to hear speeches as her grandson wants to be a pilot someday. “We have heard docents give different speeches. They are so powerful and interesting,” she said. “It was exciting for me to learn that Toastmasters gave the support Buck needed to learn public speaking and find his voice.”
Page stated that many mature people are joining Toastmasters to master public speaking and then go off and volunteer. Some go to work in libraries with children, and some go to senior centers, others to charities or museums like Buck has done. She noted that still others learn the skill so they can earn an income speaking on their favorite topic or the knowledge they have.
“Helping people overcome their fear of public speaking and be able to use this skill effectively is the goal of Toastmasters groups everywhere,” Page noted. To find a group near you, click here.