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Volunteers bring magic to the Symphony in the Flint Hills

Ben Postlethwait, the Weststar Energy Green Team leader talks to other members of the Green Team about set up. (Photo by Krisi Colburn)

The registration numbers for the ninth annual Symphony in the Flint Hills were impressive: 5,049 general admission and 987 patron registrations comprised the crowd out on the prairie.

The event also attracted hundreds of volunteers: 658, to be exact. With only five full-time staff members at the Symphony in the Flint Hills office, an event as large as the Symphony would be nearly impossible without the volunteer help. From parking, to trash, to serving food and beverages, the volunteers make up most of the workforce on event day.

Sandy Dorsey, volunteer coordinator for the Symphony in the Flint Hills, said she thinks that the Symphony would not be the same without the varying volunteer personalities of the event.

“The people I’ve met, the volunteers are very giving and very supportive of our organization. And, they work so hard—anything we ask of them, they give. We have a bunch of great people,” Dorsey said.

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Volunteers unload trash and recycling cans prior to the 2014 Symphony. (Photo by Taylor Brown)

Much like the natural diversity that makes the tallgrass prairie beautiful, the driving force behind the volunteer force covers the entire spectrum.

“Seeing the kids enjoy the instruments is probably my favorite part,” volunteer Darla Smith said. Smith,  from Salina, had a part in spreading the musical magic of the event in a special way — helping others experiment with creating their own music in the always-popular instrument petting zoo.

Another volunteer, Fred Gassert of Wichita, had a different way to contribute to the Symphony — with his expertise on the stars and planets that comprise the solar system.

Gassert, along with a small team of other individuals, built a miniature solar system at the Rosalia Ranch, comprised of multi-colored ropes, plastic tubes, and plenty of labels to help explain it all.

He says that his inspiration came from an unexpected twist of events.

“At the first Symphony I attended in 2006, I was stuck in a line of cars, waiting to leave, and an astronomer was with me. He said, ‘why can’t we teach people about astronomy while they are out here?'”

Taking his experience from being a Girl Scout leader, as well as his experience teaching his grandchildren’s peers, Gassert knew it was possible to spread extra-terrestrial knowledge with the public.

“I’ve gone to their schools and have done basic astronomy lessons with them,” he said. “They love it.”

With an event like the Symphony in the Flint Hills, even minor things become major problems.

That is why volunteers Dan and Lynda Hanney worked tirelessly with the seating crew, making sure that every guest had a place to rest at the Rosalia Ranch on June 14.

Their job has one definite perk to it.

“We get good seating ourselves,” Lynda said.

However, for the Hanneys, one overall reason cements their decisions to attend the Symphony in the Flint Hills.

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A volunteer from the Weststar’s Green team sets up patron chairs the day before the Symphony. (Photo by Krisi Colburn)

“It’s just fun. You can kind of visualize what the pioneers saw when they came through here,” Lynda said.

The magic of the Flint Hills envelops the symphonic performance of the Kansas City Symphony, providing a beautiful prairie backdrop for those who sit and listen.

For volunteer Gina Grier, the natural magic that surrounds the Symphony in the Flint Hills is not the only thing that surrounds her.

Grier, a 4th year volunteer, found that she was surrounded by amazing people with her position in the retail tent.

“I enjoy seeing people, talking to people from all over,” she said.

Like Grier, for Martin and Susan Tibbets of Newton, their favorite part of volunteering is not something tangible. It is the unique view of the event that volunteering offers them.

“Volunteering seemed like the best way to see all aspects of it and we were right,” Susan said. “My favorite part is talking to all the people. We will be returning. The view is beautiful,” Martin said.

Kevin Brown