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Everyday People is a WYSO Public Radio series that takes a look at the jobs you might not know much about. But the people who do them protect us and often are the glue holding our communities together. These stories are a reminder to step back as we go about our day and take a moment to recognize all the people who make up this rich tapestry that forms the fabric of our lives.If you know someone with a job you think we should know more about, email rwilde@wyso.org.

Meet the volunteers behind the National Air Force Museum

A retired Air Force One plane is in the middle of a large exhibit hall.
Renee Wilde
The National Museum Of the United States Air Force celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2023. It takes 50 volunteers a day to staff the main concourse of the museum.

On the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Jason Wrachford was texting his dad while standing inside the historical Air Force One plane that served eight sitting presidents.

The plane, like all the former Air Force Ones, lives in Dayton at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

"I texted him and said, ’It’s kind of surreal right now ‘cause I’m standing inside the aircraft that 60 years ago today JKF took his last flights, both alive and dead,'" Wrachford said.

Wrachford is one of around 500 volunteers at the museum. When he retired from his career as an Air Force attorney, he returned to Dayton and discovered the museum.

A man and a woman stand in front of a historic plane inside an exhibit hall with a high ceiling.
Renee Wilde
Air Force Museum volunteers Jason Wrechford and Norma Colussi with the Memphis Belle plane.

“And so I started about 14 months ago, and have averaged 150 to 200 hours a month here,” Wachford said, tallying up his volunteer hours. “I'm essentially a full time volunteer here, normally five days a week, and enjoying my time.”

Lisa Riley, with the museum's public affairs office, said about 50 volunteers come in and work every day just to keep the main concourse open.

They have volunteers who work with the exhibits division who help to build and maintain the displays of artifacts. Then they have volunteers in the restoration division who help restore the planes that come out to the museum.

“Something that amazes me is, people from other countries like Germany, France or Australia come here specifically to visit the Air Force Museum. That really humbles me and it makes me realize the importance of the museum."

"So we have the breadth and depth of experience amongst our volunteer corp. And (they) are absolutely the life blood of our museum, we couldn’t do it without them," Riley said.

Not all of the volunteers have a military background, like gallery monitor Norma Colussi who lives in the area. She came here as a child, and brought her children, and grandchildren, to the museum.

“So when I retired I thought what a nice place to go and volunteer,” Colussi said. “Because it’s just a beautiful place. There’s like four buildings, and there’s all kinds of history. I’ve learned an awful lot by volunteering here.”

The museum is both the world's largest and oldest aviation museum and celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2023. It’s free to the public.

“Something that amazes me is, people from other countries like Germany, France or Australia come here specifically to visit the Air Force Museum,” Colussi said, recounting her time as a volunteer. “That really humbles me and it makes me realize the importance of the museum. ‘Cause I grew up with it in my backyard.

The museum has four huge hangers that encompass different eras of aviation history.

One of Colussi’s favorite areas is the early history which contain planes from World War II, The Korean War and The South East Asia War - like restored B17 bomber the Memphis Belle, whose crew flew 25 missions over Europe to help defeat Nazi Germany.

Wrachford and Colussi both agree that one of the best parts about being a museum volunteer is occasionally getting to meet the men and women whose life stories are tied to these historic aircraft.

“But, also, sometimes it's about stepping back and just letting visitors tell their stories,” Wrachford said. “Say for example the Vietnam vets. They’ll come in and they’ll see a plane and they’ll just start to tear up and you’ll just feel that emotion.”

“They relive that, you know,” Collussi added. “And it’s interesting too, somebody will come in and say ‘I was in that plane’, or ‘I flew that plane’, and that’s cool.”

“I had one like that,” Wrachford said. “There was a guy who came in and said, ‘Can I have a chair?’ So I went and got him a chair, and he sat in front of this plane for a couple hours. And finally I had to go back over to him and ask what he was doing in front of that plane."

"He said, ‘See that name up there, the crew chief? Yeah, that’s me.’"

Volunteers make the work of the Air Force Museum possible.
Renee Wilde
Volunteers make the work of the Air Force Museum possible.

Wrachford said that one of the mottos at the museum “is that we are the keepers of their stories. And so during our training they really tell us it's not so much about what we did, it's about what they did. The people who made the history that made this place what it is.”

At 50, Wachford considers himself a youngster among the volunteers. He said he’s learned so much from the others.

“You really develop a family here. Whether you’ve been in the military or not, you have a love for this place. You have a love for its mission. And you really have a love for each other,” he said. “Just like for me when I was in the military we always considered that our second families. And coming here you develop that camaraderie with your fellow volunteers.”

Wrachford and Colussi said volunteers come from all kinds of backgrounds, but they all have something in common: helping visitors have an enjoyable time at the museum.

Renee Wilde is an award-winning independent public radio producer, podcast host, and hobby farmer living in the hinterlands of southwestern Ohio.