Discover Portsmouth had scarcely opened its doors in spring 2008 when Mark Ankarberg stepped in. Ten years later, Mark is still there. Standing just inside the door at 10 Middle Street, he smiles as visitors enter. They are full of questions and Mark is filled with answers.
“We would love to clone Mark Ankarberg,” says Erika Beer, volunteer coordinator for Portsmouth Historical Society. “He’s the perfect greeter, a fountain of knowledge, endlessly dependable, and an all-round great guy. He’s our model for the kind of volunteers we want to add to our team this summer.”
And this year there’s an added incentive. Volunteers who work at least 40 hours at Discover Portsmouth this year will receive a free membership to the Portsmouth Historical Society. Membership privileges include discounts in the Museum Shop and to special programs and walking tours, plus invitations to members-only events, and free admission to the John Paul Jones House Museum & Garden.
In his tenth year, Mark is now the senior member of the Discover Portsmouth volunteer family. So, what makes him the model volunteer? Let’s ask.
“I’m not a native of Portsmouth,” Mark admits. “I come from Michigan. I was an educator for 38 years and lived overseas for a dozen of those years. I guess you need to really like people. I get to interact every day with interesting people who come through these doors. Visitors of every age come to Discover Portsmouth from all over the city, the region, and from all over the world.”
“I think it’s also important for Welcome Center guides to be able to read people–in a good way,” Mark says. “It’s our job to understand what each individual is seeking.”
“I usually ask, ‘Is this your first time here? How can I help you?’ How each visitor responds determines what happens next. Some are eager to hear all about Portsmouth. Others want to look around, visit the Museum Shop, browse through the books, watch our orientation film, or see the latest exhibition. My job is to decide how much and what type of information each person needs.”
Mark credits professor Richard Candee, the founder of Discover Portsmouth, as his mentor. He has attended professor Candee’s walking tours and history lectures, and read his books and articles. Over the years, Mark has “graduated” and now regularly leads the “Historic Downtown” walking tour. Meanwhile, he is involved with planning programs, helping with Portsmouth Historical Society events, and mentoring new volunteers.
“In just the last few years, I’ve seen how much tourism has increased in Portsmouth. People coming from Japan, for example, have heard about the Treaty of Portsmouth exhibition at the John Paul Jones House that we operate across the street,” Mark adds. “My reward is the chance to interact with so many fascinating people.”
Volunteer manager Erika Beer agrees.
“The more Portsmouth becomes a top heritage destination,” she says, “the more important Discover Portsmouth becomes. We are a free welcoming site and a hub of information about local arts, history, and culture. And that’s why Discover Portsmouth needs more volunteers like Mark– and maybe– like you.”
For more information about volunteering at Discover Portsmouth, contact Erika Beer at Erika@portsmouthhistory.org or call (603) 436-8433.