Volunteer of the Month

We have hundreds of volunteers that have shared their time, heart and expertise to our organization through many many hours, sometimes through blood, sweat, and tears too.  Without our volunteers, our park and our programming would not be what it is today.  We wish we could give back to them as much as they give to us. 

One way we would like to show our gratitude is by putting the spotlight on a volunteer each month.  This person just stood out to us and we would like to recognize him or her.

Interested in Volunteering?

This month we want to recognize:


Volunteer of the Month

Douglas Noel


In 1950 I was born in inner city Detroit. I was born too fast and so was a special needs child that at that time was recommended to be placed in an asylum such as existed here at Phinizy. My parents would have nothing of that, having visited and investigated them in Michigan, such as Eloise in Nankin township, another in Northville and others in Michigan. I also secretly explored the one at Eloise before it was closed. Detroit in the 50s did not teach Science until high school but my Dad saw my interest and bought me several kits from which I taught myself, hence my love for all things related to the swamp and Science. I was always an explorer and so a wanderer, which was probably not a good idea in Detroit even in the 1950s. Many times the Detroit Police force, in which some of my uncles worked, was sent to search for me. I remember being found exploring at Stout Park or the Rouge River or wherever I could learn something. I remember being fascinated once when there was a drought and the level of the Rouge River got very low and they discovered leg bones and feet in cement overshoes probably the result of enforcement by Detroit’s Purple Gang. All of this led to lifelong learning which still continues and I have been written up in Who’s Who in the Midwest, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, Who’s Who in Education, and the International Dictionary of Who’s Who. I’ve written five books and published three and have received several awards for my poetry, the most recent last week. I gave up writing and publishing my poetry in March of 2018 because I felt nobody cared and was surprised with an award in the mail for poetry I wrote in 2018 which was very little. I became a teacher and graduated from Concordia Teacher’s College in 1978 with a major in Elementary Education and minors in Theology and Music. I began my teaching in a one-room school in Nebraska, where I worked on my Masters in School Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I became a school principal in Hamilton, Ohio, and hated it. God made me a teacher, not an administrator. So I accepted a position teaching college in Cincinnati. When the city bought the building the college was in I went to teach as an agent for the US Treasury Department for 20 years. During my vacations I would take trips to learn and teach in China and Venezuela. When I retired from the federal government, I went back into teaching public school and continued my travels to increase my learning and teaching skills, making several trip to the Bahamas, Mexico, and Haiti. I did a Master in Education at Southern Methodist university, a PhD in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Walden University, and an EdS degree at Liberty University. My work with the Federal Government traveled me throughout the United states and Canada and the last place I was stationed was Columbia, South Carolina. Of all the places I lived, I felt South Carolina was the best in which to retire although I still have an intense love of Michigan and Detroit.

In 2005, I began teaching in the valley area in South Carolina. I taught ELA, Science, and Social Studies at LBC Middle School. In 2005, I arranged a field trip for the kids to come to the Phinizy Swamp, Science, and Nature Center. I received a brochure about it and found it interesting. I fell in love with it and have been a volunteer ever since. When I first came out here there were no wooden walkways just dirt paths. However, I found myriad opportunities to learn and explore and so I became and remain hooked. I love researching the history of it, exploring the various areas of the swamp and sharing those experiences with others. To use a golf term, I’m still a duffer. The more I learn the more I realize there is to learn. The only one that “knows it all” is my hero and mentor Ruth and she I’m sure is still learning also. I’m still researching the swamp and Gracewood Asylum, part of the swamp’s history, as well as other asylums, and anything anyone can provide to assist my research is greatly appreciated. I have been encouraged by many to put my stories into a book and I may do that. Right now I’m still gathering information.

I’m not a carpenter, artist, photographer, or actual scientist, but I love learning and communicating with the public. I’m a social scientist. I guess that goes along with my teaching and the fact that I am also an actor (I’ve been in over 50 plays, movies, and shows) and former member of the IPA, International Podium Association. I recently had a great time with the Spookduckular and a young man named Landon. I can be found volunteering as a hike leader or running the Visitor Center whenever I’m needed. The full-moon hikes are fantastic and I love leading them or joining one that Ruth leads. I also love wandering throughout the swamp and exploring the various areas. Take a path you haven’t explored and a new world will open before you. Robert frost hit it right on the money when he wrote, “Two paths diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Stop by the gift shop when I’m there and I’ll relay some areas to explore depending upon your interest. No journey is ever wasted and no learning is ever for naught. It enables us for the future.

You have no idea what you’ve missed and have yet to experience. Every visit is a new and exciting experience. Have you found the farm, stagecoach, cemetery, know where the historic teepee was, seen all the alligators, river otters, birds, Phinizy Ditch and where it meets Butler Creek? The swamp is 7100 acres with 1100 acres with trails. It’s unlikely you’ll get lost or turned around, but bring your cellphone in case you do; that’s when you find the best learning experiences. Ask Robert Frost.

Being a Phinizy Volunteer ignites my love of learning and exploration. If you’re a people person, it’s for you. If you prefer to be alone/independent, it’s for you. Whatever your skills, you are valued. You can repair walkways, clear trails, explore, educate, work in the office, organize, coordinate, park cars, lead hikes, ride bikes, walk dogs, take pictures, create artwork, and much more. If you are alive, there is something for you here and you are valued and valuable. You cannot be too young or too old.