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The San Francisco Bay Area Gay & Lesbian Sierrans is an outings and conservation club for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered
people, and our friends.
Membership is open to all genders and members range in age from their twenties to retirees.
Basically, we encourage anyone who likes the outdoors, who's interested in conservation, who wants to meet other active and
engaged people, or who just wants a relaxing way to enjoy the random weekend to join us.
SF Bay Chapter Sierra Club July-Sept 2009 Volunteer of the Month - Russ Hartman, GLS Hike Leader
*reprinted from Sierra Club Yodeler Newspaper article.
Russ Hartman pays attention to details, especially details of leading good hikes.
Russ Hartman works at the California Academy of Sciences, but his office is tucked away far from the albino alligator and
the three-story rainforest. He manages the museum's little-known but fascinating anthropology collection. In his volunteering
with the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans (GLS), Russ has a more visible role as a dedicated hike leader who led the most hikes
in the section last year, but he has also done plenty of behind-the-scenes work as outings chair on the Governing Committee
(GovComm). He has recently stepped down from this role, and his unique combination of dedication and precision will be
During his three years as Outings Chair, it fell to Russ to put together the calendar of hikes, camping trips, and other activities (usually at least 16 listings) that goes out in the section's bimonthly newsletter - a task he took on with the zeal of a skilled cataloguer. It entailed a barrage of e-mails and phone calls to hike leaders reminding them to submit their requests, and then keeping track of those requests and piecing them together into a schedule. Daniel Najjar, who served with Russ on GovComm for the past two years, states,
He was responsible for making sure almost every single weekend in the calendar year was filled with at least one hike - and it always was.
GovComm colleague Jenna Slovis recalls how Russ always waited to choose the dates for his own hikes until all the requests had come in, so that he could fill in any gaps himself.
He never jumped first to pick a weekend because it was convenient for him. He always considered the larger good of both GLS and the larger Sierra Club. Slovis adds,
He was always making sure that we remembered that we have missions of conservation and environmental protection.
Along with his dedication, Russ' attention to detail was downright legendary, down to correcting spelling errors in the minutes.
As a museum professional, Russ had a particular orientation toward the importance of reliable archives, Najjar notes.
Russ' knack for details made him extremely effective at a range of other duties as well, such as updating leaders on news from the larger Sierra Club, reminding them when their first-aid certifications were expiring, or informing them what permits were needed for their outings.
He always made sure, Slovis says,
that we were getting answers that we needed.
Outreach was a big priority for Russ. He organized leader trainings several times a year and also co-led introductory hikes in San Francisco to bring in new members. He was primarily responsible for setting up the GLS booth at Earth Day in McLaren Park, Gay Pride in the Civic Center, and the Castro Street Fair, including lots of equipment-hauling and organizing of volunteers.
As a hike leader,
Russ has led a stunning number of hikes of all varieties, according to Erica Tucker, another GovComm member and fellow hike leader.
His hikes, she says,
serve the diverse members of GLS, including beginners' hikes and docent-led tours of preserves. Unsurprisingly, he is thorough and organized. He communicates well ahead of the hike and also during it, Tucker recounts,
making sure all people are together and understand what's happening. As a hike leader there's one other crucial detail he never neglects: he's always welcoming and encouraging. I always feel that I will be well cared-for when I attend one of his hikes, and it is a joy to co-lead with him. One of the most popular outings that Russ has led isn't a hike at all, but rather a tour of the Academy's new science museum in Golden Gate Park. His first tour generated so much buzz that Russ did it again, two more times.
It was a ton of work, Tucker points out,
but he did it three times because there was that much interest.
At the heart of Russ' dedication lies his love of the outdoors, which he attributes to a childhood roaming around his family's farm in rural Pennsylvania. He has fond memories of
just traipsing around the woods and playing in the creek, and of Sunday hikes along the Appalachian Trail. The same woods nurtured his love of Native American artifacts, starting when he found his first arrowhead at around age seven.
I've just always been drawn to American Indian material, he muses.
I don't know why.
Russ majored in anthropology at Penn State and went on to receive a master's in museum science with an anthropology focus at Texas Tech. After graduating, he took a job with the Navajo Nation in Arizona as a field archeologist surveying areas scheduled for strip mining, but after six months a position opened up to run the small Navajo Nation Museum. He remained at the museum for the next 13 years and found it a fascinating experience.
It was interesting working in a culture totally alien to my own... but surrounded by things that I loved.
In 1990 Russ moved to California to work at the Academy. As one who clearly does not like to call attention to himself, he seems well-suited to managing the Academy's very much behind-the-scenes collection of artifacts. (You are most likely to view its contents when you're killing time at the San Francisco Airport, where several exhibits have been mounted.) The collection totals about 16,500 objects, modest by museum standards but enriched, Russ notes, by some exceptional objects and by artifacts from every region of the world. His favorites include some exquisite California basketry as well as a collection of Japanese folk art. There is also extensive material from the Southwest, Russ' specialty.
Russ went on his first hike with GLS soon after his move to the Bay Area, but it was not until 2005 that he became outings chair. In a somewhat unusual reversal, he became outings chair before becoming a hike leader; he completed training and was leading hikes a year later. His term recently reached its three-year limit, and it's time, as he put it,
for a breather. (The GLS GovComm has a three-year term limit, to allow more members to assume leadership roles and to prevent any one person from burning out.)
A hiatus from GovComm means more time for gardening, baking, and yes, volunteering. He plans to continue leading hikes, though probably fewer, and he currently represents GLS on the Chapter Activities Committee. He also volunteers with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, an organization that marshals volunteers for habitat restoration and trail maintenance. He also helps in the monthly habitat-restoration work parties at Corona Heights in San Francisco, organized by the Natural Areas Program of the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department and co-sponsored by GLS. He has not ruled out an eventual return to GovComm, but in his absence he hopes new volunteers will step forward.
At some point you have to give back if you expect the organization to sustain itself. I know that sounds obvious, but it's absolutely true.
Dedicated, meticulous - you hear these words a lot when other volunteers talk about Russ. But he is also a good sport. Erica Tucker recounts how at a hike-leader training, Russ volunteered to play the role of the person who falls down and hurts their ankle. He lay in the dirt and good-naturedly took the group's jests about kicking him down the mountain. He may have been playing the one in need of help, but in fact, Russ has looked after the organization, taking care of it like his prized anthropology collection. He will be a hard gem to replace.
© 2009 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler