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Volunteers offer million dollar' service

By Staff
TELLING THE STORY Shelby Harris of Decatur has been on the job as a volunteer for The Majesty of Spain exhibition since it opened in March. The retired chairman of the math/science division at ECCC says he enjoys meeting visitors from all over the world. Submitted photo
By Nell Luter Floyd/Special to The Star
Aug. 12, 2001
JACKSON Look for Shelby Harris of Decatur on a Friday morning, and you'll find him greeting visitors here at The Majesty of Spain exhibition.
You'll find Carol and Ovid Vickers of Decatur here, too.
They're among 1,300 volunteers who staff the galleries at the exhibit, all for the opportunity to view the more than 600 treasures on display countless times, meet visitors from across the nation and make friends with other volunteers.
The exhibit tells the story of the majesty of Spain in art and architecture, design and decoratives, including tapestries, sculpture, porcelains, bronzes, armaments, thrones, furnishings, ivories, religious items and costumes. What's truly majestic: three room recreations, including the Porcelain Room from the Royal Palace of Aranjuez decorated from top to bottom walls and ceilings  with porcelain monkeys, fruits and flowers and Chinese figures.
Human face'
Ellen Gully, director of volunteers at The Majesty of Spain, said as of July 27 volunteers had donated 70,496 hours to staff the exhibit. Volunteers greet visitors, man the coat check desk, hand out audio tours, stand in the 14 galleries, assist in the gift shop, hand out information about tourist attractions in Mississippi and answer questions.
Gully, using information from the Volunteer Management Report produced by The Independent Sector, a coalition of 700 non-profit organizations, figures it would have cost $1,084,933 if the commission had to pay for the 70,496 volunteer hours.
Harris expects to have donated about 150 hours when the exhibit closes on Sept. 3. He's been there every Friday  except one from 8 a.m. until noon since the exhibit opened on March 1.
Greeting visitors
Harris usually works as a greeter at the main entrance to the Mississippi Arts Pavilion or in the first gallery that visitors step into after they've viewed the orientation film.
Ovid Vickers, who taught composition and English literature at ECCC for 40 years, also mans the first gallery. Carol Vickers, who taught English to high school students in Newton County and also at ECCC, acts as a greeter, stepping on and off tour buses and school buses to provide visitors with practical information such as where they pick up their tickets and exhibit do's and don't's.
The Vickers, who have been retired for six years, know exactly what to do because they've filled the same volunteer positions during Palaces of St. Petersburg and Splendors of Versailles as they do for The Majesty of Spain.
The Vickers, who have visited Spain and the Prado Museum of Art, expect to have donated 110 hours by the time the exhibit closes.
One of the joys of being a volunteer is getting to know others who give of their time to the exhibit, said Carol Vickers, who wrote the forward for the book, Mississippi Quilts, recently published by University Press of Mississippi.
Each week, Harris and the Vickers visit with Milton Matthews, assistant director of volunteers and one of their former students.
The exhibit, which has gained praise from publications ranging from The New York Times to USA Today, has chalked up ticket sales of 266,000 tickets, Kyle said.
Nell Luter Floyd is a free-lance writer.