Volunteer Spotlight: Mike Crawmer
Phipps is well-known for our beautiful gardens, seasonal flower shows, pioneering sustainability initiatives, informative educational programs and community outreach. None of our work, however, would be possible without the knowledge and dedication of our volunteers. In this series of profiles, we meet some of the people who give their time to make Phipps possible.
Although Mike Crawmer has occasionally lent his weeding skills to the Phipps exhibit beds, he doesn’t pride himself on his emerald thumbs. “I plant seeds and I hope they grow,” he says. “That’s the extent of my gardening.” Mike shares his love of nature by guiding tours through Phipps' Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL).
Mike led his first tour of Pittsburgh’s greenest building over a year after applying to become a volunteer. Now, Mike leads special assignment tours around Pittsburgh’s greenest building, explaining the nuances of solar panels, compost buckets and rainwater collection. He loves “meeting people, talking to them about sustainability at Phipps, and hearing their own experiences and questions.”
Whether he’s talking to local agricultural students, elementary schoolers, or families visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, Mike loves to see visitors’ pure emotional reaction to the exhibits. He most enjoys the moment when visitors first glimpse the tall, bright ceilings and majestic greenery of the Palm Court. “That’s a ‘wow’ moment!” he says.
But learning can facilitate “wow” moments of its own, as Mike has learned during his many trips through the CSL and the nearby Nature Lab at Phipps. One conversation with a group of local fifth graders still brings a smile to his face. “They knew what sustainability was,” he says. “When I mentioned geothermal energy, they knew what it was and how it worked. They asked questions and were very interested.” Interactions with questioning visitors keep Mike on his toes, always learning more about sustainability, green energy and eco-friendly construction.
All that knowledge takes time to accumulate. “It’s a lot of information for me to keep in my head,” he says with a smile. Mike works hard to translate complex technical concepts into explanations that anyone can understand and appreciate. That’s a tall order for the Highland Park resident, who’s still learning about many of these topics himself but is passionate about the positive impact that sustainable living has had on his community.
“I love to talk about Pittsburgh,” he says. “I love to talk about Phipps in general. I love to give the history of Phipps and put it into context.” It’s these small tidbits of local lore, like the marbles embedded in the Palm Court floor or the racetrack that used to attract throngs of visitors to Schenley Park, that bring Mike’s tours to life. He looks forward to witnessing — and creating — many more of those “wow” moments in the years to come.
Select photos © Paul g. Wiegman