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Hibbard volunteers in a variety of locations

March 15, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

WILLIAMSPORT - Bill Hibbard's volunteerism has taken him to a lighthouse on Michigan Island, atop wind-swept Canaan Valley in West Virginia, into a railroad caboose, in the C&O Canal Visitors Center in Williamsport and, this summer, to a national park on the Minnesota-Canada border.

At 80 years old, Hibbard said he wasn't about to spend his retirement in a rocking chair watching television.

In fact, he doesn't have television in his Williamsport home and allows himself to watch no more than two hours of television a night when he spends time in a house he co-owns in Canaan Valley, W.Va.

Hibbard retired from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in 1995 and moved to Williamsport. Unmarried, he started volunteering with the C&O Canal a year after he retired.

"Just in time for the flood of '96," he said.

At the C&O Canal Visitors Center Hibbard runs the bookstore, explains the history of the canal to visitors and leads tours, especially those related to his specialty of bridges.

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Because he enjoyed volunteering with the canal so much, Hibbard several years ago began looking into other volunteer opportunities with the National Park Service. He came across a listing for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, Wis.

"So I signed up to work in a lighthouse," he said.

He volunteered there for four weeks in 2002, and plans to volunteer on the island for three weeks this summer.

On Michigan Island, Hibbard gives tours, checks on the U.S. Coast Guard-maintained light in the lighthouse, mows grass and pumps water to a tank.

He also monitors and cleans a campground about a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse.

"I was all by myself - it was just me and two bears," said Hibbard, a self-described introvert. He said visitors helped stave off loneliness.

Although not a biologist, "amateur or otherwise," Hibbard said he enjoys watching the wildlife.

On Michigan Island he was using binoculars to watch a sailboat about a mile away when a bald eagle swooped into the frame.

After leaving the lighthouse this summer, he plans to head to Voyageurs, a national park in northern Minnesota along the Canada border. It's named for the French-Canadian traders who plied the waters there centuries ago.

He expects his duties to include running a bookstore/gift shop, checking people into and out of cabins, and greeting boaters. He'll take a down jacket, since northern Minnesota is not known for its balminess in late summer.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Hibbard grew up there, in Erie, Pa., and Mount Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

He served in the U.S. Navy and, while working with NASA, did conceptual designs for satellites.

Five satellites now in space are based on his initial designs, he said.

Along with volunteering at national parks, Hibbard is a volunteer brakeman on a Walkersville Southern Railroad caboose, volunteers at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and sings in a community chorus in Davis, W.Va., and with his church choir in Williamsport.

He is a board member of the C&O Canal Association and the bookstore's manager, meaning he stores and ships orders placed online.

Volunteering serves another purpose besides keeping him away from a rocking chair.

"It sounds idealistic, but it's the sense of contributing," he said.

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