Congratulations to Doug Mueller, one of the many dedicated Virginia volunteers who was nominated for the 2023 Serve Virginia Honor Roll, which spotlights the volunteers that serve their communities in a variety of ways, promoting quality of life and creating a lasting impact for others across the Commonwealth!
In early 2020, when Doug began volunteering at the Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve near Portsmouth, Virginia, he had retired from a job in the U.S. government and was mourning the death of his 95-year-old father just months earlier. Doug recalls, “Dad was standing by my side when I enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 in the summer of 1974 and, thanks to the Commanding Officer at the Recruit Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, Dad was standing by my side when I retired from the Government as a Navy Civilian over 44 years later. A pretty good set of bookends to a career.”
Upon returning home from the Chicago area where he and his older brother and sister were helping their mother, Doug decided that he wanted to find a volunteer role where he could give 4-8 hours a week and not be committed to a specific set of hours. His wife suggested Hoffler Creek as an opportunity that was just over 2.5 miles from their home. He reached out to their staff online to explore options and visited in-person soon after for a “windshield tour via golf cart in a steady drizzle.” Despite the rain, Doug says, “I was hooked.”
Since then, Doug’s service has included a variety of projects and goals, a mixture of activities assigned to him by the staff along with those that he has the freedom to set based on his interests. In addition to serving on-site, Doug admits, “I always have a few Hoffler Creek projects that I work on in my garage.” He adds, “During the time that I have volunteered at Hoffler Creek, I have fixed chainsaws and used them cut up fallen trees, maintained the golf cart, restored the solar power and rainwater collection systems at the creek itself, and am still working on the other solar system at the Preserve’s Pavilion. I maintain tires on the carts used to haul debris and have become somewhat of an expert at fixing small tire flats. One Saturday each month I bring my old lawn tractor and utility trailer up and help with Volunteer Day.” He has also built a light-duty stump grinder from an old walk-behind edger and even constructed a few clocks using a pully design from one of his father’s WWII shipmates in order to help track the tides at Pig Point. It is clear that Doug takes great joy and pride in the skills that he is able to develop and share through his volunteer role at Hoffler Creek.
There is a sense of adventure in Doug’s service as well. He recalls, “One of the more thrilling jobs was, with help from a friend, cutting up a tree that had fallen into the creek and was interfering with kayak launch and recovery, and hauling the waterlogged pieces out to the street for pickup… using every bit of power that poor old lawn tractor had we hauled approximately ¾-mile out to the street.”
One of the aspects of his service that Doug most enjoys is the opportunity to work with exceptional young people who “are willing to work hard and ready to assume the mantle of leadership in the world.” He also credits the Hoffler Creek staff—specifically Executive Director Ashley Morgan and Community Coordinator Heather Key—and his fellow volunteers for their transformative work. According to Doug, they “have taken Hoffler Creek and turned it into something Portsmouth can be proud of. It has been my privilege to be a small part of the team.” Indeed, at the end of the day, Doug says, “The two best things about volunteering at Hoffler Creek are the people I work with and the compensation. I am paid in smiles and hugs… the best pay ever.”
These days, Doug has started a new project with the help of an Old Dominion University student: rebuilding the oyster floats used to restore existing oyster beds or help encourage the growth of new ones (shown in his photo above). He says, “I feel quite honored to be a part of this effort to keep the waters of the Chesapeake clean. It is the single most important gift I can give my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”