The only people that have volunteered more seasons at Fort Frederica National Monument (FOFR) than Tom and me are Denise and Bob Verba. They are in their seventh season of volunteering at Fort Frederica and we are only in our fifth. The Verbas started here one year before we did and came last year, when Tom and I stayed home because of being pre-vaccination.
Bob and Denise are maintenance volunteers at FOFR. Which means they do a little bit of everything except interpretation. Because they have been here so many seasons, the maintenance staff trusts them to be able to do any job they give them. Maintenance supervisor, Tony, gives them a task and then lets them go at it. When they finish, he gives them a new task. One day they might build a bridge over the moat with Tom. The next day they are replacing light bulbs in the Visitors Center. We call Bob the “golf cart whisperer” because he can figure out what is wrong with the golf carts better than anyone.
Denise and Bob Verba have been married 52 years. They raised their family in upstate New York, where Bob was a truck driver and Denise was a labor and delivery nurse. Denise and Bob got married after Bob’s second term of service in the Vietnam War. They have two kids and five grandchildren who range in age from 10 to 25. Once the kids were grown and out of the house, Bob and Denise decided to move to North Carolina where the winters were more temperate. They bought a house in Sanford, NC, in 1995. Bob retired in 2008 and Denise retired in 2013. They have been volunteering in the National parks ever since.
Bob and Denise have always loved camping. They camped in tents with their kids, then got a pop-up camper in 1990. The Verbas moved up to a motorhome in 2016, and bought a Class A Itasca Sunstar two years ago. They like the Sunstar much better for longer-term volunteering. Denise and Bob started volunteering at Shenandoah as campground hosts and have continued that every year but they only do that for two months at a time. They have also volunteered on the Blue Ridge Parkway and at Zion National Park.
As campground hosts, Denise and Bob make sure that people are doing what they are supposed to do. They check reservations and help people find their camping sites. Bob and Denise make sure people are out of the campsite when they are supposed to be. They do some light cleanup and campground maintenance. It sounds like they don’t work as hard as campground hosts as they do as maintenance volunteers.
When I asked them what they liked best about volunteering, Denise answered “the people!” They like meeting the campers and visitors to the park as well as the other volunteers. They have also made good friends with some of the rangers. Bob said they like giving back to the national parks. They have always enjoyed traveling and visiting the national parks and are thankful for this chance to make the parks better.
Bob and Denise estimate they are in their home in North Carolina about half the year. When they are at home, Denise sews and Bob does woodworking. They also take RV trips for sight-seeing and to visit their children and grandchildren. They travel with their wonderful black lab Cassie. Cassie helps them with their work as much as possible and is a friendly greeter to anyone coming to the park.
Denise and Bob Verba plan on volunteering as long as they are physically able. Volunteering helps them stay in shape and gets them outside more. Bob says, “What would I do if I stayed home? I’d have to be with her all the time!” Bob had knee replacement surgery in 2020 and he was back volunteering the following January.
We have really enjoyed working with the Verbas. They are one of the reasons we keep coming back to Fort Frederica. We go out to eat together (they introduced us to Zuzu’s) and we like to play games together. We have enjoyed many movies together at Island Cinemas. Even when Tom doesn’t want to go to a “chick flick” I know Denise is willing. We would spend more time with them except we always work opposite days. They work Monday through Thursday and we work Thursday through Sunday. But we still enjoy even brief conversations and the projects we get to do with them.
Fort Frederica is lucky to have volunteers as dedicated as Bob and Denise. They are knowledgeable, energetic workers and know a lot about how the park works. They will be heading home to North Carolina next week, but we look forward to working with them in the future.