To be or KNOT to be, that is the million dollar question.
When former Midway volunteer Jim Simmons began his knot-tying demonstrations on the ship’s fo’c’sle in 2007 as a way to entertain museum guests and highlight the history of seamanship, little did he know the impact that he would ultimately have on thousands of students in San Diego.
Jim would offer the bracelets he made to visitors in exchange for small donations that would go to Midway’s education department. That first year, nearly $3,000 dollars were collected and applied to the museum’s Bravo Zulu (BZ) Scholarship Fund that was in its infancy.
By 2022, Midway’s Knot Team donations topped $1 million.
“This is a milestone that I only dreamed about but never expected to see $1 million reached in my lifetime,” said Emory Bishop, co-founder of the Knot Team who joined Jim in 2009. “In the beginning, we were happy if a day’s donations reached $100. Reaching $1 million did not come into a possibility until additional members were added and we moved from the fo’c’sle to the hangar deck in 2013.”
Emory was awarded Midway’s volunteer of the year in 2014 for his significant contributions to the Knot Team.
“It was by 2012 that knotted item production first exceeded demand,” remembers Emory, a Midway volunteer since 2007. “Once the knotted item inventory and item selection improved from three items to five and more, and with the addition of different colored items, the donation amounts significantly increased.”
The Knot Team has been comprised with as few as two volunteers and as many as 45. The group’s size currently sits at 35 members who craft a variety of knotted trinkets ranging from bracelets and key chains to lanyards and dog leashes.
Setting up their knot-making and display tables on the hangar deck more than 100 days each year, the team revels as much in their own camaraderie as they do in engaging with museum visitors.
“I like seeing the growth of the team, and watching customers and Knot Team members faces light up when they make a connection,” said CJ Flores, who has been a volunteer since 2018 both with the Knot Team and the safety department. “The connection comes when the customers understand the scholarship program and they want to help in that effort.”
In the nearly 17 years since the creation of the Knot Team, more than 165,600 individual knotted items have been made, using more than 300 miles of cord. In 2016, the team received more than $122,000 in donations, the highest in any year to date. The most popular item is the Turk’s Head bracelet.
“I’ve had many creative hobbies throughout my life, but none has stayed with me nor has satisfied me as much as crafting the bracelets, lanyards, key chains and other items,” said Fred Shatsky, who has been a volunteer for 18 years both as a docent and with the Knot Team. “I get additional satisfaction by interacting with guests, knowing that their purchases and donations support the education department’s BZ Scholarship Fund. I’m also a mentor to scholarship recipients which adds even more to my satisfaction.”
The donations received by the Knot team not only support the BZ Scholarship Fund, but also Midway’s No Student Left Ashore program. Since its inception, nearly 150 San Diego High School students have received scholarships from the museum.
“The Knot Team is the perfect example of why Midway is so special,” said Sara Hanscom, Midway’s former education director. “It all started with a one-person demonstration of nautical knot tying for our guests, and folks wanted to make donations. At that very same time, we became school partners with San Diego High School and had just developed our Bravo Zulu Scholarship Awards. I was thrilled with the idea of the Knot Team donations supporting our BZ scholarships. It began in 2007 and the rest is history. What a perfect example of Midway Magic.”
“The San Diego High School scholarship program is the driving force behind the guests generous donations,” said Emory, who has logged nearly 15,000 volunteer hours as docent and Knot Team member. “When the guests are informed the money goes to the scholarship fund, they often make donations larger than the suggested donation for the item.”
The Knot Team members take tremendous pride knowing their efforts are helping deserving students with their future education, and they have no sign of slowing down.
“I think reaching this milestone is a tremendous testament of all the people of the Knot Team,” said CJ, who has amassed nearly 1,600 volunteer hours. “Midway’s scholarship program is remarkable and invaluable, and the stories of the students on how the scholarship program has impacted their life is overwhelming.”