The USS Midway Museum has a secret weapon that quietly extends the museum’s reputation as one of San Diego’s most beloved community symbols. The Midway speakers bureau launched shortly after the museum opened, and it was created to spread the word about Midway and the Navy by providing community organizations with live in-person presentations. It’s only been in the last dozen years, however, that its impact has been felt extensively throughout Southern California.

“It was dormant, only giving about four to six talks a year,” said Dick Walker, the Midway volunteer who took over the leadership of the speakers bureau 14 years ago. “I felt that we needed to train more speakers and provide a wider variety of talks, and continue to add new talks so we would be requested to return.”

The group now has 23 active speakers, all volunteers. Since 2010, the speakers bureau has given more than 700 presentations before a combined audience estimated to be more than 30,000 people.

“I think by showcasing a very professional group of speakers that represent a professional extension of the museum enhances Midway’s standing in the community,” said Dick, a retired Navy pilot who has more than 6,300 volunteer hours. “The bureau provides a personal face to the museum’s marketing efforts because we are coming to them.”

Midway docent Brian Bulter speaks to a group at the Casa de las Campanas senior living center.

The audiences for the speakers bureau has evolved over the years. Initially it was limited to military service groups and specialty clubs like Rotary and Kawanis. The bureau’s outreach has broadened significantly and now connects with organizations that range from corporate groups, law enforcement teams and senior centers to teachers associations and schools. In 2023, more than 2,500 people with more than 100 organizations received presentations.

“I believe that the speaker’s program outreach taps into some of the markets that are hard to reach,” said Steve Walker, a member of the bureau since 2016 and a volunteer docent for 13 years. “What other program serves a last minute cancellation the day before a downtown San Diego annual corporate meeting? The North American Dairy Farmers were so grateful and pleased to have us present on short notice to over 200 members. They treated us like rock stars.”

The speakers bureau has more than a dozen different presentations, which allows them to make repeat visits to the same organization. The more popular presentations given center on the Midway story, the Battle of Midway and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

“It’s an honor representing our great team out in the community,” said Chris Day, a member of the speakers bureau for five years and a docent since 2014. “Not everyone can come aboard Midway and much of our audience is not entirely mobile. We get to take the USS Midway to them. I feel pride in having been part of our Navy, and honored to be able to continue to serve in a different way.”

While all of the speaking engagements are enriching experiences, each member of the group has their favorites.

While all of the speaking engagements are enriching experiences, each member of the group has their favorites.

“I’d say one of our most favorite stops has been annually at the Walt Whitman Elementary School in Clairemont,” said nine year docent Brian Bulter, who joined the speakers bureau with Steve Walker in 2016. “We go on Veterans Day week. The first and second graders learn not so much about the Midway, but instead about the military service in general. I still recall the huge smiles when the kids try on Steve’s flight helmets and receive their junior pilot wings.”

Fred Shatsky with new friends following a presentation.

Although COVID put a halt to in-person presentations for the speakers bureau for about a year, it opened a new door that is still in place today. During the pandemic, Dick began reaching out to organizations that the group had presented to previously offering virtual presentations.

“Many of our speakers learned how to use Zoom,” said Dick, who actually served on Midway as the flag lieutenant on the staff of Carrier Division One in 1964. “We began giving talks to Rotary clubs in Wyoming, Colorado, Florida and Hawaii.”

In 2021, the speakers bureau made more than 50 virtual presentations. While they still do several Zoom presentations annually, most of the presentations are back to being in person.

“Most organizations really appreciate that a Midway speaker has taken the time to come to their site and give a talk,” said Dick, who accumulated more than 4,500 flight hours and 500 aircraft carrier landings during his 21-year naval career. “The senior retirement homes cannot say enough about how much a speaker means to their folks and nothing is better than having a real live person come to a Rotary breakfast at 7 a.m. and represent the museum. I am proud to be a part of this great crew.”

“I like to ask people, where else can someone my age be relevant in the lives of people from age three to 103, other than as a Midway volunteer,” said Brian, who served in the Navy from 1968-1970. “Perhaps this is especially true when we bring the Midway to life through the speakers bureau.”

Information on Midway’s speakers bureau can be found here

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