Midway Museum Is Forever Home for Midway Veterans

Margaret Riggs

Best guesses estimate that more than 200,000 officers and crew called the USS Midway home over her nearly five decades of naval service. Whether ship’s company or part of the air wing, and regardless of when or how long they served, these individuals will always be known as “Midway Sailors.”

Not long after the museum opened to the public, it was decided that an effort was needed to ensure that as many former Midway crewmembers as possible were welcomed back into the fold. The Midway Sailor program was born. 

The driving force behind the Midway Sailor program is Margaret Riggs, a museum volunteer for more than 18 years. Through this outreach program, nearly 6,000 Midway veterans have been reconnected with the ship.

“Volunteering allows me to give back something to the community and help build organizations that will continue to support the values that I believe in.”

“The program offers a complimentary membership to Midway veterans, helps plan special access to the museum during their visits, and provides them information about other resources of interest,” said Margaret, a retired biochemical genetic researcher and consultant.

The West Virginia native moved to San Diego in 1980 to work at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) in the department of pediatrics. Upon retirement from UCSD in 1998, she consulted for a dozen years with local biotech firms developing diagnostic tests.

Becoming a Midway volunteer happened partly by chance. Her husband Mike started as a volunteer and brought her along to help. A choice Margaret has never regretted.

“I recognize that some civic organizations can only be created by help and participation of volunteers,” said Margaret, who has amassed nearly 5,000 volunteer hours at the museum. “These organizations are mission driven, charitable or non-profit groups formed to educate, beautify, or create other intangible benefits for the community. They have a unique culture of service. The Midway Museum is such an organization.”

Margaret and her husband actually started volunteering for Midway before the museum’s public grand opening in 2004. Assisting the administration department, she helped mail out membership information and the first tickets and programs.

“Volunteering allows me to give back something to the community and help build organizations that will continue to support the values that I believe in,” said Margaret, who received her Ph. D. in biochemistry at Indiana University in 1973 and did her postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It also allows me to continue to use my skills part time in retirement in the unique service culture of a non-profit organization. It’s fun and I have formed new friendships with interesting people I would never have met otherwise.”

“As a founding member of the team, Midway is lucky to have her sustained contributions and dedication,” said Laurie Switzer, Midway’s director of volunteer programs. “Margaret has a tremendous ability with data, and a true commitment for Midway and her sailors. I am very grateful to her for the support she has provided over so many years.”

As one of the longest serving Midway volunteers, Margaret feels strongly about recommending the museum to others who might also be looking for enriching experiences.

“Volunteer positions at the Midway reward skills not found in the typical volunteer opportunity,” said Margaret, who recently celebrated her 78th birthday. “Examples include building and aircraft construction skills, technical military knowledge, library organization and crowd control. There are opportunities to work independently or to create significant new programs within the museum.”

Margaret also assists with Midway’s volunteer awards program which tracks, recognizes, and celebrates the museum’s hundreds of volunteers for their hours of dedicated service. However, it’s the Midway Sailor program that is most gratifying.

“My greatest satisfaction is helping these veterans relive their experiences aboard Midway and listening to their stories,” said Margaret, who is a founding fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics. “Their military experience influenced our culture in interesting unforeseen ways. I also like working across departmental lines, learning about what other groups are doing as I assist in planning special experiences for them during their visits.”   

Providing valuable assistance to Margaret as fellow members of the Midway Sailor team are volunteers Karen Garst and Ed Martin.  Both help engaging with and supporting Midway veterans.

For those interested in becoming a USS Midway Museum volunteer, more information along with the volunteer application can be found at www.midway.org/give-join/volunteers

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