David Wilner named Washington Crossing Park’s Volunteer of the Year

    by Lisa DeAngelis

    David Wilner has been named Washington Crossing Park’s Volunteer of the Year.

    Dave is one of the Park’s most dedicated and consistent volunteers, according to Katherine Becnel, Volunteer Coordinator for The Friends of Washington Crossing Park. “He contributed nearly 190 volunteer hours in one year,” she says, “pitching in when needed, no questions or complaints.”

    Dave has done it all, tour guide, artillery demonstrator, assisting with events and fundraisers, always willing to “step up, pitch in, and help wherever necessary.”

    Dave lives with his wife in Yardley, not far from the park that is named for General George Washington’s daring Christmas night 1776 crossing of the Delaware River to win the Battle of Trenton.

    He started volunteering at the park in 2016, after he retired as an executive from several software companies. “I met some of the volunteers at the annual crossing reenactment and inquired about volunteering. I’ve been doing it ever since.” 

    Dave majored in history in college and has always had an interest in things historical.

    He has made many friends in the last four years. “Everybody at the park is so friendly. We all have a common interest, and folks there are so smart and knowledgeable.”

    He especially enjoys interpreting colonial life for kids on field trips during the Park’s special Colonial Days, designed for students of all ages when they rotate through stations to observe the activities of an ordinary day in the 1700s, and learn about the events of Christmas 1776. Dave gets a lot of pleasure watching visitors discover calligraphy, candle-dipping, blacksmithing, inspecting a replica of a Durham boat, the kind Washington’s men used to cross the river, observing demonstrations of musket and cannon firing, and participating in soldiers’ drills and the games traditionally played by children back then – in general, finding out what day-to-day life was really like for people in the 18th century.

    Dave could be found at the park every Monday afternoon, before the coronavirus, explaining the importance of the Crossing to visitors.

    In addition to Dave’s role as tour guide, he is a member of the Artillery Crew, responsible for bringing ammunition to load the cannons.

    Dave also participated in three of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park’s large annual fundraisers, Concert on the Riverbank, Brewfest, and Wine on the Waterfront.

    At these events, he performed a variety of jobs, from demonstrating artillery to helping in the membership tent. 

    “I was surprised to be recognized as the Volunteer of the Year,” says Dave, “I never thought I did anything beyond the ordinary.”

    But Katherine Becnel disagrees. She thinks he is being much too modest.

    Dave may sum up his voluntarism as nothing more than his “using his love of history, enjoying retirement, and enjoying the park,” but that very self-effacing attitude is why he was chosen as Volunteer of the Year 2020.

    Katherine emphasizes that Washington Crossing Historic Park and the Friends of Washington Crossing Park would never be able to do all the things they do without dedicated and consistent volunteers like Dave, always pitching in to assist in whatever capacity is most needed at the time.

    Kathleen says of Dave, “We count on Dave’s help and he always follows through. If he says he’ll be there for a shift, you can depend on it.”

    His kindly and informative manner is a favorite with visitors.

    Katherine reports, “Dave regularly receives compliments on his tours from guests.”

    Of all aspects of helping at the Park, perhaps the most meaningful to Dave is the personal interaction he has enjoyed over the years with thousands of schoolchildren who come each year to relive not only the history of the Revolution that brought our country into being, but also an ordinary day for those who lived this very history.

    Says Dave, “I like to give them each an assignment as part of a cannon crew and time them to see who can get it done the fastest.”

    After all those years of work before retirement, Dave might have decided on a life of leisure, but he would never trade his experiences at Washington’s Crossing Park for more time at home or as a software executive.

    “Doing things because you want to is a completely different psychology than doing things because you have to.”

    PHOTO CAP: Dave Wilner

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