Magazine Feature / People

Volunteer teaches children about grizzlies

At an age when most retirees are slowing down, Carolyn (Brown) Hackstaff (BA history ’50) is leading young naturalists through wild bear territory and pitching a tent just feet away from wild grizzlies — at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, that is.

Hackstaff, 79, is the museum’s longest-serving volunteer — going on 37 years — and can still be found most Thursdays near the wildlife dioramas for her Natural History of Bears tour for children ages 3–6.

“I love seeing the wonder in their eyes as they look up at the huge bears,” she says. “You’d think they’d be frightened to death, but they’re not!”

The children practice “hibernating” in the tent. “When I ask them what bears eat, they say, ‘people,’ and I have to clear that up because in some cases that is true,” Hackstaff says. She pulls plastic food out of a picnic basket to teach the children what a bear should and should not eat.

The seasoned volunteer began her work at the museum in 1969. Since then, she’s led elementary students on guided tours through the museum’s many permanent exhibits, including North American Mammals and Colorado Ecology, and has participated in its many temporary exhibits.

Prior to her retirement as a travel agent, Hackstaff helped coordinate and lead tours for museum members to Peru, Colombia, Mexico and the American Southwest.

“What I really enjoy is that you always learn something new no matter how often you give a tour,” she says. “I will continue to volunteer as long as they’ll have me.”


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