GIVING IT HIS ALL
When it comes to the Aquarium, you name it, Richard Schwartz has done it: board member, donor, employee and volunteer. B Y M E L I S S A VA L L I A N T
Photographed by Tracey Brown
f you’ve ever visited the National Aquarium on a weekend, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered Richard Schwartz. He’s often roaming the walkways of Shark Alley on Saturdays, carrying something resembling an archaic weapon and presenting it to inquisitive guests. Don’t worry—he’s a volunteer. And the “weapon” is actually the rostrum, or nose extension, of a sawfish, a type of ray that’s frequently mistaken for a shark and is recognizable by the saw-like appendage protruding from its body. Schwartz has been a volunteer exhibit guide at the Aquarium since 1988 and loves using props to engage guests. That said, sometimes the exhibits do the work for him. Take the tarantula in Upland Tropical Rain Forest, for instance. Partially hidden within a log, the large arachnid often goes unnoticed. Schwartz loves exposing its hiding place to surprised guests and observing the variety of reactions. “Some people get scared,” he says. “Some run past me. Others are like, ‘Where? Where is it?’” As a 26-year volunteer, Schwartz knows all the ins and outs of the Aquarium. But his role in the organization’s history extends far beyond that of other veterans—because he’s played all the roles: volunteer, paid employee, board member and donor. Back in 1990, just as personal computers were entering offices worldwide, the Aquarium hired Schwartz as a paid employee. He was tasked with purchasing the organization’s first PCs and setting them up for staff. You might say he was our first IT specialist. A decade later, he found himself on the board of directors, where he remained a member for AS A 26-YEAR VOLUNTEER, nine years. But his involvement with the Aquarium didn’t stop SCHWARTZ KNOWS ALL THE INS there. In addition to offering his time, effort and guidance, AND OUTS OF THE AQUARIUM. Schwartz has helped fund several of our exhibits. His first donation dates back to the early 1990s, when he presented the Aquarium with a generous monetary gift to support the development of our dolphin exhibit. It was dedicated to his parents, Joseph and Corinne Schwartz, who were also devoted philanthropists and had instilled in Richard the importance of giving. In fact, the Schwartz family’s gifts to the National Aquarium predate the building’s opening in 1981. Joseph was searching for a way to give back to the city of Baltimore around the time of the Aquarium’s construction and made a donation to help fund one of the first exhibits. He and his family were given the full tour before opening day, igniting that first spark in Richard that led to his longtime relationship with the organization. In addition to what’s now called Dolphin Discovery, Richard’s donations over the years have helped fund the opening of a North American tide pools exhibit called Children’s Cove and the award-winning Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes. Next on his radar: Living Seashore, the exciting new exhibit slated for spring 2015. This highly anticipated addition to the Aquarium is being built with the help of Schwartz’s philanthropy. “I think it’s going to be a killer exhibit,” Schwartz says. “I can’t wait to see it.” In fact, he’ll probably be working it, so stop by and say hello! You’ll certainly learn something.
New Interactive Exhibit Slated for Next Year The National Aquarium’s newest addition, opening in spring 2015, will give guests the opportunity to really get their hands wet. Called Living Seashore, the interactive exhibit will feature two touchpools and a variety of hands-on experiences, leading guests on a journey beyond the boardwalk to the crashing waves, sandy beaches and shifting dunes of the ever-changing Mid-Atlantic seashore. With the guidance of Aquarium interpreters, guests will be able to get a feel (literally) for typical shoreline inhabitants. They’ll touch the hard shell of a horseshoe crab, the pointed spines of a sea urchin, the bell of a moon jelly, the smooth wing of an Atlantic stingray and more. “When you touch an animal or see it, it’s a different experience,” says longtime Aquarium donor and 26-year volunteer Richard Schwartz, whose generous philanthropy is helping support Living Seashore’s creation. “That’s why I think people always want a book. You know you can read a book on an iPhone or an iPad, but it’s not the same thing—at least to me—as turning those pages.” The 2,700-square-foot exhibit will introduce guests to approximately 150 animals and include a digital interactive in addition to animal touch encounters. To learn more, visit aqua.org/livingseashore.
Watermarks is a quarterly magazine produced by the National Aquarium.