"Celebrating Volunteers"

Fallingwater Volunteers Create Lifelong Memories

Hundreds of people pass through Fallingwater each day — people who have questions, get tired, want to eat lunch or shop, need help with photographs or simply want to talk about their experiences. Fallingwater volunteers help in numerous ways to ensure that guests have positive and memorable visits. The energy, enthusiasm and dedication of this group speaks to their passion for this remarkable place.

Virginia White
Virginia White

Virginia White
Some major life changes prompted resident Virginia White, a longtime member and supporter of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, to take on a new challenge as a volunteer at Fallingwater.

First, a move to Rockwood, Somerset County from Pittsburgh at the time of her husband’s retirement placed her only 15 miles away from Fallingwater. Shortly after their move, her husband passed away. “I found that I had free time — so when I saw a newspaper ad calling for volunteers, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” White began volunteering at the Fallingwater Museum Shop in June 2000 and has been a faithful volunteer there ever since.

“Virginia is a wonderful addition to the store and her background in business and customer service skills make her a valued part of the store team,” said Fallingwater Museum Store Manager Betsy Poole. “She keeps us smiling with her quick wit and has a genuine love of engaging the public at Fallingwater. There have been days, particularly in July and October, when we could not have made it without her.”

White said, “I enjoy the public and speaking to them, finding out where they are from and why they are at Fallingwater. I’ve met people from all around the world.”

However, she added, “I’ve also met people right here in Somerset who have never been to Fallingwater before.” For this reason, White has also become an unofficial community ambassador for Fallingwater, encouraging fellow locals to take advantage of this treasure in their own backyard.

Dan and Windy Kovach
Dan and Windy Kovach

Windy Kovach
Mars resident Windy Kovach took her first trip to Fallingwater during the mid-1970s and fell in love. Over the ensuing years, she made countless visits to the house to introduce it to friends and family until, as she put it, “I ran out of people.”

An email about the need for volunteers at Fallingwater presented Kovach with just the excuse she needed to make regular pilgrimages to the house once again. Eight years ago, she became one of Fallingwater’s first Ask-Me Guides, and today, she also serves as a landscape tour guide and a trainer and mentor to new volunteers. On a given day, she might be found leading a hike, helping someone who is tired and cannot finish a walk to the house, diplomatically approaching visitors to enforce the no-smoking policy, picking up trash, filling in for staff during lunch breaks or simply talking with visitors.

“I like to stand at the path up to the Visitors’ Center and watch people coming from the house. You can see the wonder in their eyes,” said Kovach, who often asks people if they enjoyed their tours in order to prompt conversations about people’s experiences and observations.

For Kovach, invigorating interactions with visitors are balanced with moments of peace and tranquility alone at Bear Run Nature Reserve. “I love the mountains and the woods, so I always walk the trails and check them. It’s a wonderful perk to be in the woods.”

Fallingwater Education Programs Coordinator Jennifer Hiebert said, “Windy has often described her experiences at Fallingwater as ‘a gift’ to herself. We know she is a gift to us. Her positive outlook and caring spirit are an inspiration to everyone she encounters at Fallingwater.”

A year ago Kovach’s husband, Dan, also began volunteering at Fallingwater. The couple finds that volunteering at Fallingwater creates opportunities both to run into old friends and to form new friendships.

Tom Seighman
Tom Seighman

Tom Seighman
Uniontown resident Tom Seighman plunged into volunteering at Fallingwater six years ago and quickly proved that he was willing to try anything — and would have a great time doing it.

“He is a favorite among volunteers and staff members alike because of his extreme versatility and eagerness to help out where needed,” said Hiebert.

Recently retired following a 32-year career with Allegheny Energy, Seighman greets visitors, takes photographs, assists with visitor surveys and responds to questions.

He represents Fallingwater at the annual Fayette County Children’s Water Festival, working with hundreds of local sixth graders to demonstrate how Frank Lloyd Wright built a house over a waterfall. In addition, during the annual Fallingwater Twilight Tour, Seighman ushers guests through various rooms of the house and helps to answer questions.

“I’ve worked to self-educate and learn as much as I can about Fallingwater,” said Seighman, who clocked 183 volunteer hours in 2009. “But I’ve also branched out — I’m even qualified to run the dish sanitizer in the kitchen.”

Seighman’s memorable moments as a volunteer include a conversation with man who was raised in the former Soviet Union and was inspired by a model of Fallingwater as a teenager. Upon seeing the Fallingwater model, Seighman said, “He knew two things: One, he wanted to become and architect; and two, he wanted to make a pilgrimage to see it. He was almost at the brink of tears to see was the realization of a lifelong dream.”

Seighman said that he loves volunteering at Fallingwater because of the exceptional staff and volunteers.

“Plus, this gets you into the mountains and nature. I love to do the land tours, because we get away from the house and talk about the trees, uses of the land, and trails that used to haul lumber out and people in. That’s a really gratifying part of the tour, and it’s one of the more relaxing things I’ve ever done.”

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