As the oldest National Park Service volunteer, Dr. Mildred Dixon makes it her duty to give back to her community; even at 100 years old.
Every Tuesday she devotes hours of her day to volunteering at The George Washington Carver Museum at the Tuskegee Institute, where she explains that her ties to the historic site are personal. After arriving in Alabama in 1881 and building the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington made it his duty to recruit the best and brightest to come teach at the facility, including George Washington Carver. Among the black professionals who migrated to Tuskegee Institute to have a better life were Dr. Dixon and her husband. It was there where Dixon says she was able to hone the skills needed to have a successful career.
After retiring as the first woman and first black podiatrist from a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in 1985, the New Jersey native decided to give back to her community by sharing her historical journey as a National Park Service volunteer. Now, with the National Park Service launching the Find Your Park initiative, Dr. Dixon is speaking out on why it’s important to give back to these historical sites.
Why is it important for you to dedicate time to the National Park Service?
Dr. Dixon: My reason is personal. Like so many black professionals that came to Tuskegee Institute, my husband and friends from home (New Jersey) were recruited to come and teach, live, raise families, and have a better life. Who better to tell the story of the legends of Tuskegee Institute National Park Service, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, than those who were the beneficiaries of their ideas and ideals. I believe that I was able to carve out a career as the first female and first black podiatrist in a Veteran’s Administration Hospital and many other firsts, because I lived in Tuskegee. Tuskegee Institute’s hallowed grounds provided an atmosphere for dreamers, from all walks of life, from all professions.
As a volunteer, I look forward to greeting every visitor and to have the opportunity to tell the story from my heart, how Booker T. Washington built Tuskegee Institute (literally making bricks) to recruiting the brightest and talented black professionals to teach, research, and share ideas with students: how he recruited Dr. George Washington Carver to teach, research, and share his talents with students and surrounding area farmers on techniques to improve crop management, and how to create artist paint from natural pigments in the soil. My house was built by students from Tuskegee Institute, for Portia Pittman, Booker T. Washington’s daughter, from his first wife. You could say that the legends did what they could, where they were, and with what they had in the year of 1881.
What is the Find Your Park Initiative and how important is it to you?
The Find Your Park movement is designed to inspire the next generation to discover our national parks – from the sprawling landscapes of Yosemite, to important historical landmarks, such as Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. It is important that the next generation enjoys and engages with our national parks. The Find Your Park movement is important, as it is working to preserve and protect national parks that allow the next generation to discover American history and to honor people and places that helped to create the fabric of the United States. Since I became a volunteer, my travels within the U.S. have included visits to other NPS sites, wherever I travel. This past summer my daughter and I [went to] San Antonio, Texas, and visited NPS San Antonio Missions National Historic Site, designated July 6, 2015, as the nation’s 23rd world heritage site; by the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
What message do you hope to pass down to future generations about the value of investing in our National Park Service?
I wish to encourage everyone to visit a national park and to volunteer – you can also log onto NPS.gov to find out more information about volunteering. Most of the volunteers that I started with have long passed away, but I continue to tell the story every Tuesday, of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. I think their story is inspiring, especially when you put their accomplishments in the context of the time; 1881. Every national park tells a story: one of inspiration, creativity, and perseverance. Volunteering is not only educational, it enables you to meet interesting people and form new friendships with people from all over the world. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t even have to make your subject and your verb agree. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.”
What’s been one of your greatest accomplishments either personally or professionally?
My greatest accomplishments are personal: my family (children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren). Professionally: in the field of podiatry (past president/founder NPMA, only residency program in Alabama, inducted into Kent State/Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine Hall of Fame-only female/only Black). My community: church-Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church, AARP past president-Macon County Chapter #3428, and volunteer with the National Park Service.