CreatureFeature: Sherry the Head Honcho

Sherry has written a spotlight post on all of the keepers, so now it’s time for us to do a feature on her. A “CreatureFeature” will have to do because it would feel wrong to steal her “Spotlight” thunder.  Sherry’s worked at the Museum for 17 years! She’s our Animal Department Director and has a great sense of humor, so hopefully she will not be too embarrassed by the hilarity the keepers wanted to share about her.

Sherry’s hair alone has some good stories behind it. She has very long curly hair; the type that would perhaps get tangled in things such as a large wolf net or a type of wire fencing called “hot grass” that was once used  in the wolf yard. She caught her hair in the hot grass not once, but twice, and following, enriched us all with colorful language! She apparently also uses a lovely fragrant shampoo that causes our animals to want to eat her hair. Particularly our steer, Max.  Once while standing in front of his stall door talking to visitors, Max licked up a big piece of her hair and started chewing. She got it back, but not without some Max drool to go with it. The funnier part of this story is that as she was re-enacting the scene for Kent, Max ate her hair again.

Now let’s move on to some stories about Sherry’s apparel:

About 6 years ago, part of our black bear fence got knocked down due to some careless construction, and Sherry and other keepers rushed to get the fence standing again. The area was really muddy and it sucked the shoes right off her feet while she was managing the fence with Kent. You try holding up a fence to the bear yard in just socks!

Often, the items Sherry wears clue keepers in on what she’s doing that day. If she comes in wearing earrings, we know she has an important meeting. And if she comes in wearing a bandanna, we know she’s going to be doing some sort of rigorous (and probably filthy) task. This is usually worrisome, as one of us will be recruited to help!

Then there’s the softball catcher knee pads. Sherry’s a bit superstitious about this and believes that as long as she’s wearing her knee pads when catching up the wolves for veterinary examinations, then nothing will go wrong while we are inside the exhibit. Based on the above stories of hair accidents while in the wolf yard, however, I don’t know how true this superstition is!

There are little personality quirks that the keepers have all come to expect from Sherry. For example, she always has to buy things in bulk. There is no buying just one or two of the necessary items…she stocks us up for the entire year! Like nuts for our bears. Boxes and boxes and boxes of them! Then it’s Kristen’s job to figure out storage!  (See last year’s watermelon post).

Speaking of …Sherry is notorious for convincing people to throw any and everything possible on Kristen’s desk. If other staff donate newspapers to use for the animals, and ask Sherry where to put  them, the papers end up on Kristen’s desk. This pretty much goes for anything you can think of: empty boxes, shredded paper, deliveries, watermelons, empty containers, enrichment items, etc.

Sherry has a reward system where she’ll give a keeper a token for going above and beyond. These tokens can be saved up and turned in for rewards like a free lunch on Sherry. She does occasionally give tokens for going above and beyond, but we’ve all come to learn that you are much more likely to get one by saying something really witty and clever, or even for just being a good sport when Sherry is ragging on you in front of others.

Sherry is in charge of making all things run smoothly. She’s the go-to person for important things like the annual surprise USDA inspection. As luck has it, she’s almost never actually on grounds when the inspector arrives! We almost always have to page her to come in so that she can escort the inspector. There’s even a pager code for this! (8732, which is USDA on the phone)

She’s also, of course, the person to turn to for emergencies. Although emergencies are rare, we do our best to prepare for them.  During emergency trainings, we act out different scenarios like animal escapes, hurricanes, power outages, and even a child falling in the bear pool! But most of the time Sherry will set these scenarios up so that she is “out of town in an important meeting (most likely wearing earrings) and can’t be reached”. This is helpful for us because we learn better from our mistakes when we don’t have her to guide us; Sherry is so good at handling emergencies that it’s just too easy to have her there telling us what to do.

She also directs all of the really big projects. Cleaning the bear pool once a year is a major undertaking, and Sherry is there with us (wearing a bandanna), knee deep in the muck.  The bears are in the house while we do the cleaning, but one year Ursula wouldn’t come in, so we cleaned while she was in the exhibit with us. All was fine for the first few hours of the day, as Ursula just laid around from a distance and watched us. This all changed when Sherry sent someone on a run for donuts. As soon as the donuts were brought into the yard, Ursula (50 yards away) caught the scent and decided napping was over and she’d like to be closer to the donuts!   Cleaning for that day was done, and Sherry hasn’t lived down her generous thought.

In all seriousness, Sherry is very good at her job.  Managing a collection of animals (keepers included) can be really difficult. She knows the job like the back of her hand, even though we all tease her for making mistakes on the occasions she jumps in to help with keepers’ work!  She’s an extremely generous and honest person and is able to skillfully communicate the high standards of animal husbandry she expects to keepers, guests, and other museum staff. She supports the keepers, and is our best cheerleader. She takes on additional leadership roles on Museum committees, and as a 17 year employee, dedicates much of who she is to the Museum.  We really appreciate that Sherry focuses on our strengths, and challenges us to be better keepers.

8 responses to CreatureFeature: Sherry the Head Honcho

  1. Troy says:

    Great “creature-feature” MJ. I really enjoyed this one! Thanks for the great stories.

  2. Debbie says:

    Wonderful story Marilyn! Wish I had been there to see the Max re-enactment – that’s one I haven’t heard!

  3. Sherry Samuels says:

    Let’s see, where to begin?!?
    -Last week I wore a bandanna and earrings on the same day.
    -I’ve been in the animal dept. for 17 years, but I started at the Museum in 1991.
    -I believe my hair has gotten stuck more then twice- Marilyn is being too kind.
    _ I am just ahead of my time in the “green” movement – buying in bulk is good for the environment.
    -And let’s face it, good humor should be celebrated and rewarded. I guess Marilyn deserves a few tokens for this post.

  4. Megan Brett says:

    17 years! That is dedication. It also means that she would have been at the museum when I was a teenage volunteer. Oh, nostalgia! (I used to work in the Treehouse, and always hoped that a kid would ask me to take out the cornsnake)

  5. Erin Brown says:

    In Marilyn’s defense, the day you wore a bandanna and earrings in the same day you were trimming the bear cliff in the hot sun in the morning (and recruited Larry), and giving a TV interview later that morning.

  6. Marilyn Johnson says:

    Oh, score! A few tokens! I will have a free lunch in no time!! (Ahem, where ARE those tokens, Sherry??)

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