VIP Spotlight – Sandy Woodhouse

Setareh Nouriboshehri, Community Volunteer Ambassador (CVA)

You know what time it is: VIP Spotlight Monday! If you’ve ever visited the park on a Friday, chances are you have run into VIP Sandy in the Visitor Center. For the past ten years, Sandy has welcomed visitors from all over the world to the park, sworn in Junior Rangers, and answered questions from “where can I find the statue?” to “tell me more about the tidepools”—all while manning the Visitor Center. Let’s hear what Sandy has to say!*

VIP Sandy posing for a picture at the 2016 National Park Service Centennial.

Setareh: Tell us how you first heard about Cabrillo National Monument!
• Sandy: When I was eight years old, my family moved to San Diego from Los Angeles. And I’ll bet my dad took us up [to the park] shortly after we moved. I was in the 3rd grade, so obviously I didn’t take myself up there.

SN: No that would be pretty impressive! How long would that be since you’ve been in San Diego?
• SW: Since 1954.

SN: I bet there’s a lot, but what’s been the biggest change that you’ve seen?
• SW: Well, the biggest change that I’ve been aware of has to do with the art and food scenes. There didn’t use to be much of either one of those, even as recently as when I got out of high school.

SN: Do you remember your first visit to the park?
• SW: Not really! I mean, it was kind of cold and we were probably looking for whales. Windy, too.

SN: It is sort of interesting to see visitors at the park on a cold and cloudy day. It’s probably not what they’re expecting. How did you start volunteering with the park?
• SW: Well, I retired in 2009. Then, I went back to work for part-time for the county. In September of 2010, the Maritime Museum had their Festival of Sails. I went across the street to the festival, ran into [Ranger Bob Munson] and someone else dressed as a lighthouse lady, and talked to them for a little bit. The next Friday, I was supposed to work all day, but something came up! I had to leave the office at noon-ish and I said, “I have the afternoon free! I’m going up to Cabrillo!” So, I did. By the time I walked out the door that afternoon, I had already had a meeting with [Ranger Tavio].

SN: Let me guess, he recruited you right then and there.
• SW: Right then and there! I went home that night with something like sixty shirts to sew patches on.

SN: He put you right to work. I love it! So, in the last ten years, what other positions did you serve in?
• SW: The Visitor Center. I love the Visitor Center. I’ve also helped lead the Moonwalk Bayside Trail hike, [participated] in the Fourth of July events, and we’ve had other evening events that I’ve volunteered for. Sometimes, I’ve been the road guard down at the Entrance Station [during events].

SN: What’s your favorite part about the Visitor Center?
• SW: Talking with the visitors.

• SN: Any interesting conversations that come to mind?
• SW: Hmm. Well actually, the really interesting conversations are the ones with other volunteers. I love to hear Gary talk about his [Spanish soldier] weapons. And there’s Ricky with his “talking” plants—really interesting topic!

SN: It really boggles my mind how much research our volunteers put into their positions. I talked to Gary a couple weeks ago, and he’s got a library of books about conquistadors! Ok, walk us through a typical day of volunteering for you.
• SW: I usually get to the park at 8:30 am, put my stuff in the kitchen, and get the Visitor Center open and ready for business when we open at 9:00 am. That involves putting up the whiteboard, making sure there are brochures, cleaning desks if we need to, and just being ready! Before I go to the Visitor Center, I find out from the staff if there’s anything I need to know before we open up.

SN: What’s the most commonly asked question at the Visitor Center, besides “where’s the restroom?”
• SW: Well, the one that takes most explaining come from the visitors who want to see the tidepools, but the tide is not low. And it’s not going to be low. Or even close to being low. I get those questions all the time.

SN: Sometimes it feels like nature’s cruelest joke to line up really good low-tides with the winter months. I really feel for the families that come during the summer and want to see the tidepools. Ok, what has been your favorite memory at the park?
• SW: The Fourth of July, where the fireworks resulted in something called the Big Bay Boom.

SN: Oh! I think I know what you’re talking about!
• SW: All of the fireworks on the four barges in San Diego Bay went off simultaneously. It was the second year that I got invited to the park. Back then, the event wasn’t open to the public—only to the [Cabrillo National Monument] foundation members, volunteers, and staff. I had invited my daughter and her family, so we waited and waited. Her boys were little, and they were not enthusiastic about waiting in the dark. And then…kaboom!

SN: What was the reaction from everyone at the park when it happened?
• SW: Well, once the smoke cleared, we could see the rest of the fireworks throughout San Diego county. You can see about sixteen sets of fireworks. We had a lovely firework show: Coronado, National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, Lake Murray, Mira Mesa, Ocean Beach, La Jolla…We could see quite a few!

SN: It sounds like it was a redeeming experience. I was in Seaport Village when it happened. People were shocked and upset, and my friends and I couldn’t stop laughing. What about your proudest personal moment at Cabrillo?
• SW: It’s not a specific moment. But occasionally, I’ll get a visitor who—I guess enjoys what I tell them so much—will ask for a photo with me to remember the conversation! One guy actually emailed me the picture later on.

SN: How many Junior Rangers do you think you’ve sworn in throughout the years?
• SW: Oh dear, let’s see. Maybe a thousand.

SN: Wow! What’s your favorite part about it?
• SW: As a Girl Scout, I take promises seriously. And when we made our Girl Scout promise, we always did it seriously. Not as a joke, not as a ha-ha, not using different words whenever we felt like it. So, I stand up straight, I ask them to stand up straight, I put up my right hand, they put up theirs, and we say it with intention.

SN: I like that, and I bet the parents get a kick out of it too. How would you say your volunteer experience compares to your vocation?
• SW: My vocation involved training people and helping people. I’m not a typical, employed-by-the-school teacher, but I was a teacher of staff in the place that I worked. In addition to teaching, I worked with our customer base to assist them. When something got really hard, I was the go-to person to figure out how to make it work. And that’s what I do at the park! I teach people and help solve problems.

SN: Hypothetical situation: you trade in your Visitor Center role for park Superintendent for the day. What is your first and last action item?
• SW: I guess finding out what needs communicating and then communicating it not only with staff but all the volunteers. That would be my first action item. My last action item? Putting the park to bed and making sure I did the best job that I could.

SN: Do you have a personal favorite spot at the park that you like visiting the most?
• SW: I like it out by the statue. You can see the Bay, the islands, everything. It’s a very iconic place to be.

SN: If you could write a book about the park, what would be the topic and genre?
• SW: If I could do it, I’d like to do one on military history. So, I guess the genre is history, though it could be historical fiction! And not just what our park boundaries are today. But I’d start with Fort Guijarros down there at Ballast Point. It’d be one of those long, rambling stories that goes through generations of people all in the same geography.

SN: Alright, change in gears. Can you think of your first memory in the outdoors?
• SW: I can remember a trip with my parents to Canada. And my dad gave me his bacon on the ferry crossing over from the United States to Victoria. I don’t know if that counts!

SN: That totally counts! Did I hear that right? You said your dad gave you a piece of bacon?
• SW: Yeah! He really knew the way to my heart! I was probably three. The view was all forest-y. From a girl from southern California, the view was really different.

SN: What’s something people don’t typically know about you that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
• SW: I was a post rifle champion at Fort McPherson, Georgia in 1968.

SN: Wow! Tell me more!
• SW: Well, we had rifle teams. I had been shooting competitively since high school in ROTC in San Diego and at the University of Iowa, when I was a nursing student. We had a team at Fort McPherson (which was Third Army headquarters at the time), and we had a rifle match! Every time there’s a sport, you’ve got to have a competition. And our WAC (Women’s Army Corps) team won the match, and I was the high individual scorer. And the general refused to give me the trophy, so he handed it to his XO. I think he was mad that a woman won.

SN: Did you ever get the trophy?
• SW: Oh yeah, the executive officer gave it to me!

SN: Good! You won it fair and square.
• SW: I won it fair and square. And when my daughter started bringing boyfriends to the house, I put the trophy on the bookshelf. When the young men would come through the house and see the trophy—usually on the way out—and ask my daughter, “Is that your dad’s?” And she’d look at them right in eye and say, “No, it’s my mom’s.” They’d either reply with an “uh…” and some of them never came back after that.

SN: If you could be pro or semi-pro at anything, what would you pick?
• SW: Travel agent. Because travel becomes a tax-deductible expense. You have to do it to be knowledgeable about your job, right? Having to travel would break my little heart…What could be better?

SN: I love it! Who would say has been the most influential person in your life?
• SW: My father. He always believed that girls could do anything, and he acted on that. He taught me to carpenter, he taught me to weld, he taught me how to fix things. He talked me into getting a ham radio license, because I and the neighbor boy were sort of interested. And my dad said, “Well, go ahead and do it!” And we’re not talking about an era where this was common. My mom had the opposite approach. She’d often tell me, “You’re a girl and you shouldn’t be doing that.” In 9th grade, we took a [career] interest test. They were getting us ready to think about what we want to major in. One of the things it said I should be was a Park Ranger! And my mom told me, “girls can’t do that.” Now, girls had already done that. There were female park rangers way back.

SN: You’ve come full circle! If you could tell your high school self anything, what would you tell her?
• SW: Keep being brave.

SN: Let’s say you have the mic and everyone in the world can listen in. What will you teach us in two minutes?
• SW: “Good afternoon, park volunteers and visitors. Welcome to Cabrillo National Monument—my favorite park…”

SN: Spoken like a true Visitor Center volunteer. Alright, lightning round! Favorite type of weather?
• SW: Today. Sunny.

SN: Sunrise or sunset.
• SW: Sunrise.

SN: Coffee drinker? How do you take it?
• SW: Yes. Black.

SN: Favorite city in the world.
• SW: San Diego.

SN: Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world or be able to speak to animals?
• SW: Talk to animals.

SN: Which animal are you picking first?
• SW: Dogs. I’d ask my dogs, “What do you want to do today?”

SN: Sweet. Ok, you get to pick one person, dead or alive, to have lunch with. Who do you pick?
• SW: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was very bright. We lost a lot more than innocence when he was assassinated.

SN: Favorite childhood book.
• SW: Heidi.

SN: You need to meet our apprentice, Violette. She loves the book and is writing her own sequel on it! Least favorite flavor.
• SW: Cinnamon-flavored candy.

SN: If you could live in any movie, which movie would you pick?
• SW: I don’t know if I would!

-End of Interview-
*some text has been altered during transcription.

VIP Sandy (left) and VIP Vickie (right) relaxing in the park breakroom.

We appreciate you and all that you do for the park, Sandy!

Would you like to be interviewed for a VIP Spotlight, too? Let us know by emailing us at We’d love to hear from you!

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