Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee
Press Release

Joe Ewing volunteers in many roles on board ship

“I came here because of the boat. I’ve stayed because of the people.”

By - Aug 29th, 2016 12:35 pm
Joe Ewing on the Denis Sullivan. Photo courtesy of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee

Joe Ewing on the Denis Sullivan. Photo courtesy of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.

What made you decide to become a volunteer? 

I had time on my hands and wanted to give back to the community.

Describe the organization where you volunteer and the work they do.   

I volunteer with Discovery World’s tall ship, the Sailing Vessel (S/V) Denis Sullivan. The Sullivan is an environmental education vessel stressing the importance of becoming good stewards to this priceless natural resource we live next to – the Great Lakes.

Since I was 14 years old, I’ve had an interest in ships and sailing. My plan for retirement was to move to the coast of New England and connect with a schooner-based project and sail. Little did I realize that someone would start such a project in my backyard. I wandered down one summer afternoon in 1998 and I was hooked.

Joe Ewing. Photo courtesy of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.

Joe Ewing. Photo courtesy of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.

What do you do when you volunteer, what kind of help do you provide?

I am the ship volunteer coordinator, on board gift shop manager, project archivist/historian, docent, and deckhand.

Since you’ve taken on so many roles with the Sailing Vessel (S/V) Denis Sullivan, which role has given you the most satisfaction?

It is difficult for me to pinpoint which role I enjoy the most. Sailing as a deckhand is always a thrill. It never gets old. The feeling of freedom is hard to explain for someone who hasn’t been out there. And for those who have, no explanation is necessary.

Of equal enjoyment is talking to folks of all ages about the Sullivan, schooners of the 19th century and their importance to the growth of so many communities along the Great Lakes, and the importance of being good stewards.

How long have you volunteered there?

I am beginning my 19th year. When asked what motivates me to stay, I say “I came here because of the boat. I’ve stayed because of the people.”

When you think about your paid jobs, how is a volunteering different or the same?

I have been fortunate in the choices I made both in my career as a teacher in Menomonee Falls and my role as a volunteer with Wisconsin’s flagship. Both have been rewarding and enjoyable. The big difference as a volunteer is that during the off season I have the flexibility to set my own days and hours.

What new things have you learned through this volunteer opportunity?

I’ve learned that it takes teamwork to run something as complex as our vessel – the need to rely on the person beside you. One’s actions have an effect on more than just themselves. Also, each individual needs to do their part in protecting the Great Lakes.

Has it changed your view of this community in any way?  

As I have come to realize how many individuals are willing to step forward and donate their time and talent, it makes me have a better outlook on society.

Has volunteering helped you, has it had benefits for you?

I have had the opportunity to do a bit of traveling with the Sullivan to locations throughout the Great Lakes, in Canada, Florida and the Bahamas, but, more importantly, it has given me a chance to stay productive and make a difference in the world during my retirement years. Working with people in an environment you enjoy – life doesn’t get much better than that.

What are you proudest of accomplishing in your work as a volunteer?  

Over 25,000 hours during my first 18 years with the Denis Sullivan, I am proud to give back to the community that was and still is a great place to raise a family.

Would you recommend volunteering to others?

Without a moment’s hesitation.

If so, what would you tell them is the benefit they’d get from volunteering? 

What you get back so far exceeds what you give, that the only question will be “Why didn’t I become involved sooner?”

How would you suggest someone begin if they want to volunteer?  

Any nonprofit group is always looking to expand their volunteer base. If there is an organization that is involved with something you have an interest in, contact them.

To learn more about Discover World, go to and more specifically the Sailing Vessel (S/V) Denis Sullivan. To learn about further volunteer opportunities at Discovery World, contact Kelly Christman at (414 )765-1978 or

The Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee is a membership association serving over 500 nonprofit and corporate members and the nonprofit sector at large. The Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee promotes the interests and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector through strengthening organizational capacity, expanding volunteerism and encouraging collaborations. Its programs include training and consulting, Volunteer Milwaukee, financial management, and Jobs that Serve. For more information visit

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