Last week I made an entry here concerning the Telegraph (U.K.) story describing charges of age discrimination at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. I added my own comments as well as the text of a brief letter of protest I had sent along to officials at the Library and the Foundation.
I am pleased to say that Kirby Elizabeth Hanson, the Director of Business Development at the Ronald Reagan Library, promptly and courteously replied to my letter which I print in full below. After reading it, I think you'll agree with me that the Ronald Reagan Library is not only cleared of the charges of age discrimination but, in fact, can boast of an extraordinary record in utilizing and caring for their older Library volunteers.
I appreciate very much the Library's record of diligent and kind-hearted service in this area and especially commend them for their Emeritus program. I also appreciate Kirby Hanson's clear explanation of the Library's position in this prompt and thoughtful letter. I have already replied to that letter with my thanks and my commendations -- but I wanted very much to also set the record straight here by letting Kirby give you the straight story.
Dear Mr. Hartford,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I’d like to take a moment to explain the entire program to you, all the components, issues and challenges presented to the Library. Please take a moment to read this letter and please know I would like to discuss this with you further, if you’d like.
The Reagan Library Volunteer program is one of the most important and valued components of the Library. Our Volunteers perform numerous tasks which help the Library function in many ways 1) by assisting the archivists, 2) by helping the Foundation in administrative work, 3) by guiding our visitors in the Museum Store and 4) by leading tours for our visitors.
The ages of our Volunteers range from 18 years old to well into their 90’s. This is a Volunteer organization and we do not ask their ages; however, some disclose their ages with great pride as they perform their duties. Currently, we have many Volunteers in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s; in fact, we have two new trainees who are in their 80’s.
As you can imagine, some tasks at the Library are more rigorous than others and it is up to the Volunteer Council to continually evaluate the program and assign Volunteers to tasks which they are best suited, based on ability. The majority of our Volunteers are over the age of 50 and “age” in any assignment is irrelevant. Performance is the critical component.
Recently, the task of touring has become particularly demanding. To address the issue of growth and expansion with increased attendance and expanded exhibitory, the Volunteer Council was tasked with developing a plan to address the demands and improve the performance of all Volunteers under the supervision of the Library and Foundation.
At the same time, the Library wanted to recognize and salute the enormous contributions of Volunteers, many of whom served since the opening of the Library. Therefore, an Emeritus program was created which provided recognition, life-time membership in the organization with all attendant rights and privileges (which means Emeritus Volunteers are encouraged to attend all lectures, seminars, meetings, and social events), and the opportunity to continue to Volunteer in the archives, in the Museum Store or in the Foundation. The Emeritus Volunteers are exempt from conducting tours; however, because we were concerned that some might be reluctant to give up touring, rather than dismissing them from the program, we have developed an all encompassing program to honor them and offer numerous other options.
The criteria were basic: all Volunteers who tour must be able to perform their abilities to the fullest extent needed by the Library and Foundation. Both physical and intellectual demands were considered by the Volunteer Council who labored over determining which individuals deserved recognition while also needing to be reassigned to other duties.
We regret that some Volunteers who received the Emeritus nomination perceive this as rejection or age-discrimination. This comes as a great disappointment to the Library and Foundation as we endeavored to create a fine Emeritus program with great thought and compassion while continuing to reassign Volunteer responsibilities as we improve and expand the Volunteer program.
I thank you for your concern and appreciate your thoughts regarding the Emeritus program. I am concerned that the media has not truly represented the fact that our Volunteer Council created a thoughtful program offering many attractive options to include the Emeritus Volunteers in every other aspect of the organization. Volunteers have been reassigned to other duties, not dismissed or asked to leave.
We greatly value the contributions of our Volunteers, now, and for the many years they will continue to serve our 40th President.
Thank you again for your comments and please know we appreciate your thoughts and hope this missive has clearly communicated all dimensions of our Emeritus program.
Kirby Elizabeth Hanson
Director of Business Development
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, California 93065
One final note: let me say that I've also forwarded Kirby's letter to the Telegraph (U.K.) in hopes they will correct the false impressions their story from last week left in readers' minds. Let's hope the newspaper will show itself responsible and quickly contact Kirby Hanson in order to report the whole story.