Eleanor Smith

Excellence in Volunteerism Award Winner

OC Community Resources
OC Parks
Heritage Hill Historical Park
Amigos de la Colina

For more than twenty years, Eleanor Smith has been a shining light in the Amigos de la Colina, Heritage Hill Historical Park’s volunteer organization.  Eleanor has said that Heritage Hill feels like home and has asked staff how they enjoy “working at the best place on earth.”  She is always quick with a smile and a hug and makes everyone – old friend, new acquaintance or park visitor – feel welcomed and special.

The fact that Eleanor says Heritage Hill feels like home is no surprise considering how much time she has dedicated to the park over the past two decades.  She has been instrumental in several of the park’s most popular and well-regarded school programs, including her role as a “schoolmarm,” that involved hosting thousands of third and fourth grade students in the historic site’s El Toro Grammar School, offering them “a day-in-the-life” of a student attending school in 1890.

In 2002, thanks to Eleanor’s tireless research and planning, Heritage Hill began offering a Native American Experience Tour for elementary school students.  Eleanor spearheaded the committee to create a curriculum-based Native American tour that examines Acjachemen culture prior to 1769, the year Portola first explored the region.  Eleanor and her committee visited Native American museums and historic sites, consulted with members of the Acjachemen Nation, researched school curriculum standards and read widely in order to make the tour a valuable addition to Heritage Hill’s hands-on, activity-based school program.  Constructing a new school tour linked to grade standards is no easy task and it took many years of preparation to complete the project, but the Native American Experience Tour continues today thanks to Eleanor’s vision and hard work.

As a complement to the Native American Experience Tour, Eleanor and her husband, Emel, handcrafted an intricate diorama next to the re-created Acjachemen village within the park.  For visitors who are taking a self-guided tour through the park, the diorama introduces them to Acjachemen life, complete with an audio tour researched, written and recorded by Eleanor.

Eleanor is in her nineties and is still considered a valued member of the Amigos de la Colina.  Although she is no longer actively involved in the tours, she makes a point to visit Heritage Hill as often as possible, especially to volunteer as a building guide in the El Toro Grammar School during the park’s popular holiday events, sharing the warmth of the season and the history of the school with each guest who enters the door. 

Eleanor’s decades of service and level of commitment to Heritage Hill Historical Park have influenced OC Parks to create of a new volunteer category known as the Volunteer Emeritus.  This title helps to recognize the outstanding contributions of exceptional volunteers who might not be as actively involved as they once were, but are still a vital and important part of the program. 

Thank you and congratulations to Eleanor Smith, recipient of the 2015 Excellence in Volunteerism Award!

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