Volunteer Spotlight: ROSE Award nominee and “Train Guy” Mike Davis
By: Brooke Sullivan, digital marketing specialist
Every year Visit Indy, the city’s tourism and destination management organization, bestows the ROSE Awards (Recognition Of Service Excellence) to non-management front-line hospitality service workers and volunteers who interact with the public in Indianapolis. According to Visit Indy’s website, “these service champions leave lasting impressions that bring true meaning to the phrase ‘Hoosier Hospitality.'”
One of the Eiteljorg Museum’s longtime volunteers, Mike Davis, was nominated for the award. Davis was one of the lead “train guys” for the Fifth Third Bank Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure. His dedicated service volunteering inside the annual model train display is integral to making Jingle Rails memorable for many families visiting during the holiday season.
A Northside resident, Mike Davis, the father of four and grandfather of two, has volunteered with the Eiteljorg since 2013, helping with the model trains and assisting the crowds at Jingle Rails.
Mike’s interest in model trains began when he was around eight years old and received a small train set for Christmas. His pursuit of the model train hobby was intermittent, but years later his wife suggested they bring out the trains and lay the track around the Christmas tree.
Later, a fellow hobbyist suggested Mike check out the Eiteljorg’s holiday train exhibit, Jingle Rails. Now he volunteers at it every year, greeting visitors and describing the model trains, a network of miniature tracks and the intricate dioramas made of all-natural materials that depict the Indianapolis skyline and landmarks of the American West.
As one of the dedicated volunteer hobbyists who are known as “train guys” and wear red aprons inside the display, Mike not only helps operate the model railroad but keeps the G-scale trains functioning and in good repair. That’s a challenge when the electric trains run for up to seven hours a day, seven days a week, for 10 weeks inside the museum’s Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court.
Originally from Kokomo, Mike graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism and worked as a copy editor at The Indianapolis News and then The Indianapolis Star for most of his adult life. Then when most people would be ready to retire, he went back to school and completed an internship with the Indiana Department of Transportation at the age of 62, after leaving the journalism field. That was nearly 20 years ago; and even now, Mike is attending IUPUI for graduate classes in Geographic Information Science, for which he is now in the graduate non-degree program.
What does Mike enjoy about the Eiteljorg?
“The quality of the exhibits are just outstanding; they are very professionally done. I go to the programs, too, and enjoy the hands-on aspect of the museum,” he said. “It’s not all about Jingle Rails, really it’s the friendliness of the workers at the museum. You can tell they want to work.”
Mike was surprised to have been nominated for the ROSE Award, saying that “there are a lot of people who put time into the museum, some whose (volunteer) hours would dwarf mine. It is quite the honor to be selected.” Visit Indy will present the ROSE Awards at a banquet May 11 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. Nominees who work in hospitality and customer service from across Indianapolis will be honored at the event.
Rachel Noll, Eiteljorg volunteer coordinator, said, “Mike is always ready and willing to interact with guests and answer any questions they might have about Jingle Rails. I know our guests love coming in every year and seeing the familiar faces of our train leads, and we are so thankful Mike has been with us for over 10 years now.”
Along with Mike Davis, the Eiteljorg would also like to highlight the rest of the “train guys” from the 2022-23 season: Tom Bromstrup, who is the longtime “chief engineer” of Jingle Rails and a previous ROSE Award nominee; as well as Andrew Ball, Bill Poor, John Poray, Fred May and Dennis Westrick. Because of all of them, Jingle Rails was a success. Designed by Applied Imagination, Jingle Rails returns to the Eiteljorg next season from Nov. 18, 2023, to Jan. 15, 2024.
This isn’t the first time an Eiteljorg volunteer or staff member has been nominated for the Visit Indy ROSE Award. Several others have been nominated in recent years, and in 2022 Kay Hinds, development coordinator, won the award. The Eiteljorg very proud of the excellent customer service and Hoosier hospitality that our volunteers and staff provide to make the museum what it is today.
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer? Join the Eiteljorg team and help to enhance programs, events, and exhibitions! Visit our site or email Rnoll@eiteljorg.com to apply.