A place as special as Balboa Park has a way of inspiring a number of positive qualities and feelings, not only in its millions of annual visitors, but in its volunteer staff as well. Alongside a genuine love for and dedication to working in the park and helping guests inside the Visitors Center, many volunteers exhibit a strong sense of loyalty. One volunteer in particular, Bill Fair, has faithfully served at the information counter on a weekly basis for nearly ten years. During our interview with him, we learned that he is no stranger to feelings of loyalty.
How long and in what capacity have you been volunteering in Balboa Park?
I’ve worked in the Visitors Center for almost 10 years. I like to come every Saturday afternoon because that’s a hard shift to fill, so I know no matter how bad I am, they aren’t going to fire me [laughter]. It’s so wonderful to be able to help people.
Living here your whole life, what’s your earliest memory of Balboa Park?
My first memories were coming here often with my family for picnics and to visit some of the museums. But the one thing I remember the most from when I was very young is the Lily Pond, and seeing all the fish. It’s dear to me, Balboa Park. I absolutely love my time here. And I feel honored to be able to represent the city, Balboa Park, and the Conservancy. I love the people I work with, and my bosses are phenomenal. I look forward to my time here every week.
What got you interested in volunteering in Balboa Park?
My wife has turtles, so one day we came to the park because the Tortoise and Turtle Society was having a meeting here. At that time, I wasn’t familiar with everything in the park, so we went to the Visitors Center to find the meeting room. There were quite a number of people in there at the time, and when I heard someone in line ask where Park Boulevard and President’s Way is, I gave them directions. Having overheard me help the other visitor, the gal behind the counter said, “You ought to work here!” And I said, “Okay!” So my wife and I both came in later and got an application. She worked here for two years as well.
Tell us a little bit about your background?
I was born in San Diego, and my family lived in National City until I was 7, when we moved to Chula Vista. My father was a commercial tuna fisherman in the days when they still caught tuna with bamboo poles. I did that too from the time I was pretty young, and when I was 13, I made my first month-long trip, and every summer after that I worked on the fishing boat for three months while I went to school, all the way through college.
But for most of my work-life, I’ve worked as a cement finisher—for 40 years. My very first job was San Diego Stadium when it was first being built in 1967. Being new, I was assigned to finish the top of the columns that support the light ring. I went through the apprenticeship program as a union cement finisher, and then five years later, I taught the apprenticeship program at Mesa College, after earning a teaching credential for teaching crafts. In 1974, I worked briefly as a business agent in the local union, and one of the jobs I was in charge of was San Onofre. In the late 1970s, I taught also apprenticeship classes for the government. In all, I worked in heavy construction for over 20 years; then I got my contractor’s license and did my own work for 10 years. After that, I got a job with the City of San Diego as a cement finisher, and a few years later, I became a supervisor for the city’s Street Division.
Is there anything about you that would surprise most people?
I’ve been married for 51 years, and together we’ve raised three daughters. We met playing softball when I was just out of Southwest College. She wanted to go home right after the game, but her friend wanted to stay, so I offered to take her home. We’ve been together ever since. We found out later that our lives have paralleled. She actually went to Hilltop High School, where I had attended, and she was in the same class as my sister. One time when we were at my mom’s house looking at pictures, she asked my mom, “how come you have my kindergarten class picture?” Turns out she was also in the same kindergarten class as my sister in National City!
Tell us something most people don’t know about Balboa Park.
Most people don’t realize how large Balboa Park is, that the Central Mesa area is just one corner of the park. They don’t know the park is 1,200 acres, basically one mile and a half by one mile and a half. When I tell them that, they just look at me, so I show them the map.
What is your favorite season or time of year in the park and why?
The busier the better for me. The time goes by quickly; you get to help a lot more people, and you get such a wide variety. It’s a privilege to be able to help people experience the park, and Saturday is always busy.
If someone has only a couple of hours to spend in the park, what do you recommend they do?
I would tell them to walk along the Prado, look at all the architecture and the flora, and then go over to the Botanical Building and Spanish Village, stopping at the gardens on the way. You can get a really good feel for the park that way.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about volunteering in Balboa Park?
The people that I work with here are just wonderful people. We all have the same feeling about the park and trying to help the guests. It’s a privilege and fun to work with them. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It enhances my life to be able to do this.