Like the famous song lyric, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” part of Balboa Park’s magic is ensuring that you never want to leave. Balboa Park Visitors Center volunteer Katherine Matlack is the perfect example. Visiting here as a young mother with her children later turned into a second career working at San Diego Junior Theatre. After leaving that job for a few years, she returned to work there again. She eventually retired, but as of last summer, she is back in the park as a volunteer. Her story is not unusual.

What got you interested in volunteering in Balboa Park?

I worked in Balboa Park at San Diego Junior Theatre before I retired, and I’m very good friends with Teresa Wulf [formerly at Junior Theatre, now at BP Cultural Partnership] and [Conservancy Board Member] Pam Crooks. Pam encouraged me to come back once I retired. I really missed Balboa Park, so it was a great fit. Working for the Visitors Center brought me back.

Tell us a little bit about your background?

In between my working in Balboa Park, I worked for the Coronado Historical Association, managing their Visitors Center. I managed the volunteers there, and I really, really liked the experience, both serving the public, the tourists, and the relationships I had with the volunteers. I did that for three years. Before working at the Coronado Historical Association, I worked for San Diego Junior Theatre. I started as a volunteer, then I joined the board, and I became an employee in 2000, left in 2010, and then came back. First, I ran the box office, and then when I came back, I was the general office manager for the education office.

Prior to all that, I got a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and I was a registered nurse working in maternity nursing, obstetrics. And then after my third child, I stopped nursing. Our youngest son brought us to Junior Theatre because he was an aspiring actor, and that’s how I became a volunteer there.

What is your first memory of Balboa Park?

I remember visiting San Diego and Balboa Park in the late 70s and loving the beauty of it, but with a crying baby, I didn’t want to go into any of the buildings. But once we moved here permanently [from Northern California], and we had two little girls, this was our favorite go-to place. We’d pack a picnic and just come and hang out, and there’d always be something to do.

What do you like most about volunteering in the Visitors Center?

I like best the interaction with the visitors. We greet people from all over the country, all over the world. And they are for the most part very happy—they’re on vacation. They’re very interested in knowing what we can offer them. I find that very rewarding because they really do want guidance, and they really appreciate guidance. And it’s just enriching to talk to them. That’s the same kind of gratification I got at the Coronado Historical Association.

Tell us something most people don’t know about Balboa Park.

A lot of people don’t know the park’s history at all. They don’t know why the park looks the way it looks, and they are very surprised by the fact that there was an exposition here 100 years ago.

What is your favorite season or time of year in the park and why?

Summer is really fun here because it’s so busy. In terms of beauty, I like late winter/early spring, like right now. Things are starting to bloom. If there’s been rain, things are lusher, things are greener.

If someone has only a couple of hours to spend in the park, what do you recommend they do?

I always tell them, if it’s a nice day, to first take in the gardens and the architecture of the El Prado part of the park, to get a sense of how it’s laid out. And then go into the Botanical Building and look into the Japanese Friendship Garden. And if they have time, go to Spanish Village because it’s so unique.

Anything else you’d like to say about working in the park?

I love it! I think the Conservancy does a fabulous job. The management of the Visitors Center is really great! The staff is terrific! And I like all the directions the Conservancy is going. I’ve been here long enough, before the Conservancy existed … I feel like there’s more cohesion now in what everybody is trying to do for the park. Much, much better. I feel privileged to be a part of it, and to be engaged in it. And I’m always learning new things.