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Oklahoma man volunteers at bombing memorial to remember victims, survivors

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum volunteer Jerry Reese shares exhibit information with visitors near parts from the truck Timothy McVeigh used in the April 19, 1995, bombing. 
Photo Provided
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum volunteer Jerry Reese shares exhibit information with visitors near parts from the truck Timothy McVeigh used in the April 19, 1995, bombing. Photo Provided PROVIDED

Through a span of more than a dozen years, Jerry Reese worked at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Daily, Reese was greeted not only by co-workers but employees of other floors.

Then, in October 1994, the U.S. Small Business Administration Oklahoma City District Office where Reese worked moved a matter of blocks to the Oklahoma Tower.

On April 19, 1995, his daughter was sick so he picked her up from school, and while at a drugstore, he heard a boom. Once back at home, he turned on the TV just as a television helicopter passed in front of the shredded Murrah Building.

“That moment will forever be etched in my memory,” he said.

At the time of the move, a half-year earlier, he had told many of those longtime friends from the Murrah Building goodbye, but Reese hadn’t and has since vowed to never forget them. That’s why upon retiring in 2006, he began volunteering at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.

“Early on, both my parents showed me that life is not all about yourself,” said the 69-year-old Edmond resident who volunteers on Mondays and as needed at other special events.

This part of his life, this effort of volunteering, is for his friends and the friends and family of others lost in the Oklahoma City bombing.

“I knew many of the victims and survivors, and wanted to be involved in telling their story and preserving their memory,” he said.

At the museum

There are three volunteer stations inside the museum.

The volunteer’s primary purpose is to greet visitors, provide information “and just try to enhance their experience.”

However, many times the visitors enhance Reese’s experience.

“So many times visitors have touched my heart,” he said. “On the anniversary of the bombing, often survivors and rescue workers will come to the museum. A couple of years ago a uniformed firefighter was listening to my introduction of the ‘Hearing Room,’ where the audio recording of the bombing was captured at the (Oklahoma) Water Resources Board across the street.”

Tears welled in the eyes of the firefighter and then trickled down his face.

After Reese finished speaking, he went up to the man, who was from the state of Washington. Reese quickly learned the firefighter had come to Oklahoma City in 1995 as a rescue worker with his team.

He shared the impact of that experience and the toll it had taken.

“Within three years, most of that team had left the fire department,” the man told him.

“We were both crying when he finished sharing his story,” Reese said.

Another time, Joyce Andrews, the museum’s visitor services manager, asked Reese to take a blind visitor through the museum.

“Of course I have been through the museum many times,” he said, “but to walk with her and try to explain the details and the images she can only hear caused me to look at things anew and touched me as if I had never been in the museum before.

“I felt so inadequate in trying to share the visions in the museum, but she was so grateful and appreciative.”

In addition to …

Volunteering at the museum is only one way Reese has adhered to his parents’ lesson of living a life that is “not all about yourself.”

Reese is a driver for his church’s mobile meals program serving shut-ins.

“It’s a small thing to do, but it reminds me how a small kindness can be so appreciated by those in need,” he said.

During tax season, the Oklahoma City native volunteers as a tax counselor for the AARP Tax-Aide program by coordinating the site at church and working at the Village Library.

“This program offers free federal and state tax preparation and electronic filing,” he said. “It has been very rewarding to help people through this program.”

Plus, Reese spends time each week at church, serving as a deacon and a member of the finance committee. He’s also treasurer for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees chapter in Edmond.

And while all these are important to him, those Mondays at the museum hold a special place because of the attached memories of friends.

Just a year after starting at the national memorial, Reese was selected as the recipient of the 2007 Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Outstanding Memorial Volunteer Program award.

“Jerry has been a faithful volunteer for several years, welcoming our visitors from around the world with his passion for the Memorial’s mission,” said Kari Watkins, executive director of the National Memorial & Museum.

Sharing their story

Reese has seldom told visitors that he worked in the Murrah Building for several years leading up to the months just before the bombing.

“When I am wearing the museum uniform, I have always felt it important to look and act professionally and to be knowledgeable about the details of the event,” he said and then referred to the mission statement. “The museum is about the true victims, ‘ … those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.’ ”

Bryan Painter

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