Living is easy; comedy is hard. That’s a lesson summer 2015 Volunteer Services Intern Joel Klann learned after attending long-time volunteer Ron Heames’s 7th Annual Bad Joke Fest—a light-hearted break in the otherwise busy schedules of Matthaei-Nichols’ interns and volunteers. 

15,000. That’s the number of hours a typical full-time worker logs in a little over 7 years. It’s also the number of hours Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum anticipates volunteers to dedicate by year’s end. Nearly 400 permanent and close to 1,200 short-term volunteers equate to the labor of over 7 full-time employees. With Matthaei-Nichols permanent staff of just 29, the work that volunteers do is critical to the success of the organization, allowing us to provide unique community resources for conserving, restoring, and celebrating the environment. Volunteers have fun doing valuable work, and come with an enthusiasm and an appreciation for the natural world that manifests effortlessly.
I can’t say enough good things about those who freely contribute their time to any worthy cause, but as the Volunteer Services Intern at Matthaei-Nichols this summer, I can say that being able to interact with and help out many wonderful people who seek to be involved with our organization has been quite a treat.
One of many whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with is Ron Heames. Ron is one of the most senior veterans on our team, contributing countless hours to the organization during his 15 years here. When I ask him what keeps him coming back after so long, he says it’s mainly the work and the people.
Ron is a retiree from Ford, where he worked in purchasing for many years before linking up with the horticulture department at Matthaei-Nichols. When he’s not busy doing his favorite activity of planting, or helping us to maintain displays of natural beauty in other ways, he enjoys long-distance running and the outdoors. For Ron, though, one thing is constant: he is always telling jokes.
Recently we were fortunate to have “Uncle Ron,” as he is known, present us with his 7th annual “Bad Joke Fest.”

Volunteers, staff, and interns hang on Ron Heames’s
(center left, in red shirt) every word
A flyer for this event bearing the botanically-minded pun of a headline, “It’s That Thyme Again” is posted to a window at Ron’s back as the interns and staff wait for the show to begin. The comic tension amuses all in the room, with the first timers unsure of what they’re about to witness, and past attendees anticipating the possibilities.

A flyer announces Ron Heames’s 7th Annual Bad Joke Fest
As the last staff members shuffle into their seats, Ron begins to rattle off pun after pun, eliciting some laughs, some half-laughs, and his personal favorite, groans. The more a joke disappoints, the better. The imitation of the sound of two drums and a cymbal follows the especially bad ones. It’s a rather anticlimactic event—not having much to do with everyday volunteer activities—and yet that’s what makes it one of the best days of the summer internship. Ron does it every year, and he insists it gets better each time, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I think it might mean, “It’s so bad, it’s good!”
A few choice Ron Heames pearls of laughter:

        There were two peanuts walking down the street. One was a salted.

        A bear walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “What’ll it be?” “A . . . beer please.” 
“Why the huge pause?” said the bartender. “I dunno,” said the bear. I’ve had ‘em since I was a kid.”
        The invisible man and the invisible woman make a great couple, but their kids aren’t much to look at.
        A teddy bear walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “Can I get you anything?” The teddy bear replies, “No thanks, I’m stuffed.”
Interns and staff alike are graced by Ron’s presence and his commitment to the organization. Even though his jokes may slowly be killing us, it is because of him and the hundreds of regulars and thousands of part-time volunteers that we are able to sustain our vitality and do what we do for the community at large. And for that we are thankful.

Joel Klann, from Southwest Detroit, Michigan, is a senior studying political science. Joel is working this summer as the Volunteer Services intern. He is especially interested in social welfare and civil rights issues.

Joel Klann