Volunteer Stories: Touring History at “The People’s House”

Nov. 15, 2022

Every Wednesday, you can find Katie Zondlo, education and outreach assistant, Cotsen Children’s Library — Special Collections, leading tours for schoolchildren at Drumthwacket, the official residence of the governor of New Jersey. As a volunteer docent, Katie combines her love of history and working with children by providing educational tours to students in fourth grade.

Drumthwacket on a sunny day.
Press image courtesy of The Drumthwacket Foundation.

By Vanessa Livingstone, Office of Human Resources

Katie Zondlo was thrilled when she, her husband, and son moved from Colorado to New Jersey. “I love U.S. history…there’s some history in Colorado, but it’s not the treasure trove you can find on the east coast.”

In January 2014, Katie came across an advertisement in the Princeton Packet from the Drumthwacket Foundation searching for volunteers to lead tours of the governor’s residence for schoolchildren. Katie thought, “I thoroughly enjoy working with kids. I’m passionate about history. This is a beautiful combination of the two.” She answered the ad and spent the next six months shadowing other docents and learning the history of the house before she began touring on her own.

When touring a class through the residence, Katie encourages the children to ask questions and allows their curiosity to guide what they learn. The students sometimes ask outlandish questions; however, Katie appreciates the challenge.

“I love to be stumped. I want to be asked a question I don’t know the answer to because then I’m learning, too.”

Katie Zondlo and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Katie with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Image courtesy of Katie Zondlo.

She also enjoys sharing the Princeton aspect of Drumthwacket, and typically introduces herself as a University employee. Katie’s favorite room is the library, which was added to Drumthwacket by its second owner and Princeton Class of 1877 graduate Moses Taylor Pyne. “Making the connection between Drumthwacket and Princeton University always resonates with the students.”

The idea of teaching the next generation about the history of New Jersey, and history itself, inspires Katie to continue volunteering. During almost every tour, at least one student expresses interest in living at Drumthwacket, and Katie tells them, “You can! You just have to become governor first.” To capture the students’ attention and teach them about politics or government, for even as little as an hour, makes the time spent volunteering worth it.

“Our country is meant to be celebrated…among all the good, the bad, and the ugly parts; knowing the history of the area, how our state formed, and how the United States came to be is so important,” Katie says.

Educational programs are essential to The Drumthwacket Foundation’s mission. Referred to as “The People’s House” by the governor and first lady, Drumthwacket’s doors remain open to thousands of schoolchildren and visitors each year thanks to docents like Katie. For those who may not have the opportunity to visit Drumthwacket, Katie assisted in the creation of virtual tours that allow them to enjoy the property’s history and beauty in an online format — a program she hopes will continue to expand in the future.

Katie’s thoughts surrounding volunteerism and acts of service can be summarized in a simple phrase: “I believe we all have something to give.”

To learn more or to become a volunteer, visit The Drumthwacket Foundation.

Feedback? Questions? Suggestions for future stories on staff who volunteer with outside organizations? Please write to the HR Communications Team.