Volunteer Spotlight: John Joniak - Cheekwood
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John Joniak embraces any assignment with enthusiasm and a smile. He participates in many of Cheekwood’s events, but his passion is working on our miniature trains exhibit. Most weeks he can be found at trains, tidying up the tracks, working on the train cars, and keeping the exhibition area clear of debris. But his favorite thing about the trains is to share fun facts with our guests, big and small.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I’ve been married to my wife and best friend, Christine, for 48+ years! We lived most of our lives in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb 20 miles west of Chicago. We have 5 wonderful children and 6 terrific grandkids. Five years ago we retired and moved to Tennessee where we established new roots in the Nashville area and absolutely love it here!

Before I retired, I worked initially as a product engineer and then as a regional or national sales manager for various manufacturing companies.

What are your favorite hobbies, activities, or interests?

My wife and I love spending time with our kid’s & grandkids, being involved with our church, traveling, playing pickle ball, socializing with friends, and going bike riding on Tennessee’s beautiful green ways! I also like fishing, kayaking, exercising on my rowing erg and volunteering, especially at Cheekwood!

What is your favorite garden or area at Cheekwood and why?

It has to be Cheekwood Trains! My dad and I had a Lionel model train set back when I was growing up. We spent many a day working side-by-side building and playing with the train layout! I find the Cheekwood Trains exhibit absolutely MAGICAL! Anyone who likes model trains or enjoys being in an enchanted place that makes you feel like you’re in a fairy tale world, would love the Cheekwood Trains exhibit!

Do you have a favorite artwork at Cheekwood, or, if not, a favorite exhibition that Cheekwood has hosted? Is there a reason you like it?

My favorite Cheekwood exhibit or event would be Holiday Lights! They do such an amazing job decorating the entire grounds, including Cheekwood Trains!

In what ways have you been involved as a volunteer with Cheekwood so far?

I have been volunteering at Cheekwood for two years now. Although I have spent many hours helping in the various gardens, most of my time is spent coming in each week to help maintain the trains exhibit…scrubbing the tracks, rotating and cleaning the contacts on the engines, and switching up the theme cars. While I’m there, I also enjoy engaging with the enthusiastic kids (and adults) many of which come to Cheekwood specifically to see the trains. When time permits, I pull a spare Thomas the Tank Engine out of the roundhouse and do an impromptu show and tell with the young visitors!

Why did you become a volunteer?

Being retired I have plenty of time on my hands and like to keep active. I enjoy helping and meeting people and also love the outdoors & working with my hands so Cheekwood is a perfect choice for me!

What have you enjoyed the most about your volunteer experience?

There are several things that I love about volunteering at Cheekwood...I enjoy my serene walks through the gardens, appreciating their beauty during my walk to the Trains. It helps me connect to nature as well as to God! I thoroughly enjoy meeting and engaging with the visitors that I meet, especially the children! That can also be said for the Cheekwood employees (gardeners, managers, etc) and the other volunteers that I’ve met. They are all wonderful people!

Is there a funny or inspirational story you can briefly tell about your volunteer experience?

I love the pure joy of the “little” visitors that I meet! Their excitement, abundant energy and sheer happiness is truly contagious!

Do you have any advice for individuals considering volunteering with Cheekwood?

If you have time on your hands, enjoy nature, like helping others, and/or meeting or working with friendly people… Don’t give it a second thought! Inquire about the many volunteer opportunities that Cheekwood has to offer! You won’t regret it!

For more information about volunteering visit our volunteer web page: www.cheekwood.org/support/volunteer

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