"Butterfly" Bill Sesko, a volunteer docent at the Tennessee Aquarium, had butterflies in his stomach as he was honored Wednesday by the governor.
"What a surprise! It happened over in the docent room, and everybody broke into applause and I almost passed out," Sesko said with a chuckle.
The proclamation from Gov. Bill Haslam states: "By Bill Haslam, Governor of Tennessee, on behalf of the people of Tennessee. By virtue of the authority vested in me, I hereby confer upon William C. Sesko 'The Butterfly Man' A Day of Recognition."
Sesko, who will turn 83 in August, has volunteered at the aquarium since 2004. He believes the recognition stemmed from a "glowing report" a guest submitted last year.
"She mentioned that she was deeply impressed with me and the Butterfly Garden because I put a butterfly on her daughter's finger and explained the difference between a butterfly and a moth," he said. "She [described] a gentleman in the butterfly garden in his 60s, so I wrote her a letter and told her I really appreciated her glowing report on me — and the fact that she thought I was in my 60s!"
After receiving the news, aquarium staff celebrated and dubbed Sesko "Butterfly Bill."
Chris Bowman, the aquarium's volunteer manager, suspects the report made its way to Haslam through the guest connection with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.
"They contacted me a couple of weeks ago and said [they] got a certificate ready, but it was gonna be from the governor's office, [which] has a program that recognizes mostly state employees in the state of Tennessee," Bowman said.
The Customer Focused Government Initiative was established by Haslam in 2011 to "provide a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government," according to TN.gov. As far as Bowman could tell, Sesko is the only person outside of state employees who has received such an honor, and he hopes other aquarium volunteers will be encouraged by it.
"Bill went above and beyond and somebody recognized that, but this is the kind of award that I think is great for all of our volunteers [since] it highlights what we do here and how much we care about our guests," Bowman said.
In addition to working in the Butterfly Garden, Sesko can be found at exhibits such as Stingray Bay and Discovery Hall, where he loves interacting with guests for a few hours every Wednesday morning.
"This is something I did after retiring," he said. "I thought it'd be a good activity for me, being that I had a lot of free time. I thoroughly enjoy it."
Asked what his favorite part of the job is, he mentioned the reaction he gets after "putting a butterfly on a child's finger and just looking at the expression on their face, especially when their eyes light up."
Bowman said visitors take notice of aquarium volunteers' enthusiasm.
"All of our volunteers are here because they like being here, and it shows through for things like this where guests can come in and [see] what a good job [they're doing]," Bowman said. "It's for Bill, but to me it's [also] for all of us."
Contact staff writer Kim Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6322.