( 6 Votes )

Diana PickralDiana Pickral earned her degree in history from Roanoke College, though she was interested in English, but none of that mattered when her boss got one of the first PCs and together they figured out how it worked. Pickral volunteered to take on the task.

“I learned the computer from scratch and then I learned about graphics, databases and marketing. I got excited about computers,” she said. “It kept my mind alive and to keep those skills strong I applied them to my volunteer work.”

For Pickral, the ‘60s were still a struggle for women getting an education and pursuing a career other than teaching or nursing. Her father, a professor, was a shining example to Pickral of what education could do in life, and she admired that.

Pickral’s duties took her in a direction she never expected, yet enjoyed. She learned about computers and finance at a time when women didn’t have much involvement in those areas. Like her mother, Pickral was a maverick. She recalled her mother’s contributions as a volunteer.

Her mother raised funds for Rockbridge Mental Health and was conservation chair for the Garden Club of Virginia, but Pickral remembered her mother being an environmentalist before it was trendy. Her mother fought alongside others and with the Perry Foundation to stop the taking down of trees in Goshen Pass.

“For years many of us would go there to our favorite swimming hole,” she said. Her mother and the others were successful in defeating those who were bent on destroying a natural area special to those in nearby communities. To this day, Pickral still visits that area from time to time, remembering her mother sticking to her convictions and taking the time to make a difference and change lives.

After 26 years, Pickral retired from her job as senior director of the Division of Executive Education at the Darden School and followed her mother’s lead by jumping into volunteer work. In 2003 a small group of dog lovers wanted a dog park and proposed one at Lake Monticello. The Board of Directors cited liability as the reason for rejecting the group’s proposal, but the county agreed to work with them.

“I did the research on dog parks, looking at various parks to see what would fit our needs,” she said. Like her mother, Pickral was instrumental in raising funds for the fencing and put together a yard sale and a Dog Days of Summer event.

“What I liked about this particular project was I could use the marketing skills I had learned and used in my job, I used direct marketing to reach people, and I also designed and managed the website,” she said.

The dog park committee, part of Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation, raised nearly $12,000. Over time there have been improvements made. Pickral looks back at it as one of her many volunteer accomplishments.

Her love of animals, both canine and feline, led to her next volunteer gig, volunteering with Caring For Creatures (CFC). She began as a dog walker and helped out when they were short-staffed by working on promoting events, socializing cats and fostering kittens. She often stayed up all night with feedings.

“I had many successful adoptions and only a few failed fosters,” she said. Pickral herself houses two former CFC dogs and six cats and each one is special. An all-around volunteer, she served as a board member, managed the website, donated to getting it up and running, and trained others to manage it.

Ten years ago, she started an annual Christmas fundraiser that has taken off and nets over $5,000 a year for the shelter. When Pickral first started “Christmas bags for a donation,” she and a handful of volunteers made 100 bags for both cats and dogs for a donation of $5 each and had them strategically placed in areas in and around Charlottesville and Fluvanna County. She worked tirelessly and did most of the work herself. The bags consisted of a dog or cat bandanna, toys and treats. Pickral eventually turned it over to volunteer Sue Scott when physical problems kept her from doing it.

For the last couple of years, she turned her attention to helping with marketing, designing displays and generating ideas to draw more customers into the Christian Outreach Thrift Shop in Palmyra. “It was new for me. I had never done retail and enjoyed many aspects of it,” she said.

When Pickral left her volunteer position, she thought about where she could be most helpful. But after eight years, Scott felt it was time to turn over the Christmas bags project to another volunteer. A dedicated volunteer to take over such a large project was not easy to find, and Pickral saw the opportunity to jump in and renew her interest in helping CFC.

“I’m trying some new things this year, like the bows for dog collars,” she said. Pickral is always experimenting with and exploring new ideas. She doesn’t see value in getting stale and knows a good thing when she sees it. This is what she says excites her and keeps her “mind alive.”

While she works on putting the bags together with two other volunteers and the help of her cat, Clive, who modeled one of the kitty bandannas, it’s clear she has come full circle in her journey as a volunteer.  But for Pickral, there will always be some uncharted territory to attract her and pique her insatiable curiosity to try something new.