Daryl Neyens helps make sure visitors to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium get their money’s worth.
A native Dubuquer who recently returned to the community from Texas, 70-year-old Neyens is a volunteer audio-visual technician at the river museum. He assists in the behind-the-scenes technological work that brings many of the local facility’s exhibits and theater screens to life.
“Generally, I do a walk-through first thing in the morning — I check on the different things that need to be turned on, and I go to the theaters and make sure that they’re running, especially the 4-D theater,” Neyens said. “I go in and make sure all of the effects work — that the seats shake and the water spritzes out. I start the movie, watch the beginning of that and make sure the effects come on. I’ve always been a tech guy, and I really enjoy this.”
Nathan Smith, the river museum’s senior manager of information systems, said the facility relies on Neyens’ expertise in a variety of ways and appreciates his companionship.
“We’re grateful to spend time with him,” Smith said.
In his more than two years of volunteering at the Dubuque museum, Neyens assists with a variety of tasks two or three days per week, including the installation of an ozone detection alarm to protect some of the facility’s animals.
“Daryl has lent assistance to various departments,” Smith said. “Our department also plays a role ensuring the museum’s emergency systems function. Daryl has a background with fire control systems and a range of various door security systems. Daryl has become a resource for these systems, and at times, his input prevents a service call for an outside contractor.”
Neyens also helps the museum’s tech staff with troubleshooting solutions to problems.
“When complications arise with exhibits, Daryl immediately pulls out his personal iPad to start finding and recommending solutions,” Smith said.
Neyens’ volunteer work resulted from a conversation he struck up during one of his visits to the facility in the Port of Dubuque.
“I was down here to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit — which was really good — and I ended up having a conversation with one of the museum techs who was working here,” Neyens said. “I told him of my interest in museums and he said, ‘They’re always looking for volunteers.’ I said I would give it a try.”
Neyens was once a familiar face — and sound — on Dubuque’s music scene. He drummed for a band called The Night-Winds while attending Wahlert Catholic High School in the 1960s and later served as a roadie for another Dubuque band, Dutch Uncle.
He moved to Texas in 1978, living in Austin.
“One of the things that attracted us there was the live music scene,” Neyens said. “We were able to do stuff like go to a dive bar and hear Stevie Ray Vaughan — just amazing stuff.”
Neyens worked for the University of Texas — including time spent at the state’s historical museum.
“When I worked at the history museum in Texas it was fun,” Neyens said. “We would have brainstorming sessions to kick around ideas for new exhibits, and where to get artifacts for those exhibits. I like seeing all of the collections of stuff and how they’re put together.”
Neyens and his wife, Barbara, decided to move back to Dubuque nearly four years ago.
“When my wife retired, we decided to simplify things and come back here,” Neyens said. “Austin had turned into a big city. We really liked it when we first moved there. We still like it, but the traffic is horrendous. If you’re lucky, you can get across town in an hour.”
Neyens enjoys his time spent at the river museum.
“Being retired is great, but you like to have something to do,” he said. “I just enjoy the experience and enjoy being here. I love museums in general and this is a really good one. This is a great thing for Dubuque.”