Back in the 1990s, there was a Toastmasters club in Antarctica—Club 549 at McMurdo Station. Founded in 1955, the research facility is run by the National Science Foundation and attracts scientists from around the globe. It is the largest research station on the continent.
John Donnellon, DTM, of Denver, Colorado, spent three summers at McMurdo while employed as a boiler technician and maintenance specialist with Ratheon Polar Services. He joined the McMurdo club in 1999 and participated each time he went down.
He remembers the club met weekly on Monday evenings in one of the dormitories’ recreational rooms. The club followed the standard Toastmasters meeting agenda and had about 20–25 members during the summer months. “It was a wonderful interaction among people,” he says. “Club members came from all over the world, including scientists from various foreign countries.” After the meetings adjourned, members would frequently continue discussions about what they had heard.
“The members that I worked with all agreed that their experiences at the McMurdo club directly or indirectly helped in their work in Antarctica,” Donnellon says. “While I was there, several of our members gained promotions at their job because of the lessons in communication they learned as members of the club.”
Just getting to McMurdo is a feat. It’s located on the actual continent of Antarctica along the remote east coast, and the nearest landmass is New Zealand. While the summer population at McMurdo hovers just above 1,000 people, the winter population shrinks to around 150. Lasting from February–August, winter brings total darkness with a mean temperature of -51° C/-60° F. There are no flights into or out of the continent during those months, leaving residents completely isolated from the outside world.
According to a December 2000 article in The Antarctic Sun, former Toastmaster Madison Hall joined the club because it offered something new. “All the other clubs around here had something to do with drinking,” he said at the time. As a self-proclaimed introvert who enjoyed working the night shift in the winter months, Hall credited the club with helping him become more comfortable and articulate in front of groups.
Although the club disbanded in the early 2000s, the Toastmasters McMurdo club helped foster a sense of camaraderie. “The isolation is tremendous,” recalls Donnellon. “But the Toastmasters club did a lot to keep people busy and engaged.”