Scottsdale Volunteer Spotlight: Elizabeth Sears at Butterfly Wonderland

Elizabeth Sears at Butterfly Wonderland Thursday, July 16.

Elizabeth Sears at Butterfly Wonderland Thursday, July 16. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Inside the brown and tan building mostly secluded off to the east of Loop 101 is a world one would never expect to find inside the desert: A rainforest full of butterflies.

Butterfly Wonderland is the largest butterfly atrium in the United States and contains thousands of butterflies from around the world. However, if you’re not looking closely you might miss one of the special features of the attraction when first entering the building, Elizabeth Sears.

Sporting butterfly-themed earrings, bracelet and blouse, Ms. Sears is smiling from ear to ear greeting guests from behind a kiosk.

Ms. Sears is an 89-year-old employee at the facility. She has been with Butterfly Wonderland since it opened in 2013 and has completed the most volunteer hours. Somewhere around 917 hours, in two years, she said.

“I scan all the tickets when all the guests come in, and I talk to them and ask them how they heard about us,” said Ms. Sears during an interview on July 16 at Butterfly Wonderland. “Many times we get into a great conversation. They come from all over the world — Germany, Switzerland — it is such a pleasure to meet all the people.”

Ms. Sears has a special love for butterflies, a true passion. As she walked through the building, she spouted off all sorts of butterfly facts and interesting tidbits as well as stories from her time there.

“We have up to 3,000 butterflies, and they are shipped to us from the warm countries,” said Ms. Sears. “We get shipments twice a week.”

The insects arrive at the facility in cocoons and are then hung up until the butterflies and moths are ready to emerge.

“We have a chrysalis lab, where the butterflies are in cocoons and then they put them in boards and you can watch them emerge from the cocoons,” said Ms. Sears. “Once they emerge then they take them into the conservatory. We had one great big moth this morning.”

Inside the lush conservatory there are butterflies and moths of all sizes and colors. The largest being several inches in diameter. The large area is kept warm and moist and there is greenery everywhere. The outside of the building gives no clue that such a beautiful area exists inside.

“One time a butterfly laid eggs on a boy’s shoulder,” said Ms. Sears, after leaving the conservatory.

There is a room where guests exiting the conservatory are to circle around in a large mirror to make sure a butterfly hasn’t tried to hitch a ride on his or her body.

Ms. Sears says she likes butterflies because they remind her of happiness, beauty and peace. Qualities she herself manifests.

“I think the people that I work with are wonderful,” said Ms. Sears. “Everyone is so nice, that’s the reason I stay here. People and the butterflies.”

The other volunteers and employees at Butterfly Wonderland even threw Ms. Sears her 89th birthday party at the facility.

“I was really surprised, they had a birthday cake and everyone came in and sang happy birthday to me,” said Ms. Sears.

Ms. Sears first applied about Butterfly Wonderland after reading about it in the newspaper.

“I was always in business so I love people,” said Ms. Sears. “I read about Butterfly Wonderland in the newspaper and I immediately came out and applied to be a volunteer.”

Ms. Sears retired from her career at the age of 76, and was happy to have found something to fill her time with. She volunteers at Butterfly Wonderland on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

She lives in Scottsdale and has two daughters, five grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren that she visits with often. In addition to volunteering she enjoys playing Mexican-Train dominoes and Mahjong.

Butterfly Wonderland is at 9500 E. Via de Ventura in Scottsdale.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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