August Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon Wills

August Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon Wills

Sharon Wills brings a wealth of experience from the business world to the Marine Discovery Center, where she has volunteered for eight years. She spent more than 25 years in business using organizational and administrative skills that she has shared at MDC.

Sharon is often at the center working with executive director Chad Truxall on various tasks or speed walking over to The Artists’ Workshop next door to iron out details for the NSB Plein Air Paint Out, which she will coordinate this fall. Read about her in our August Volunteer Spotlight with MDC staff writer Lisa Mickey:

Sharon Wills

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and I was there for many years.

Q: What is your educational and professional background?
A: I went to USC (University of Southern California) for two years and decided that I was wasting my dad’s money because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. They had a marine science program with a research ship.

I applied for that program and was told I couldn’t do it because I was a woman and, at that time (1962-1964), they didn’t have co-ed facilities onboard the ship. That was very frustrating, so I knew I didn’t need to be there.​

Q: You left college and did what? A: I went to work for a while in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) right there in Pasadena. I did a lot of typing, but I also got to participate in all of the testing with Ranger, Mariner and Voyager. They were among the many exploration flights that took off while I was there.

Q: Did that make you want to go into aerospace? A: No, but all the guys there told me I needed to go back to school and get my degree. They told me I had to do something. I got married, but 2½ years later, he died. He was 26 and I was 24. He was an All-American at USC in football and he had a lot of concussions. I think he was one of the earliest football players who experienced head trauma and later, Landry ascending paralysis. When he died, once again, it set me off in a different direction. It made me ask, “What the heck am I doing with my life?”

Q: What did you do after that? A: I sort of went off into another world in California. I got into the drug scene and was, I guess, a California hippie. It was the ‘60s and I got into all that behavior. At the time, I wasn’t smart enough to question how this was going to take me through the rest of my life, but as I aged, I saw what a calamitous thing that whole era of the ‘60s had been. It shot all of us off into a completely different trajectory. I worked at JPL for a while and then I went back to school at the University of California, Irvine, which was a brand new campus. It was big in psychopharmacology studies.

Q: So what did you end up majoring in at college? A: Biological sciences. But unfortunately, I took the advice of a male advisor when I told him I wanted to apply to medical school. He told me I had the grades, but he said nobody would accept me because of my age. I was 26. At the time, schools looked at the longevity you would have in the medical profession and I was already eight to 10 years older than other med-school applicants. For some reason, I listened to him and the only regret I have in my life is that I did not apply.

Q: Where did you go from there? A: I went to work for a private, for-profit company that owned hospitals throughout the United States. Psychology and chemical dependency treatment was just coming in, so I worked for them for about 25 years. I traveled throughout the nation about 80 percent of the time. I had a group of about 30 doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, pharmacists and counselors, and I would designate them to go out to all of our hospitals and to check patient care through records, accreditations, Medicare surveys and by interviewing patients. I did a lot of procedure writing, which years later, helped me assist at MDC. By the late 1980s, I decided that I was done.

Q: Experiencing the tumultuous time of the 1960s while in your 20s must have really shaped you in some ways. A: It did. It horrifies you first of all and then you figure out if you can do anything about it. When I came home with a friend who was a black child, my father let me play, but later, sat me down and told me she was a “different kind of a person” than I was. He never said anything about race, but that was a big shock to me and I thought it was just wrong. I was probably 10 and that made me wonder what I could do to help change things? It also changed the way I felt about my father. We had all kinds of races where I was in California and I decided I would make friends with whomever I wished.

Q: You had a lot of early life lessons. A: The big deal that I got out of it was that I was a female at a time when women were coming into the work force. It made me sit up and realize that I wasn’t going to be put aside for anybody unless I could be shown they could do a better job than I could. I gave them hell.

Q: You must have been doing something right in your job. A: I was senior vice president, still living in California. I worked as a consultant after I left the company. I started my own company assisting outpatient surgery centers, which were just starting. I worked with about 5,000 doctors attending a symposium and all they wanted to know how they could get approved for this new thing? How could they get accredited? What was the process? I wrote a policy and procedure manual for a quality assurance program and I sold myself that way, telling them I would get them through accreditation, through state licensure, and they would have a procedure to hire people. That was the beginning of a job I did for three or four years.

Q: Did you stay in California? A: Yes, but in 1981, the company I worked for at the time moved to Washington, D.C. During that whole time, I sailed. For some reason, I wanted to do ocean cruising, so one day, I answered an ad in the Washington Post for a crew member. I got the job.

Q: How big was this boat you were working on? A: The guy who ran that business delivered sailboats and powerboats all up and down the United States. Twice, I sailed from Annapolis to Puerto Rico, and then from Puerto Rico to the Azores on one particular boat called “Asteroid.” It was a 65-foot sloop. The people who owned the boat wanted to party in these places, but they didn’t want to make the long boat trips. I loved it!

Q: Sounds like you were pretty happy? A: I did that for a while, but I wanted to to go sailing on my own. I didn’t have a boyfriend at that time. I had just met Bill [whom she would later marry in 1996], but before we met, I decided I would buy a boat. The guy who was captain of the boat deliveries had this little brokerage in Annapolis (Md.) and I bought a Valiant 40.

Q: Where did you take this new purchase? A: I spent a year refurbishing it, getting sails and spending all of my savings. I sailed by myself from Annapolis to Georgia, where I had an engine-overheating problem. I had taken boat engine courses, but if I hadn’t been sailing down the ICW (Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway), I would have been in trouble out in the ocean. I wanted to sail to Florida and cross over to the Bahamas. On the way, I called a friend in Florida and she agreed to go with me. Of course, Bill was in the back of my mind the whole time. The plan was my friend was going to fly home from the Bahamas after a few months and Bill was going to come join me and we were going to sail back together to Maryland, but he had another family obligation that prevented him from making that trip.

Q: Bill eventually got onboard your boat, right? A: Yes. We sailed to the Virgin Islands and then to Venezuela. We were down there living on the boat for three and a half years in Trinidad and the islands. Venezuela was glorious back then. I was retired and Bill was a retired police officer in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Sharon and Bill Wills

Q: It sounds like you always had a love for marine science? A: I did. And when I came to the Marine Discovery Center for the first time, I was like this is just the dream of my heart.

Q: How did you land in New Smyrna Beach? A: We came back to Florida and sold the boat. We knew we wanted to live somewhere near the water and we ended up in Virginia on the eastern shore, where we lived for 10 years. Bill’s father lived in Florida, so we started coming down here every winter and then we decided to explore. We had never been to the east coast at all and we rented a house in New Smyrna Beach. Within a week, we were in a realtor’s office and bought a condo in 2011.

Q: How did you learn about MDC? A: We went on a boat tour and the guide was just fantastic. After that, I went to the Marine Discovery Center, which had just moved into the old high school building. I asked to meet Chad and told him that I presumed he would start building programs, hiring and expanding. I told him he was going to need procedures and that I would love to help him to get the structure established at this organization.

Q: When did you start volunteering at MDC? A: I started working with Chad one day a week in March 2012, and we worked on MDC’s procedures and structure as a growing non-profit organization. It was a rapidly growing place. Chad had been a teacher and had never supervised people, so we had to put together an organization chart. Those are the things you need when you’re building an organization. That’s what I knew from my work and that’s how I wanted to help MDC grow.​

Sharon Helps at Lagoonacy 2019

Q: Why MDC? A: MDC draws people because of our love of the Indian River Lagoon and we all want to protect it and preserve it. Now, I’m running the Plein Air Paint Out for MDC, which is our biggest fundraiser, but if there is a need at the center, Chad calls me and I come in to help. He knows what he wants, so all I had to do was translate it into a procedure and think of all the potential for a new procedure or a new program with considerations for budgeting. MDC still needs help and I am certainly happy to do that for as long as they want me to help. We’re making the templates for the future.

Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering? A: I certainly enjoy being present at the creation. When the ECHO grants first started, it made me so happy that we were moving in the right direction. This is a great group of people to work around. There’s always something new going on and we’re all working to preserve the IRL.

Q: Do you volunteer in other places? A: I have served on the board at the New Smyrna Beach Public Library and was involved in the program that provides books each month to children under 5. We were trying to identify the children who did not have books.

Q: What are your hobbies? A: I’m a master gardener in Florida and in Virginia. I also love any kind of needlework and crafts. I’ve taken painting lessons at The Artists’ Workshop and I love movies.

Q: What is your role with Paint Out? A: I’m the coordinator, but I’m also working with Wendy Castino from MDC and Cheryl Faber from The Artists’ Workshop. The two organizations will share the revenues from the event.

Q: You are a lung cancer survivor. Are you OK? A: Yes, everything has been in remission for three years. It’s hard to believe, but I smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day for many years. It was the thing to do back then. Even as a child, I would “smoke” a white rolled-up paper with lipstick on the end and pretend I was my mother.

Q: What excites you the most about helping MDC achieve its mission? A: Other than being a part of its progress and feeling like I’m helping in my own small way, I like accomplishing the goals of MDC through my previous work experiences. I want to be involved because it’s a passion. I can see where this organization can be in 10 years.

Q: Has there been a highlight for you at MDC? A: The cardboard boat races during Lagoonacy. It’s wonderful fun! I also enjoy working with the different age levels — and the brains and laughter at MDC bring a unique quality to my life. It just gives me such pleasure to be here. Anybody can fit in here. Any knowledge can be used at MDC.

MDC August Lecture Explores Sea Squirts and Heart Disease

MDC August Lecture Explores Sea Squirts and Heart Disease

Sea Squirts & Heart Disease



When: Thursday, August 15 2019 at 6:00 p.m.

Where: Marine Discovery Center, 520 Barracuda Blvd, NSB, 32169

Cost: FREE

The lecture is open to the public at no charge and no reservations are required.

Sea squirts and their role in treating heart disease will be the featured topic at the Marine Discovery Center’s August monthly lecture.

Dr. Heather Evans Anderson, assistant professor of health science at Stetson University, will be the guest speaker.

She will discuss how humans and sea squirts share many similar genes and cellular processes. Anderson will focus on the science behind these similarities and how this knowledge can be used to treat human heart disease.

The lecture will be held Thursday, August 15, starting at 6 p.m., and will be hosted by the Marine Discovery Center, located at 520 Barracuda Boulevard in New Smyrna Beach.

Anderson joined Stetson’s faculty in fall 2017. A native of Belle Glade, Fla., Anderson earned her doctorate degree in biomedical science at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in 2004. Her postdoctoral fellowship spanned from 2004-2008 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Research Center in the molecular cardiology division, where Anderson was funded by an American Heart Association fellowship award.

The August lecture is open to the public at no charge and no reservations are required.

Seating in the center’s Learning Lab is limited and early arrival is recommended.

MDC Partners with MSC for Ponce Inlet Discovery Tour

MDC Partners with MSC for Ponce Inlet Discovery Tour

Ponce Inlet

People often confuse Marine Discovery Center (MDC) with Marine Science Center (MSC). Now, these two beneficial centers are teaming up for a special tour offering!

Join MDC for an exploration of Ponce Inlet and the northern-most waters of the Indian River Lagoon aboard our 40-passenger pontoon boat, Discovery, this July 24th and 31st.

MDC and MSC have long been confused in the minds of many. Staff and volunteers at both facilities often get questions from guests regarding the confusion, so we’re all used to explaining the differences.  Marine Science Center is a Volusia County facility in Ponce Inlet dedicated to the rehabilitation of seabirds and sea turtles.  Marine Discovery Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit in New Smyrna Beach with the mission of protecting and restoring the Indian River Lagoon.  While both places are very different in structure and purpose, they share a passion for helping our environment and educating visitors and locals about our coastal ecosystems.marine science center logo

MDC and MSC have often worked together on projects, events, and education programs, and we’re excited to announce a new collaboration in the form of a special boat tour: Ponce Inlet Discovery Tour!

This special one-hour ecotour especially for guests of the Marine Science Center will depart from the Ponce Inlet boat ramp near Lighthouse Park and take a journey to discover the plants and animals of the Lagoon. Our expert naturalist guides will educate and entertain as you cruise the waters in search of dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, birds, and much more.

The Ponce Inlet Discovery Tour will take place from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm on Wednesday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 31.  Cost for the tour is $15 per person (children 2 and under are free).  Seating is limited to 40 passengers, so be sure to book your spot early.

To book in advance, call Marine Discovery Center at 386.428.4828 or use the Book Now button below. You can also pay on the day of the tour as MDC representatives will be stationed at the Marine Science Center to take reservations and payment.  To board the boat, meet at the Lighthouse Park Boat Ramp at 4950 S Peninsula Drive in Ponce Inlet prior to departure time OR meet our MDC staff member at Marine Science Center at 10:45 on the tour date to walk down to the boat as a group.


book now

July Volunteer Spotlight: Kip Hulvershorn

July Volunteer Spotlight: Kip Hulvershorn

Kip Hulvershorn is one of those volunteers who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Marine Discovery Center. He is a retired college professor at the University of Nebraska and a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

These days, you may find him working as a sweep with our kayak guides at MDC. He is featured in our July Volunteer Spotlight with MDC staff writer Lisa Mickey.

Kip Hulvershorn

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was raised in Southern Indiana down on the Ohio River.

Q: What is your educational and professional background? A: I went to Indiana University and did my bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. After that, I went to Vietnam for a year with the U.S. Army. After my time in Vietnam, I went into park work in northern Indiana. Then I had an opportunity to go to the University of Nebraska for a job and to complete my doctorate degree. I ended up staying there for 33 years.

When I retired, I ended up spending 10 years at Grand Teton National Park for about five months a year until summer of 2018. I was the lead park ranger based at Jenny Lake [a 423-foot-deep glacial lake], so I had some great years there. Then I decided it was time to retire – to play, have some fun and enjoy our wonderful environment.

Q: What did you teach at Nebraska? A: I taught environmental planning and policy. I was working at the same time and became professor emeritus after 33 years at the University of Nebraska. Most of my summers at Nebraska, I worked in the National Park Service, primarily at Yellowstone. I was a seasonal park ranger.

Q: How long did you spend time bouncing between residences in New Smyrna Beach and Grand Teton National Park? A: About 10 years. My wife Linda and I lived right in the middle of the park. We would stay out there May 1 through the end of September and then come back to Florida. The park never closes, but they don’t plow the roads when the snow gets deep, so it’s only accessible by cross-country skiing. Snowmobiles aren’t allowed.

After I retired, I spent a year at Everglades National Park, then drove up the east coast and came through New Smyrna Beach. I talked to the folks at Canaveral National Seashore and ended up volunteering there for the next two winters. While we were doing that, I ended up buying a place here about 10 years ago and now it’s our permanent residence. I worked in resource management and did some park history and park management stuff at Canaveral out in the field. I worked out of the Titusville headquarters most of the time, but I was in both Apollo Beach and Playalinda Beach.

Q: Why New Smyrna Beach? A: We wanted to live in a warmer climate and we loved the ocean. We looked on both coasts and when we came here, we saw Canaveral National Seashore and all the different habitats. We’ve been very surprised at how much nature there is in Florida. I think almost one third of this state is preserved. There are a lot of natural areas here.

Q: Was your wife also a park ranger? A: She’s in museum/archives kind of work. When we were in Lincoln, Neb., the Midwest Archeological Center is located there. She worked in curation and archives with them and then when we would go to the park for the summers, she would work in the park doing the same museum/archive work in collection management. She has also done that at Canaveral National Seashore as a volunteer and now volunteers at the New Smyrna Museum of History.

Q: Do you have family here? A: We have five kids scattered all over the country from San Francisco and Nebraska to Texas. We spend time visiting them and catching up. I also have two grandchildren.

Q: Are any of your kids park rangers? A: No, but they spend a lot of time in parks. They all have recently been camping and visiting national parks. They grew up spending summers in national parks. That’s in their blood.

Q: When did you start volunteering at MDC? A: I was down at Canaveral and 10 years ago, I heard about the Florida Master Naturalist Program’s Coastal Systems class. I thought that would be a great way to learn more about this coastal ecosystem. I took the class and thought it was very well done and after that, I started volunteering with MDC’s kayak program.

Q: When you work in a park the size of Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone, what was your main focus? A: My responsibility was supervisory, so I had 12-15 people who were primarily naturalists leading programs and staffing the visitors’ centers. Parks like that are so complex and there are constant crises going on, ranging from rescues, lost personnel, problems in the camp grounds, lost pets – just all kinds of issues.

The park is about 330,000 acres. Yellowstone is about 2.5 million acres. It’s all about helping folks, but you never know what the day will bring. Every day, we were trying to protect the bears from people as much as the other way around. We also had bison, elk and wolves. We want people to see these animals and to appreciate them, but we don’t want people to put themselves in dangerous situations.

Q: Were you involved with prescribed burns on the park property? A: I actually have a long history with that and I taught some fire ecology. I worked in fire management and fire information at the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park [that affected 36 percent of the park]. Fire ecology has been a strong interest of mine along with educating visitors about the fear of fire. I’ve tried to help them understand the ecological importance of fire and why we use prescribed burning.

Q: What makes you want to give your time to volunteer, especially now that you have retired? A: I have a real belief in the mission of the places I get involved with. I believe in what the Marine Discovery Center is accomplishing and how it educates visitors, as well as residents about the importance of preserving this special ecosystem, the Indian River Lagoon, the coast and the entire area. Any little bit I can do to help transmit that message and support the staff in doing that, I’ll get involved.

In addition to Canaveral National Seashore, I’ve volunteered with a local coalition. We have crises in terms of the lagoon’s health and rampant population growth and if we can help folks understand and help make wise decisions, that’s important.

Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering? A: I think seeing the excitement that guests have about the ecosystem here. Of course, the kayaking is interesting. A lot of people have never been out in a kayak and it’s a different experience for them. I get to see not only their joy, but also their understanding that this is an important resource.

Kayaking at MDC

Q: Do you volunteer in other places? A: I still help out some at Canaveral National Seashore. I have helped with interpretation there in the past and probably will again in the future.

Q: Do you have any hobbies? A: Mostly kayaking and I swim every day in a pool. We live beachside and I bike at the beach almost every day, but I also enjoy reading and quiet time. I try to attend planning council and city commission meetings and sometimes put my two cents in.

Q: What excites you the most about helping MDC achieve its mission? A: I think it’s making residents and visitors aware of what a unique resource the Indian River Lagoon is and what the challenges are on that resource. MDC helps the public understand that they also need to be making sound decisions about their own behaviors. People can learn things they can do philanthropically to relieve the situations here. I’m enthralled by the progress that MDC has made and I hope it will continue. It’s always a challenge with nonprofits when you keep growing and expanding, but I hope the center is able to get the support needed, whether it’s through grants, donations or fee income to continue to move forward. I’m always amazed at how much is going on.

Q: Has there been a highlight for you at MDC? A: A lot of it is seeing the growth at the Marine Discovery Center. I remember when the center was housed in the trailers on the North Causeway. I love seeing the many different programs in education for kids and adults, but personally, I just get joy out of seeing individual visitors have that ah-ha experience out there on the water.

Q: You have a unique perspective as an MDC volunteer, having worked as a resource manager, a professor, and in the National Park system in some large parks. MDC is a small place in a small town. What’s important for people to understand about where we live? A: We’re trying to maintain a small-town quality and charm while also caring for our resources. I’m always amazed there are so many people who have no idea about the national seashore or all the state and public lands here or the importance of the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem. It’s not just about our beach-town ambience, but also about our unique natural environment.

Q: After working in a variety of different ecosystems, what do you see as our biggest challenge? A: Primarily water quality, and we have some monumental hurdles. The whole septic tank challenge is unbelievable, along with the amount of money it’s going to take and the resources required to fix it. A lot of residents, as well as a lot of elected officials, are not fully educated on that. The issue of uncontrolled, rampant growth is also key. We’re going to have growth, but it needs to be managed and planned much more carefully. We’ve gotten ourselves into a real jam here because growth has stripped both the environmental analyses and our infrastructure needs. The issue of grass and lawn maintenance is another matter. It’s sometimes hard to get people to consider other options using native coastal plants as opposed to [high-maintenance] turf.

Q: You’ve lived and worked in Great Teton National Park. What’s the most fun thing for you to live in a tiny place like New Smyrna Beach? A: That ocean out there. Both Linda and I get out there almost every day for biking and walking. We go out and stroll by the ocean and never tire of it. I just love to see dolphins and creatures on the shore, the changing tides, the dunes, the sand, the whole thing. That’s why we’re here.


MDC Celebrates Selection as Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program Beneficiary

MDC Celebrates Selection as Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program Beneficiary

Osprey Nesting Platform

Marine Discovery Center has been selected as a beneficiary of the Community Bag Program for the month of July!

The program is simple: MDC will receive a $1 donation every time a $2.50 reusable Community Bag is sold during the month of July at the Winn-Dixie store located at 1838 South Ridgewood Avenue, Edgewater FL

The Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program, which launched in February 2019, is a reusable bag program that facilitates community support with the goal to make a difference in the communities where shoppers live and work.

Marine Discovery Center was selected as the July beneficiary of the program by store leadership at the Winn-Dixie located in Edgewater. MDC will receive a $1 donation every time the $2.50 reusable Community Bag is purchased at this location during the month of July, unless otherwise directed by the customer through the Giving Tag attached to the bag.

We are excited to be the beneficiary of this program!  We rely on donations from the community to help us in our mission to protect and restore the Indian River Lagoon, and we always appreciate programs like these that also strengthen the connections between organizations and businesses in our area. In addition, we hope this program will encourage more customers to choose reusable bags over single-use plastics ones. Each step makes a difference!

For more information on the Community Bag Program, visit

MDC and Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program
Throughout the month of July
Where: Winn-Dixie, 1838 South Ridgewood Avenue, Edgewater FL

MDC Invites Families to Explore this July 5th

MDC Invites Families to Explore this July 5th

Marine Discovery Center invites your family to add some adventure to your July 4th holiday weekend – join us for our Family Discovery Day!

fireworks clip art

shells and crab claws in hand

Our Family Discovery Day gives families the opportunity to go on our popular Indian River Lagoon Experience field trip program. You’ll have a chance to participate in land-based activities – salt marsh exploration, a nature hike, a plankton study, and an invertebrates study – as well as take a tour on our boat to encounter dolphin, manatee, birds and other marine life. You never know what you’ll discover as your explore your waters with MDC!

Friday, July 5 | 9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Cost per person: $18/person

For more information or to register, please contact Michelle West at 386.428.3310 or