Q: What did you do after high school? A: I went to Patricia Stevens Merchandising School in Tampa for one year and after that, I lived in Jacksonville for a year and just worked in merchandising. I came back to New Smyrna and took general classes at the community college in Daytona Beach for about a year and half. The only thing I ever wanted to be was an archeologist, but I never pursued it, although years later, my husband and I bought property adjacent to the historic Turnbull Canal and I have found small bones and teeth in my yard. I have taken them to the Museum of Arts and Sciences for the archeologist there to examine. He believes one of the bones is a mammoth and that one tooth came from either a camel or llama and one tooth came from a 10,000-year-old horse.
Q: So did you go to work after community college? A: I worked at Sears on Beach Street in 1969. I helped close that store and open the store at the mall in Daytona Beach, which closed this year. I worked at Sears for 13 years. I was the department manager for fabrics for a while, then I moved to Atlanta and worked at Sears up there in lingerie and came back here to get married and worked in lingerie at Sears in the mall in Daytona. That marriage didn’t work.
Q: What happened after that? A: Well, time passed and I met Walter Minton. We’ve been married for 38 years. He lived in Ft. Lauderdale and worked for Florida Power & Light. I moved down there with him and his two sons. I had lived alone for six years with my cat and now I was living in South Florida with these three males. I did not love living in Ft. Lauderdale, but I worked for Safeguard Business Systems there. That was at the time when Sears was cutting full-time staff and they would only hire me part-time, so that’s why I went with Safeguard. They handled checks and bookkeeping systems and it was really interesting. I took care of orders.
Q: Did you at least get out on the water in South Florida? A: Yes, my husband had some friends who were into boating and some lived on sailboats. We did some of the Columbus Day regattas and enjoyed sailing. We went over to Bimini in the mid-1980s and got caught in a storm over there, so I flew home on a seaplane. One thing I remember about that trip, when we took off and flew around Bimini, one side of the island was beautiful and the other side of the island was nothing but trash. It was really sad.
Q: How did you transition from Ft. Lauderdale back to New Smyrna Beach? A: My husband got transferred back to New Smyrna. We had been trying because both of our families were here. We moved to Port Orange and I bought a small craft store for a couple of years called Busy Bee Crafts in South Daytona Beach.
Q: Are you crafty? A: No, not at all, but I love being around people who are. It was a pleasant experience, but there were some big crafts stores around and it was hard to compete with them. Back then, macramé, tole painting, basket weaving and beading were very popular. I eventually closed the store.
Q: What came next? A: My sister-in-law wanted to open a pre-school in our family’s homestead on Highway 44 where I grew up, so we started working on it in 1988 and opened it in 1989 as Ellison Acres Preschool. It’s still there and my sister-in-law still owns it. I had to go take classes to be able to work there with 3- and 4-year-olds for about 20 years. In fact, Frozen Gold, the ice cream shop on Highway 44 used to be my uncle’s grocery store. It was Ellison Acres Grocery back then.
Q: What came after two decades of working in childcare? A: Well, I went back to merchandising at Bealls for four years. I like selling merchandise and working with the public. But going back to my days of working at Sears, I can tell you that whatever shoes were fashionable at the time was what I was wearing. Wearing heels on those concrete floors for so many years certainly took a toll. My feet started hurting so bad I had to quit at Bealls, so I went back to the pre-school and helped out when needed. We work with children there from two years to pre-kindergarten.
Q: When did you start volunteering at MDC? A: I’ve been volunteering for six years in August. I wanted to give back to the community. I had visited the Marine Discovery Center when it was located on the North Causeway. I love animals and for some reason, I decided this is where I wanted to come volunteer. Tuesday is my normal day to work at MDC with [volunteer] Gayle Belin. We’re a good team.
Q: What do you enjoy about your volunteer role at the Welcome Desk? A: Having grown up here, I really enjoy getting to talk to people about our town. I like telling them what I know about our history and about places to go to eat and places to visit. I also enjoy helping them make reservations to view our exciting Indian River Lagoon and I think our gift shop is an excellent place to shop. Everybody is always looking for the manatees, so I also tell them the best places to go to possibly see them.
Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering? A: Just being around people and being at a place where there’s something new all the time. It’s definitely not stagnant. And I’m looking forward to the events that we will hold at our new amphitheater.
Q: Have you volunteered in other places? A: Yes, I was a master gardener and volunteered at the Volusia County Agricultural Extension Office for several years. I also was a founding member of the Seaside Herb Society in Ormond Beach. I’ve always grown herbs and my favorite herbs are lemon thyme, garlic chives, rosemary and Thai basil.
Q: Volunteering takes a lot of time. Why do you want to do it? A: I feel like I’m helping to bring awareness to our ecology here. And I talk to all of my friends about it and they get involved and come to classes at MDC.
Q: Do you have any hobbies? A: About 20 years ago, I became interested in genealogy. I’ve had my DNA tested with two different places. By researching our family, I’ve learned that I’m of 99 percent European heritage – English, Irish, and Scottish. I enjoy looking up history and piecing things together. So far, I’ve found information about our family dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, and I’ve explored five generations in two family lines. Once you get going, you just want to keep going.
Q: Did you make any interesting discoveries while exploring your family history? A: There’s a park in West Virginia called Pipestem Resort State Park. That was our family’s land, but I did not know that until I started doing the genealogy. That’s in Hinton, West Virginia, where I was born. Our family’s name there was Neely, which was my great-great-great grandfather’s land on my father’s side. My grandfather is buried in a family cemetery out in a cow pasture. When you ride by, you can see a big mound out in the middle of this big pasture. The other side the family — the Farleys — are also buried in the country, but there are no stones at all. I went up there one autumn to where the graves are and it was just breathtaking. I stood up there and thought, “Wow, ya’ll had a pretty good life up here.” All of my ancestors were farmers until my grandfather and he had a store, so maybe that’s why I enjoy merchandising, and then my father worked with the railroad. Hinton was a grand little town at the turn of the century, but sadly, when the railroad died, Hinton died.
Q: Speaking of history, you have lived here in New Smyrna for most of your life. How have you seen this town change? A: It’s kind of sad, especially with the large condos that have gone up on the North Causeway. I didn’t understand how encroaching it was going to be. What were they thinking? And Bouchelle Island! When I was younger, that was a good place to go parking! [Laughter] It was just a wooded area with places to pull in with your car. I also remember having bonfires on the beach at night. You could drive on the beach at night and there were no tolls. Of course, we have to have tolls on the beach because we have to have some control there. I remember where I grew up in New Smyrna, all the roads were dirt roads. Sometimes they would bring in the convicts to clean the roads and the canal back in those days. I remember as kids, we were not allowed to walk on Jungle Road because the prisoners were down there cleaning.
Q: What do you want to see happen in our little town? A: I want to see us keep the charm and not have these huge buildings. I know we have to make changes for the economy, but I believe in controlled growth. There are so many homes and apartments being built out on Highway 44 and all the new businesses have changed the traffic pattern, too. At least I know where the back roads are!
Q: Has there been a highlight for you at MDC? A: I really enjoy the people I work with, from meeting and working with Gayle and the MDC staff to meeting the public. I love it when there’s a phone call about an injured animal and how everybody jumps up to help. About a year ago, there was a whale sighting at the beach. I took the call and everybody really jumped up about that! Another time, a pelican was tangled in fishing line and staff went to help that poor bird.
Q: What excites you the most about helping MDC achieve its mission? A: The Marine Discovery Center has grown rapidly. Just to watch what has happened visually in the six years I’ve been volunteering here has been amazing with all the classes and boat trips and the new amphitheater. We’re doing a lot to try to introduce the lagoon to people and help them see it on our boat trips. With the kayak trips, guests can really get close to nature. When people come back from these trips, they’re so excited. You can see it in the expression on their faces and they want to talk about what they saw during their trip. I truly love the education part of what we do.