November Volunteer Spotlight: Holly Perpall and Cheryl Hood

November Volunteer Spotlight: Holly Perpall and Cheryl Hood

If it requires getting dirty, wet, sweaty or coming nearly face to face with nature, you can count on Marine Discovery Center volunteers Cheryl Hood and Holly Perpall to be right there in the mix. You might even see them in the MDC tent engaging with the public at street festivals and inviting others to get involved.

The two have volunteered at the Marine Discovery Center since 2016 and have found satisfaction in both conservation and public outreach. Read about them in our November Volunteer Spotlight with MDC staff writer Lisa Mickey:

Holly (L) and Cheryl (R)

Q: Where did you grow up?
Cheryl: My father and stepfather were in the U.S. Navy, so I was born in Mississippi, moved to the Florida Panhandle, and around age 9, moved to Central New Jersey when my stepfather got a job there. My father and cousins are all still in Alabama, but I consider myself a Jersey girl.
Holly: I grew up in Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod. My dad was also in the military, but he retired on Cape Cod.

Q: When did you move to Florida?
Holly: Cheryl and I came down to Florida in 2012 and rented until we bought a house in Port Orange.

Q: Are you both still working or have each of you retired?
Cheryl: I’m retired. In my career, I worked mostly in sales in everything from hospital and medical sales to professional liability insurance and medical malpractice insurance. In my last job here before I retired in 2014 at the age of 57, I worked as a licensed practical nurse.
Holly: I retired in 2015. For most of my career, I worked for Merck Pharmaceuticals as a Ph.D. chemist in research and development, and later in international testing and problem solving. I took an early retirement from Merck when I came down here. I was recruited to work as head of quality for DaVita Laboratories in Deland. They do the testing for dialysis patients all over the country, so that was where I ended my career.

Q: What is your educational background?
Cheryl: I’m a Rutgers University graduate with a bachelor’s of science degree in animal science and biology. I was focused on pre-veterinary medicine studies and was always interested in animals and the environment. In 1972, I was in the first class from Rutgers to have women graduates. It used to be Rutgers College for men only and was an agriculture school.
Holly: I was an undergraduate at Boston College and earned my Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Q: How did you start volunteering at MDC?
As a scientist and finding myself with so much free time on my hands after I retired, I wanted to do something in an area that would interest me. Growing up on Cape Cod and near premier international science organizations for oceanography and marine biology, I wanted to find something like that here as a volunteer. When I was in graduate school, I considered going to school for oceanography. So, I guess it’s sort of an unmet interest of mine. I remember seeing the sign for the Marine Discovery Center while I was still working.

Holly Shucks Oysters at 2017 Lagoonacy

As soon as I retired, we did some reading and learned about the monthly volunteer orientation program at MDC. We found there were all kinds of things we wanted to get involved in, especially the restoration work outdoors. I spent my youth swimming, sailing and fishing on the Cape and was a lifeguard for seven years, so it was a natural fit. Both of us knew that when we finished working, we wanted to do something as volunteers. I knew I wanted to give back from a science and environmental perspective and be around others who share common interests.

Q: What kind of things have you done at MDC as volunteers?
Cheryl: We do the oyster bagging because we love physical labor and being outdoors. We’ve also done coastal restoration, mangrove planting, Brazilian pepper eradication and the programs with MDC and the University of Central Florida, as well as horseshoe crab surveys and diamondback terrapin surveys.
Holly: We also did a lot of clearing, planting and maintenance on Discovery Island. I had an opportunity last summer to do birding surveys with a UCF graduate student. I’m an analytical chemist, so I was doing the data collection. We were watching for birds that used oyster reefs out on the lagoon. We didn’t see American Oystercatchers, but we saw a lot of other foraging and resting birds. That’s been one of my favorite things that I have done. I also enjoy the restoration work with the oyster bags and the plantings.

Q: You both have science backgrounds, so this sounds like a great fit for you.
Cheryl: It is. I worked for a veterinarian for 10 years from junior high school through college, so the whole animal-science aspect of it has always been special to me.

Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering at MDC?
Cheryl: Working with the other volunteers. We’re motivated to do the right things and we’re all like-minded.
Holly: We have a really good group of volunteers and we do a lot of stuff together.

Q: You could be relaxing and enjoying your retirement. Why do you spend your time volunteering?

Cheryl and Captain Gary Doing Shoreline Restoration

Cheryl: We still do other things, but volunteering is part of what we enjoy doing. Plus, when you are out working in the environment, we get to see birds, dolphins and manatees. We get to take the rides on boats and in kayaks and we get to learn about plants and what’s happening in the lagoon.
Holly: We both love working at something and seeing the fruits of our labor. It’s pretty neat to be able to say our group made 350 oyster bags or we rebuilt a quarter-mile of shoreline and planted a bunch of mangroves and cord grass. I get great satisfaction out of that.

Q: Do you volunteer in other places?
Holly: We volunteer on the Symetra Tour [the pipeline professional golf tour for the Ladies Professional Golf Association, based in Daytona Beach] and at LPGA International as real-time scorers for tournaments held there.

Q: How about your hobbies when you’re not volunteering?
Cheryl: We play pickleball, golf and do yoga. We work out and go to the gym twice a week. We also take the dog to the dog beach at Smyrna Dunes Park.
Holly: We have a dog named Dallas and a cat named Brady, as in Tom. We also do lots of reading.

Q: What has been the highlight for you at MDC?
Cheryl: Lots of things, but the horseshoe crab surveys in October were amazing. We helped tag them to see where they are going as they move around. Obviously, horseshoe crabs are very important in the medical industry because of their importance to pharmaceutical companies. In any kind of survey, just to see what’s going on in the environment and how it impacts us, is very interesting.
Holly: We actually saw the first mating pair of horseshoe crabs of the season in October down in Canaveral National Seashore. It was very exciting. We saw the two crabs and tagged them.

Q: What excites you the most about being a part of MDC’s mission to educate others about the Indian River Lagoon?
Cheryl: Just seeing the shoreline improve and seeing the oyster bags being used for something. We’re also into the fund raising part of it. We help with the street festivals in the MDC tent. I was in sales, so I try to get some money coming in to help MDC. I also want to learn more about the education part of what MDC does.
Holly: We keep coming back to like-minded people. We’re both extremely concerned about what’s going on in the environment with the warming, rising sea level and the effects of the environment on fish and other animals. Cheryl and I stood at the top of the observation mound during the last Lagoonacy festival and looked out at the lagoon. Just to look at it and know that whatever we’re doing — whether it’s shoveling oyster shells or making bags — that in the end, there’s a possibility that restoration can occur wherever those oyster bags go down.

October Volunteer Spotlight: Phil Clarke

October Volunteer Spotlight: Phil Clarke

Illinois native Phil Clarke is that smiling gentleman who may be spotted leading the children in the Marine Discovery Center’s summer camps to various activities.

And after retiring from a successful career in business that kept him on planes for more than 30 years with platinum travel status from various hotels and airlines, Clarke is happiest spending these days as a volunteer at MDC, teaching kids how to bait hooks, paint oyster shells or open their juice boxes.

A volunteer at the Marine Discovery Center since 2013, Clarke especially enjoys teaching youngsters about the Indian River Lagoon and how to take care of it. Read about him in our October Volunteer Spotlight with MDC staff writer Lisa Mickey:

Phil Clarke at Animal Kingdom

Q: Where did you grow up? A: I grew up in Harvard, Ill., halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago and four miles from the Wisconsin border. I was a Milwaukee Braves fan and we used to go to the games, but when they left, I followed the Cubs. Even though I live in Florida now, I still have season tickets for the Green Bay Packers. Through corporate moves, we moved to Wisconsin, Boston, Orlando, and then to New Smyrna Beach.

Q: Where did you get your education and what was your career? A: I got a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a minor in mathematics at Western Illinois University, which is 30 miles from the Mississippi River. I ended up working in downtown Chicago right after school. 

I grew up in a farm town of 4,000, so I didn’t plan on living in a big city, but I ended up spending 20 years working in banking on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I was a field person for a company there and became vice president of correspondent bank service. ​A couple of guys built a technology company, so I went to work for them in Milwaukee as a district sales manager after 20 years in Chicago. Their company, Fiserv, was outsourcing computer software to the same banks on which I had been calling, so I knew the clients. During my Chicago days, my territory was Illinois, Wisconsin and parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana. Then they sent me to Boston to manage the sales team in nine states. With the new company, I also sold to that area. Everything a bank does would plug into our system, so it’s software specific to financial institutions. They had about 2,800 employees when I joined them and they just went to 33,000 employees and are now a Fortune Top-300 company. I moved to Orlando in 2001 and ran their operation in Lake Mary.

 Q: So were you a financial guy who became a tech guy? A: I worked at the bank and met the tech guys there. I ended up studying at the school of bank marketing at the University of Colorado and going to graduate school in banking at the University of Wisconsin. I got more into the banking experience, but the new company was really more about the tech side. It was about bankers selling technology to banks. I worked with a colleague in Boston and when we made calls, each of us brought strengths in both the banking and technology side. And we had great support teams who worked with us. When you get into the tech world, they speak a different language.

 Q: How long did you work in Orlando? A: I worked in Orlando for about six years as a sales manager — working with the big banks for a while, before going back to the small banks. I retired in March 2016, but moved to New Smyrna in 2015.

 Q: So how does a guy from the upper Midwest land in Central Florida? A: I grew up in a little town and two people in my town used to vacation in New Smyrna Beach. There are probably 10-12 people from our town who live here now. In the mid-1970s, my parents would come down here and eventually did the snowbird routine. When my wife and I, along with our two daughters, were still living in the Midwest, we’d come down to visit. By the time we moved to the Orlando area, we knew New Smyrna Beach quite well. As residents of Oviedo, this was the beach we came to, and when I retired and moved over here in 2015, we knew this was where we would move.

Q: When did you start volunteering at MDC? A: I started volunteering in the spring of 2016. When we moved to Oviedo, my youngest daughter was going to the University of Central Florida. I learned about MDC’s summer camps through my neighbor’s grandchildren, who came to camp here. I drove over here a few times to see what MDC was and what it was about. I was preparing to retire and I wanted to do something. So I volunteered in the springtime, with summer camps coming up. 

Summer camp was where the most need was at the time and I totally enjoyed it. It was like being a grandpa to all of those kids. This summer, I saw the same kids for the third or fourth year in a row.

Q: It’s almost like watching those kids grow up, isn’t it? A: It’s wonderful. You really do watch them grow up. I also run into them at the street festivals around town and at Publix, and then I also get to know their moms and dads.

 Q: What do you like about working with these kids? A: I think I’ve helped a little bit and I’ve met a lot of good folks who run the camps. I’m just a volunteer. I’m not running the camps or classes. If they need a bucket of water, I’ll go get a bucket of water so they can keep teaching the class. I like being out here and I’ll do whatever they need for me to do. It’s pretty cool because one day, we’re going to Ponce Inlet with the kids and another day, we go to Blue Spring Park or to Disappearing Island or we go fishing. It’s fun! And this year, my grandsons came over for camp.

Phil Clarke helping with MDC summer camp

Q: Did you go to camp as a child? A: Yes, but my camp when I was a kid was in tents – more like Boy Scouts and local church camps. There was no education focus. It was mostly about going to play in the river, paddle a canoe and ride horses. This is a lot more organized with a real purpose behind what we do here. We’re teaching the kids to appreciate what we have in our little paradise.

Q: Do you volunteer all summer at MDC summer camp? A: Yes, as much as I can, almost every week. I’m flexible enough that if somebody doesn’t show up, they can call me and I’ll come over to help out. When I’m not doing summer camp, I just watch the MDC newsletter and see what I want to get involved in. I’ve helped get rid of Brazilian pepper and helped with some post-hurricane cleanup. There’s always something to do.

 Q: You have had so many professional experiences. How does a man who is 70 come here and make a connection with these children in our summer camps? A: They remind me so much of my grandkids. I’ve actually had some of them call me Grandpa. Sometimes they miss their mom or dad on that first day, so I try to give them extra attention. Some kids come from far away to go to camp. We’ve had the same girl from France for the last two years. One little girl made something for me from Bible school. Little things like that keep you going.

 Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering at MDC? A: What I enjoy most is that parents are giving us their kids for the whole day and for a 5- or 6-year old, that’s a big deal. By the end of that week, it’s fun to watch the slideshow with the parents of what we did during camp. They are surprised at how much we do. It’s not just daycare. We keep the kids going and the parents thank us. But it’s really about educating the kids about what’s important, keeping the plastics under better control, appreciating the wildlife and teaching them about keeping both the ocean and the lagoon clean.

 Q: Working with kids sounds like a lot of hands-on educational experiences. A: It is about stewardship, but it’s also about holding their hands if they need a little bit of help and pushing them a little bit to put their faces underwater when we go snorkeling — just a lot of encouragement. Sometimes it backfires a little. Twice this summer when we took the kids to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, I had to walk down those stairs backwards. Once, I held a little girl’s hand and went down the stairs backward as she slid down each stair step on her rear end with her back against the wall because she got up to the top and had a panic attack. I can tell you that 203 steps backwards is a lot slower than 203 stair steps up.

Q: You could be playing golf or sitting on the beach. Why do you want to do this? A: I get to go fishing with the kids and I still have plenty of time. I leave here around 3 p.m., so I can do other things after a day of camp. I have time to ride my bike and play golf with my friends.

Q: Do you volunteer in other places? A: Yes, when the church needs something, I’ll help. I go to St. Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church. I used to volunteer with the Jaycees when I lived in the Midwest. I’ve volunteered with my condo association, but that got to be too much.

Q: Is your family here? A: I have two adult daughters. We moved here from Boston in 2001, my wife got sick with cancer in April 2002, and she passed away in 2003 at age 43. She was at home in hospice care for the last six months of her life. My daughters were in high school when that happened. I’ve stayed close to them and have really tried to focus on them. One daughter is in Orlando and she and her husband have two boys. The other daughter is in Ohio and she has a son and daughter. When my grandkids come to visit, it’s like camp at Grandpa’s house.

Q: The death of your wife at such a young age must have been tragic for your family. A: Yes, but you learn that life goes on. You might have issues, but the rest of the world is still going on. I was rearing two teenage girls, but through that, my daughters and I really got close. Fortunately, they’re very responsible people. My wife died three days away from one daughter’s 18th birthday. That daughter rode horses and even though this had happened, she still went to the barn to do what she needed to do. She still rides horses and teaches riding lessons in Ohio. My other daughter got her bachelor’s degree in actuary science and earned her master’s degree and went to work for Disney in pricing strategy.

Q: What excites you the most about being a part of our mission at MDC to educate others about the Indian River Lagoon? A: One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve moved here is the awareness around town. More people know about MDC and send their kids here. Their parents are aware of the lagoon and the issues, and then want their kids to learn more.

Q: Your life empathy level is probably greater than most. Do you find there are real chances to connect and support the children at MDC? A: Oh sure. It’s a compliment when they tell me I remind them of their grandpa. Sometimes, they will come ask me to help them open their sandwich or help them with their milk carton. When they do arts and crafts, it’s fun because that activity links to the theme of the day. Maybe we have been out and they have seen oyster reefs and now they are painting oyster shells in art class. They now understand where the oysters come from and they appreciate it. We hope that the next time they are at a restaurant with their parents and someone is eating oysters, they will know a story about it. It’s not just about what Dad’s eating for dinner. The same thing is true about Disappearing Island. Maybe they have been out there on the weekend having fun, but these kids know when you walk around out there, there are crabs, fish and birds. These kids growing up here have learned more about where we live and what is living around us

Phil at Sea Squirts

Q: What do you try to give kids when you volunteer? A: I just want to open their eyes to what we have here and how important it is to keep it. I want our campers to learn to think local and to support local and to be proud and protective of what we have here. This is a nice place, but let’s not take it for granted. Let’s keep a balance. It’s going to grow, but let’s be smart in how our town grows. 

Q: Do you have hobbies? A: I love to read and I read a lot, but mostly, I spend time with my grandkids. I go everywhere with them. One of my grandsons is a dirt-bike racer and he travels all over the state, racing every other Saturday. I’m also a huge UCF football booster and I try to go to their games.

Q: What has been the highlight for you at MDC? A: It’s nice to see the physical plant improve here with the renovations and building of the new amphitheater and kayak shack. I’m also seeing the MDC logo around town on more things. Whenever I wear my MDC shirt around town after I have spent the day here, people will say things to me and thank me.

Q: After a career in business, I suppose you can see how one could make a lot of money in our town without the stewardship being intact. How do we balance free enterprise and growth while also taking care of what we have? A: I think getting the different businesses and getting the city involved in what we do is the best way to create that synergy. On our on, we can’t do it. We need help from the outside. I took a graduate class called the “social responsibility of business.” The name of the class was almost a question. How much do you give back? I think businesses have some responsibility for the health of the community they are in. When there is a partnership, it works better. I’m trying to help get sponsorships for this year’s Plein Air Paint Out and when I go talk to local businesses on behalf of MDC, I expect them to have some understanding of what we are trying to do here. We have a partnership with the Indian River Lagoon and it relies on us to make sure it is healthy.

 Q: Our volunteers come from so many different backgrounds. How do you transfer your high-level skill set of working with financial institutions to working with children? A: At times the people I managed gave me training for the kids I work with today. There’s a commonality in managing people, regardless of the size. You have to get to their level. With little kids, I get down on a knee and look them in the eye. I’m 6-foot-5, so I have to do that, but it works. Kids are funny, though. One little girl was telling me about her grandfather and I asked where he was and she said he was in a box at her grandmother’s house. [He had been cremated.] I didn’t even know what to say.

 Q: Why is it important to volunteer? A: I knew that when I retired, I wanted to do something to give back a little bit. I wanted to get involved in something positive and local in the community. There are always things you can volunteer for. I don’t think you can sit and complain about a place if you don’t try to get involved and try to understand it. I go to city and county meetings. I’m not vocal, but I go to try to learn. I think it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on. At MDC, we can get involved and really be proactive in something that is positive – whether it’s cutting down invasive Brazilian pepper plants or taking out the ice cream for the kids on Friday afternoon at camp, there’s always something to do here. You can do as much as you want. And I love it all.


September Volunteer Spotlight: Linda Minton

September Volunteer Spotlight: Linda Minton

Linda Ellison Minton grew up in New Smyrna Beach and has volunteered at the Marine Discovery Center since 2013.

She has a deep history in this town and loves talking about the things she remembers, the things she has learned and even her own personal discoveries in her back yard. If you are ever at MDC on a Tuesday, stop by to meet her. You can also read about Linda in our September Volunteer Spotlight with MDC staff writer Lisa Mickey:

Q: Were you born in New Smyrna Beach? A: No, I was born in Hinton, West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains. It was a little, bitty town that was really hurt when the trains stopped running through there. My father, Z.B. Ellison, was an engineer with the C&O Railroad there, so when the railroad died, our family moved to New Smyrna Beach in 1952. I was 4. I’m not really sure why we moved to New Smyrna Beach, but I know my mother went to Stetson University for a while and was a substitute teacher in the local schools. My father bought a bunch of land and developed several subdivisions in the area, including Ellison Acres and Ellison Royal on Highway 44.

Q: What do you remember about New Smyrna back then? A: My only memory is going to the beach and seeing a man with a big tummy floating in the water. That’s my only real memory of when we first came here. I had never seen anybody float like that.

Linda Minton

Q: Where did you go to school? A: I was in the first class to graduate from the New Smyrna Beach High School here at what is now the Marine Discovery Center. I graduated in 1966.

I remember we had one of those sunken libraries where it was kind of underground. I also remember that it flooded one time. What I do remember about high school back then was we had to wear skirts. No shorts were allowed.

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.

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.

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.