Linda Campbell has earned her stripes as one of the Marine Discovery Center’s most experienced volunteers. The Ohio native and retired elementary school teacher has volunteered at MDC since 2007.
She worked at the Welcome Desk back when the center was housed in two modular units on the North Causeway. When MDC moved into the former New Smyrna Beach High School building in fall 2011, she moved with it and resumed her spot behind the Welcome Desk, helping the center open a new chapter in its storied history.
Read about Linda in MDC’s November Volunteer Spotlight with staff writer Lisa Mickey:
Q: Where did you grow up? A: I grew up in Boardman, Ohio – right outside Youngstown and the hometown of [retired NFL quarterback] Bernie Kosar, who went to Boardman High School. It’s a great football town. My dad was a manager of the local A&P grocery store there.
Q: Where did you go to college? A: I went to Bowling Green State University for a teaching degree and taught one year outside of Bowling Green and then moved back to Mahoning County and taught for Western Reserve Local Schools after my children were old enough to be on their own. At that time, there were not many childcare places.
Q: Did you go on to spend your career teaching? A: I went to Springfield Local School District in New Middletown and Petersburg [Ohio] and taught there for 30 years. It was a delight and a treat. I loved it! I taught mostly third grade and fourth grade. One year, I taught first grade. So, I spent 31 years teaching, mostly with third graders. I saw a lot of great changes in education during those years.
Q: What do you enjoy about teaching elementary-school children? A: They are coming into their own at that age. It’s the first time in their lives they have their own thoughts and they’re getting their own ideas about the world because they can read. They can also write and do projects of their own and their creativity is starting to blossom. They’re starting to think about what they’d like to do when they grow up and that’s an exciting time for them.
Q: What brought you from Ohio to Florida? A: My husband Bob had been retired from teaching sixth-grade math and science for several years and he could not wait to get down here to Florida, so I retired and we moved down here full time in 2007. In fall of 2007, we started volunteering here at the Marine Discovery Center. I figure that maybe Kay Dune, Chad and Diane Yeaton are probably the only people still here who have volunteered at MDC longer than me.
Q: How did all of your years in education help you when you came to MDC to volunteer? A: The Marine Discovery Center has been such a joy in my life. When we moved down here from Ohio and the Midwest, we knew about dolphins and a few creatures, but we really didn’t know a lot about them. When we got down here, we were energized to learn new information. Bob got involved in the teaching aspect at MDC very quickly and I started working at the Welcome Desk. That’s something you don’t do when you’re teaching. You’re not looking at bookings, reservations or financial things as a teacher, so that was something new for me. Later, Bob and I helped get MDC’s archery program developed and we did that with the summer camps around 2012.
Q: How did you find out about MDC and how did you first get involved? A: Bob’s mother lived down here and we became aware of the Marine Discovery Center during visits to Florida. One of the first things I remember about MDC was when they had those two modular units over on the North Causeway, they had a big festival there. Chad had been a high school science teacher and I remember when he was named as one of the people who would be leading the Marine Discovery Center, all the kids who were there let out this great big cheer. I thought that was really neat and it was a place where I wanted to be involved.
Q: Have you always volunteered at the Welcome Desk? A: Yes, from the time we walked into MDC and [former office manager] Brenda Litt, explained to us how the Welcome Desk worked. We have had other volunteer duties here. We led archery for kids in summer camps and classes during the school year. We ran that program for five years until it no longer met MDC’s needs.
Q: Were you and Bob archers back in Ohio?
A: Bob was. I never was, but I was fascinated with it, especially watching the kids’ excitement about shooting at a target and achieving their goal. Bob and I both went through the [Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network] archery instruction and safety class to lead the program.
Q: That must have been fun to start a program and see it grow. A: When I think about volunteering for 13 years at MDC, I think about seeing the many changes. There have been a lot of people who have come and gone at the center, but every one of them had their strengths and changed things in some positive way. It’s like ripples in a pond with the ripples going out. Everything is getting bigger and better. You see events like Lagoonacy, Paint Out, the cardboard boat race and then how programs and operations at MDC had to change for the pandemic. Things are always changing and adapting.
Q: Do you have any hobbies? A: We enjoy nature and walking around Smyrna Dunes Park. Family is also important, but it’s really been hard this year with Covid-19. I haven’t seen my daughter and her family since last Christmas, but thank goodness for technology! My daughter Jennifer’s family is in Virginia and her boys are involved in a virtual school, so we have set up a Zoom account so we could work together on their school work with both of my grandsons. One is in the fourth grade and his brother is in the sixth grade. They started school back up in the fall, so I meet online with the youngest grandson for an hour each Monday afternoon. It has really done wonders for him. Because I taught fourth grade, I know what a fourth-grader should know. I can help him work on things and because it’s a Zoom session, I can really zero in on him and what he needs and get him involved. It’s been so nice. I feel so much closer to him because of the online tutoring opportunity.
Q: You have another adult child, don’t you? A: Yes, my son Bob Campbell III, has two daughters. They live in Westerville, Ohio, outside of Columbus, but he works in New York City and commutes to Columbus. I use iChat with my son in Columbus on Sunday afternoons and we have taken up cooking. We find a recipe and both cook the same meal that day and eat together using iChat. It’s been a lot of fun because we have tried different dishes from Vietnam, Israel and a beef and mushroom pie from England. We set up the iPad and do an iChat while we eat. My son has decided this is going to be his time to learn new and exciting things about cooking. My husband Bob has taken over bread making, so he’s really gotten into that. Our family has just enjoyed using the technology we have to be together in the ways we can right now during the pandemic.
Q: Are you and Bob sports fans? A: Oh yes, we watch Ohio State and the Cleveland Browns whenever they are on TV.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about volunteering? A: Sharing the passion for wildlife in this particular coastal ecosystem. When you answer the phone each time, you have no idea what you will be dealing with – whether they are booking a tour and they’re not quite sure if they want to go on that tour. I get to explain to them what they are going to see and what they are going to do. Or sometimes it’s someone calling with an injured bird or a washed-back sea turtle they have found on the beach and they want to get it help as fast as they can. You never what it’s going to be when the phone rings at MDC and it’s really cool to be able to help callers get satisfaction in what they are trying to do or hoping to enjoy on one of our tours.
Q: What changes have you seen at MDC during the time you have volunteered here? A: The number of volunteers and the amount of volunteer opportunities. When we started, about the only thing you could do was volunteer at the front desk. Now, if you are a retired scientist and you want to help with water-quality monitoring, you can do that. You can recycle oyster shells or work as a docent. And there are always new things going on, like the Paint Out and special events. Each different event and activity attract different people, which is exciting. And with the monthly public lectures, there are just so many different opportunities you can take advantage of here. This place is about more than a boat ride!
Q: Didn’t you and Bob take classes in the Florida Master Naturalist Program? A: Yes, both of us are Florida Master Naturalists and we took the three core-module classes. When we came down here, we started taking the Florida Master Naturalist courses. We took the Coastal program first, and then we took the Uplands, followed by the Wetlands classes. We had so much fun doing the research, learning and completing our class projects. Somebody gave Bob a megalodon tooth and we went to Gainesville to look at the exhibits at the history museum there. We learned about the how the waters covered and receded in Florida at different times and how the megalodons came into the bays. In David Griffis’ Uplands class, he used an auger to drill into the different layers of soil to show us a picture of Florida’s soil history.
Q: Where else do you volunteer? A: I have volunteered at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 2007, and around 2010, I became the leader of the tutoring program. We tutor twice a week with others from Coronado Community United Methodist Church. Until Covid-19 closed things down, we would have 30-40 kids there for the after-school program from kindergarten through the fifth grade with 20-26 tutors. We work with the kids on school-related subjects, either with their homework or with mentoring. It’s important to have a child talk to an adult. We also have been able to arrange some summer scholarships for camps and field trips for kids at the Marine Discovery Center. Sometimes our difficulty is transportation – just getting the kids over here from two miles away! We have not resumed activities there yet because of Covid-19, but we hope to resume on a small, restricted basis in an outdoor pavilion. We try to give the kids as much help as we can because the program strongly believes in academics. It’s called the “Power Hour” and the kids try to focus on their homework or reading during that time. Unfortunately, we can’t feel comfortable being that close to kids without masks. We have to wait and see how things go.
Q: What excites you the most about working at MDC and being a part of our mission in the community?
A: We are exposing new people to the mission of MDC. For the person who calls the center from the Midwest or wherever, all of this is new to them and they are so excited about it. Sometimes families will come into the center with little kids who say they just had to come back to MDC to check on Kitty [the resident Diamondback Terrapin] and see how she’s doing. They know the animals in the tanks and they want to see their friends.
Q: Do you find yourself educating people in your condo about the Indian River Lagoon and MDC? A: Most of them know, to some extent, but most of them want to know more. Many of them are eager to learn new things and try new opportunities. A gentleman just moved into the condo and he wanted to learn more about manatees and manatee observation. We see a lot of manatees around the corner in the canal where we live.
Q: What has been the highlight for you at MDC? A: Once in a while, you get to do something that’s out of the norm or even out of your comfort zone. But really, just feeling like you are helping out the natural world by making this a better place for animals to live. I live near the bird rookery islands and one of the biggest joys we have is watching all of the white ibis take off from the island every morning at sunrise. There are hundreds of them and it’s so magical. And then we have the dolphins swimming by. It’s such a special habitat for people to get to know and the Marine Discovery Center fosters that. Volunteering at MDC has been such a joy. Just getting to know all of the people who work at MDC — each one of them has such a special gift to share, whether they were here for just a short time and have gone on to other places, to those who are still here. It’s neat knowing the people who work at MDC and seeing their passion about our ecosystem and it inspires me.