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‘Shell talker’ founding volunteer of Shell Museum

By Staff | Apr 6, 2016

?Joyce Matthys continues to enjoy nature while camping in her tent. PHOTO PROVIDED

A couple who was introduced to Sanibel around 1990, decided they wanted to visit the island and collect sea shells after retiring in 1993, soon taking on the nicknames of the “shell collector” and the “shell talker.”

Joyce Matthys said laughing that her husband, Ken, always told her she “would find more shells if I spent less time talking.”

When the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum opened, the couple began volunteering.

Joyce was among four others who were honored during the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum annual volunteer appreciation ceremony last month as a founding volunteer who has provided more than 20 years of service.

“I think the big thing is the friends that I have made,” Joyce said she has enjoyed the most. “Ann Marie (Nyguist) became my best friend. She passed away in December. She was a big influence with us all. She showed us how to grow graciously and never quit learning.”

Joyce and Ken Matthys. PHOTO PROVIDED

Joyce said she worked at the front desk and still works with the school kids through the program, Adopt A Class.

“It has traditionally been fourth graders that come to the museum because in fourth grade is when they study Florida history,” she said. “It’s a good experience for the kids and I enjoy doing it.”

While working with the school kids, Joyce said the museum had some high school kids visiting and the thought came about that maybe a program should be developed for the older students.

“When we first retired our grandchildren were all small,” she said. “I took photographs and documented our trips with a camera, taking video of live mollusks moving in the sand and eating, so I could show my grandchildren.”

Joyce ended up making two DVD’s of the footage she took, “The Secret Lives of Seashells,” and “Trails and Tails of Living Seashells.” Those two videos are now shown daily at the Shell Museum.

Joyce Matthys spent a great deal of time on the beach video tapping live mollusks digging, moving and eating for a DVD she created that is shown daily at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. PHOTO PROVIDED

“The Secret Lives of Seashells” tells the story of what mollusks eat, how they move around, how they protect themselves and how they produce. The second video, “Trails and Tails of Living Seashells,” stemmed from Joyce visiting tidal pools in the winter filming the mollusks trails and examining what kind of mollusk created the trail.

“They are used in a lot of schools in Florida and around the United States,” she said of the DVDs. “We had friends that went to Australia on a trip. They saw in the newspaper there would be a shell club meeting. When they got there the program was one of my videos. It’s been fun because I get notes from people of how they enjoy it. It’s been very rewarding.”

Throughout the years, Dr. Jose Leal has been the source of Joyce’s education. She said what she has learned about shells stems from the conversations at the museum and working with Leal when putting the videos together.

Over the years, Joyce said she has seen a lot of positive changes with the Shell Museum.

“The number of exhibits that have been added over the years and the focus is just always going forward by leaps and bounds,” she said of the museum’s progress. “It’s been really positive and only gets better.”

Joyce Matthys had an eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with a Florida fighting conch while laying on her belly in the sand. PHOTO PROVIDED

The Matthys spent 18 winters in Periwinkle Park driving a total of 143,532 miles from Oregon in their RV to spend time on Sanibel because “it’s the only place for us.”

“You can’t duplicate it anywhere,” Joyce said of Periwinkle Park. “It’s a wonderful area. When you cross that causeway you are crossing into paradise even if it’s bumper-to-bumper.”

Joyce said when her husband had to quit driving due to his macular degeneration, they bought a park model just across the causeway and fly from Oregon for the winter months.

“We moved just as close to the island as we could,” she said. “We wanted to own the land under us.”

The couple still spend a great deal of time on the island volunteering because the “Sanibel mentality, I think is really special.”

The Matthys spent 18 years driving from their home in Oregon to Periwinkle Park during the winter months. PHOTO PROVIDED

“I personally feel I have known so many people that are very influential and probably very rich. I could not tell if you were a multi-millionaire or not,” she said of everyone being on an equal plateau. “I think that is grand.”

Joyce also spends time camping with her own tent.

“I bought a new tent about three years ago. There are three of us old ladies that like to camp. We will go for three or four days up in the mountains. I love sleeping in the sleeping bag and sitting around the campfire drinking cocoa,” she said.

Joyce and Ken started going together when they were 15 years old, 65 years ago. The couple were in band together when Ken asked her to be his date for homecoming. Joyce said her husband could not remember who he asked to homecoming until about five days before when she asked him when he was picking her up.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.