VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: Dan and Tondee Schaller
The first STPS Volunteers of the Month for 2020 are Dan and Tondee Schaller.
Dan and Tondee have called Florida home since Dan retired after 30 years as an active U.S. Marine. While stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, they fell in love with the state. Originally from Kansas and having been stationed in numerous states, they ultimately decided on Florida after Tondee learned about sea turtle nesting and STPS activities. It doesn’t hurt that Florida is ideal for their other interests, including travel, cruising, scuba diving, biking, kayaking, and shooting… just to name a few.
Once arriving in Florida in 2017, Tondee, without delay, learned as much as she could about STPS. Dan was soon educated by her finds and compelled by her enthusiasm; Tondee made them both lifetime members immediately.
Currently Dan is on both the stranding and salvage and STERP permits. Tondee is on the transport and STERP permits, and they both participate in nest surveys and evaluations. They also both enjoy volunteering for events, fundraising, at the port kiosk, and any other miscellaneous projects that arise. It is a full circle moment to be working with sea turtles in this capacity. When Dan and Tondee began diving together, they relished their sea turtle encounters underwater; Dan still remembers Tondee’s beaming smile underwater every time a sea turtle passed by. To be able to have direct, hands-on interaction through the volunteer organization has been a dream come true for them.
Collectively, they have many fond memories while volunteering, and Dan cannot emphasize enough some of the beautiful moments they’ve experienced with live hatchlings during nesting evaluations. The number of people met and educated during events also has been a highlight for them.
STPS has many smart, dedicated, interesting volunteers whose efforts often go on quietly behind the scenes, Dan and Tondee note, but despite these tireless efforts, there is always more to be done.
Dan optimistically points out that membership comes with nearly endless “pros” including opportunities to meet fantastic mentors, meeting locals, helping sea turtles survive, and making a difference. He does occasionally encounter those who offer criticism without extending insight or solutions.
They look forward to continuing their training through meetings and workshops. Eventually Dan would love the privilege to take over one of the permits and continue the devoted efforts, passing down the knowledge and wisdom that others bestowed on him. He enjoyed updating, reimagining, and expanding the nest survey booklets with his team this year. To anyone interested, he loves to disseminate the “Sea Turtle of Florida’s East Coast” cards and briefly describe the organization. If people express interest, he passes along an “Interested in Volunteering” card and provides details on the opportunities. In a recent TED Talk given by marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Dan snagged the line “building community around solutions is the most important thing.” He truly believes in this message and tries to emanate that in the work he and his wife do spreading the word to the individuals they meet.