Founding Member Celebrates 40 Years - Or - How A Club Was Born

Gertrude Moller

Photograph which appeared in the Florida Times-Union during April of 1959

     When Gertrude Moller picked up that first seashell, she didn’t realize it would change her life forever! It was in January of 1955 that her marine engineer husband, Knud, moved his family to Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. He was the manager of a huge dairy and poultry farm – plantation, supplying much of the region. As the going hobby of the other company wives was "shelling," they wasted no time inviting Gertrude to join them on their weekly forays. Her son Eric, 8, and daughter Linda, 4, also learned quickly and wasted no time learning to snorkel for their shells. It was an idyllic and happy time in their lives, and the three years went by all too quickly.

     In the summer of 1956, Gertrude and her husband renovated a small house on the bay as a respite for the many worldwide yachters. He aptly named it "The Hatchet Bay Yacht Club." Gertrude became manager and, meeting many interesting people, became an occasional shelling tour guide, including clients Donette and Julius of the Fleischmann dynasty, who were also ardent collectors.

     Upon settling back in Jacksonville, it was in April of 1959 that the Florida Times-Union did a photo story on Gertrude’s shelling forays and large collection. She has never forgotten that Sunday.

     The phone "rang off the hook," from other collectors, and Gertrude made a list of the names and phone numbers of the many callers. Among the callers was Harriet Hedgecoth, who, during the conversation, requested her own list of names.

     It was sometime during the following July that Mrs. Hedgecoth called again. She invited Gertrude to their home to view the slides she and husband, Larry had taken of their shell collection. They were "amateur photographers," she said. Upon arriving at their Retaw Street home, Gertrude met about ten of the many shell collectors from the original list.

     Enjoying the lemonade and cookies afterwards, and exchanging shelling trips, collections, etc., the strangers who had a common bond decided that they had to meet again. The next meeting was at the Moller home. For the next few months they met at their various homes, but when "the club" grew quite rapidly, the Hendricks Avenue Library became the next meeting place of "The Jacksonville Shell Club."

     Gertrude became Club Historian and is now celebrating her 40th year in that post. From 1959 to 1976 she ably served the club as publication chairman. To announce the monthly meetings to the members, penny postcards were mailed out. But when "newsy shelling stories" abounded, it was determined that a newsletter was in order and it was decided to have a name contest for this budding publication. Mrs. Alberta Stacy won, with "The Shell-O-Gram" and Liz Eubanks became the first Editor, with hubby, Ed, doing the great shell drawings. (Liz is now a Ph.D. Microbiologist in Boston).

     The members dreamed of having a shell show but had no money. As a fund-raiser, several underwater movies were rented from Washington, D. C. With the Prudential Insurance Company lending a free auditorium, a 50-cents admission fee was charged. The club was "on its way" and held its first shell show in July of 1962 at the small Lions Club at 21st and Main Streets. Dr. William J. Clench and Sammy Lawson were two of the three judges. Gertrude’s daughter Linda, 11, won the first blue ribbon in the children’s category. The State Chamber of Commerce loaned the 6-foot exhibit cases for the first few shell shows.

     In the ensuing forty years, Gertrude has exhibited and won many awards in Florida and Georgia shell shows - both in scientific and shell craft categories. She has also judged shell art at Sanibel and other Florida shows.

     Travel is one of the bonuses of searching for the elusive seashell. It has taken Gertrude to the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Greece, Bornholm (Denmark), Bermuda, and, in 1993, to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific.

     At the end of this month (July) the Jacksonville Shell Club presents its 33rd and last shell show of this century. Gertrude is looking forward to exhibiting as always, enjoying the camaraderie of the members, and meeting the public. She is hoping to gain some new shell club members who may already have picked up that first seashell!