Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Reprint on "Ila the Turtle Lady"
photo / painting credit: Sea Turtle, Inc. 2006
Here is something composed not by me, but by a former town employee who collected snippets about Ila "the turtle lady" over the years. It is well written and to the point - a remarkable lady worthy of a book just to herself. So I get the day off from writing and Mike I hope this was OK with you, e-me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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ILA LOETSCHER, FOUNDER OF SEA TURTLE, INC.
Ila's story is one of a remarkable woman with great determination and a lesson for all of us. When she was growing up in Pella, Iowa, she became intrigued by her father's Model T Ford. He was a physician and had one of the first autos in the area with which he made house calls. Ila went along on the house calls with him, but not to learn about medicine. At age twelve, Ila was driving her dad's Model T. At age twenty-two, she became the first licensed woman pilot in the state of Iowa at a time when there were only about 120 women in the United States who were licensed pilots She became associated with Amelia Earhart as a charter member of the 99's Club, formed by ninety-nine licensed women pilots in the United States. Recruited by Amelia, their purpose was to encourage other women to achieve their goals in technical fields not then easily accessible to women These women flew air shows, county fairs, delivered mail and gave flying lessons.
Ila went on to marry and with her husband, David Loetscher, moved to the east coast, eventually settling in New Jersey. Her continued interest in flying brought her into contact and friendship with Charles and Ann Lindbergh. Ila reminds us that in addition to being a great writer, Ann Morrow Lindbergh was also a pilot. Living on the east coast, Ila found her flying too great a drain on the family finances and so she gave up flying. She remained active in the 99's, enjoying the meetings, which were held in New York City.
In 1955, Ila's beloved David died of cancer. She tells us that it was too painful to remain in New Jersey and in 1957, moved to South Padre Island to work through her grief. Ila has many wonderful stories of those early days on the Island, beach combing with her dune buggy and driving across the bay in her amphibious car.
In 1966, Ila saw a film depicting the plight of the most endangered all of sea turtle species, the Kemp's ridley and was determined to help. Although not a biologist and sixty-two years old, Ila made a difference. Enlisted by the Adams family from Brownsville which had seen first hand the slaughter of these smallest of all sea turtles, she traveled to Mexico with them to help protect the turtles, their nests, the hatchlings, and the only known nesting site of those turtles.
Ila studied everything she could find and, with Darrell Adams' successful appeals to the Mexican government in Mexico City, received permission from the Mexican government to bring turtle eggs to South Padre Island to begin imprinting experiments to try to expand the Kemp's ridley nesting site. She participated in research projects and was the first person to breed sea turtles in captivity. In the 1970's, her efforts turned toward rehabilitation and education. In 1977, Ila formed the not-for-profit corporation, Sea Turtle Inc., and her home became a sea turtle rescue center and classroom for the thousands of people who visit each year.
In addition to her message of conservation, Ila's life gives us another message. When Ila was a twelve-year-old girl, people said she was just a girl and couldn't drive a car. She did it anyway. When she was a young woman of 22, she was told she was a woman and couldn't fly a plane. She did it anyway. When she was 62 years old, she was told she was an old woman and that she couldn't make a difference. She didn't listen to those naysayers either and today she is internationally recognized for her unflagging efforts on behalf of sea turtles. Television talk shows, documentaries, National Geographic, Mother Earth Handbook, and other magazines and news articles all honor Ila and her efforts. She is ranked among the top three of the pioneering Sea turtle conservationists, along with researcher Archie Carr and Darrell Adams. Jacques Cousteau anointed Ila "Wavemaker" for her outspoken efforts on behalf of the endangered sea turtles and today thousands of people still come to hear her message.
Counted among her great achievements must be the spark she lights within us to follow her example - to choose a goal and go for it and never be deterred by those who do not believe.