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

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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.


Ex-Manissean said...

Great story, my parents met her one time. Said she was real nice. Didnt she pass away a couple years ago? And is anyone doing her turtle work now? By the way Sam, that red plumeria a couple threads back is pretty. My (white) plumeria finally bloomed again this year.

Sam said...

I forget exactly how many years ago. The Sea Turtle Inc. has raised about 150k for new dig during our recent fundraiser, one of the few I actually do. They are doing quite well, as well as the station at the Rancho beach in Mexico.

The white plumeria is the most hearty, and is a symbol of purity. Get them in before the temps fall below 38!

papabeare said...


When exactly will the temps get below 38?? I havent seen anything around the island below 38 in such a long time!! Gas is over $2.28, sadly my waste line is over 38 and for sure the temps have been over 38 forever. ( though they say we may get to 68 in a week )

Sam said...

Now PapaBeare, Ex-Man is from the Dallas area and it gets a wee bit below 38 a few days a year, in spite of all this Global Smarmy, I mean warming. The reason I like this SPI place is that the plumeria can stay in the ground - although even that can be a challenge because I noticed all of them up in Los Fresnos died in that winter storm of 2004-2005 when it snowed.

But you must admit, Ila's story was cool and turtles are cool. The author of it sent me a message saying it was important to get the word out ... see ya around, Beare!

Ex-Manissean said...

It has survived light frosts in the past when I left it out thinking it wouldnt go below 35 that night. So I wouldnt worry unless SPI gets a hard freeze. Some leaves might drop but they'll grow back.

Pedro said...

Excuse me plumeria lovers; they make great leis, but please don't forget the tortugas....

Ex-Manissean said...

I love the tortugas, used to wear a "Save the Ridleys" T-shirt, even have a box turtle in the back we call "Andy". Had a baby snapping turtle as a kid but when it got bigger I released it into a neighbors pond and she came out and yelled something about it growing up and eating the ducks or some such thing.

Sam said...

I love most all tortugas but that snapping turtle - well, let's just say my love for them is somewhat diminished. Once I dangled a garden hose in front of one and it bit it clean through! Sorry dad, the turtle bit the brand new hose in half ... anyway, I used to live in mortal fear one would bite me in those freshwater or brackish lakes. The Connecticut River was especially thick with them in places such as north of Old Lyme.