Kudos to Debbie Moser-Sulkowski
An adage that I have come to appreciate is that it takes a village to raise a child. This village consists of those such as your immediate/extended family, friends, and teachers. Yet every now and then, a person apart from this village is brought into our lives that transcends the act of raising a child to adulthood. They become one who is a catalyst in shaping the mature mind into the true self you will be for the rest of your days. For me, this guiding star was Ms. Debbie Moser-Sulkowski.
I first met Ms. Sulkowski my starting day of college back in 2006. She was the Department Chair for the medical program, and as such was given preference to teach the initial core requirement class of all incoming students of the medical programs, Med Term 101. Thinking back, I can still remember the opening lecture she presented about the importance of Medical Terminology as the language of our future careers, then transitioning into the absolute responsibility and seriousness of taking on a life as a medical professional. To this day, I hold that speech as if it were one of the 10 commandments.
Very quickly she adopted a secret pet name by the class, which I admittedly was the originator. I called her “Dragon Lady”, because as the name implies, words could move across her tongue like fire if you were not quiet during her lectures, and her gaze could impart fear in the most braven of soldiers should you not turn in your homework on time. Originally, I thought she was one of those strict authoritarian figures that get off on power. After my first year of college however, I came to see she was so stern with us because she truly wanted to see us succeed! All throughout school, she went above and beyond to assure that I would triumph, as if she was watching out for me alone, but she did this for every student.
There came a point around 6 months to graduation that I started to lose my way. Not in my school work, but life in general. It was that part of my early twenties where I wasn’t a child anymore, but the world did not see me as a real adult either. I made mistakes, got into trouble once or twice, changed my appearance and attitude, all in the name of finding myself. Seeing that look in my eyes and having seen it before in her own two sons, Ms. Sulkowski asked that I meet with her privately once a week after classes.
I wasn’t in trouble, she simply wanted to talk is all. She would let me go on and on about my concerns in and out of school, listen to me curse, hug me when I cried. She was my own private counselor, who having no familial ties, no real friendship, and acknowledging that at that moment she was not my teacher, just a listener, she was completely unbiased in her approach. And because of that unbiased nature, I was completely open to all the criticism, compliments, opinions, and advice she offered me. I opened myself to her as my mentor, knowing deep inside she was helping to bring out the best of me!
Now what does all that have to do with turtles? For years after graduation, we kept in very good contact. If ever I had a problem, she had an ear, a smile, and damned good advice! We grew closer as friends, learning more of each others hobbies. Since I can remember, I have always loved and been fascinated by turtles. Respectively, Debbie was the same about horses. I would tell her fun facts about my pet turtles, she would share the silly things her horses did. We would share animal articles online. She would post pictures of turtles she found on horse rides in the woods she would want to know more about.
It had never occurred to me that I should open my mindset to turtle conservation and what I could do to help save our planets turtles. Of course I knew sea turtles were in danger, but I had no idea other native US species were of concern or endangered as well. One day, she sent me an article from the newspaper about a Eastern Box Turtle sanctuary near Pittsburgh PA, knowing Terrapine carolina carolina was my favorite species. It was advertising a one day outreach program to educate the public about turtle conservation in the State of PA. She suggested I attend and as well, perhaps look for other conservation groups to get involved with to have more immersion with the creatures I cherish.
At first, I was too shy to bother. That was to my detriment. Instead, I started educating my friends on Facebook about watching for turtles crossing the road, why they should mind those moving rocks, and eventually sharing turtle stories and pictures for fun. From there I slowly became more involved with Ms. Sulkowski encouraging me each step of the way. She would offer topics of discussion, ways to further educate the public by myself, and made me aware of organizations as a means to eventually get involved in turtle conservation on a larger scale. It was Debbie herself who sent me the pages and information for such organization\people as the Turtle Survival Alliance, the Turtle Conservancy, and yes, theTurtleRoom!!! Since then, I’ve only gotten more active and involved in conservation efforts.
Today, I raise several turtle and tortoise species while operating my own small turtle rescue service for those local to me if they have a turtle needing rescuing, rehomed, help seeking rehab\vet service, and general turtle inquiries. I have established a network relationship with those in Exotic Vet Med, Animal Rehab, Research, Conservation, Global Turtle Organizations, and State Wildlife\Natural Resources. This year, I became a staff member with theTurtleRoom, contributing to their Social Media platforms, and will be participating in turtle population survey research this fall and in the future!
I would love to say this was all my dreams made reality through my own dedication, however the truth of it is none of this would have been possible had Ms. Sulkowski not first suggested so, sewing the seeds of success and nurturing those aspirations in me to fruition! Because of Debbie Sulkowski, I have grown not just as a turtle conservationist, but as a well balanced man!
It is with great sadness however that I must report that after an extended battle with Cancer, never letting that illness define or dampen her spirit, having waged war that she fought tooth and nail with all the firey fury of the name I bestowed upon her so long ago, Ms. Debbie Moser-Sulkowski passed away on October 15, 2018, surrounded by her loving family.
To her, I am eternally grateful. To this day she meant the world to me, and I will never forget her empowering spirit. I owe Debbie so much, and credit her as one of the greatest inspirations and mentors I will ever know. Kudo’s to my Dragon Lady!