Comedian, actor, and former Saturday Night Live cast member Kevin Nealon had a crowd of 200 laughing out loud during the Still Standing gala benefiting the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on April 24th. Nealon’s performance capped off an evening of giving, community fellowship, and laughter.
The gala, presented by The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company for the 19th consecutive year, took place at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers where guests enjoyed dinner, an exciting live auction, and paddle raise. The evening proved to be the Museum’s most successful fundraiser in history, as the organization raised over $390,000 in sponsorships, auction sales, and donations combined.
Following Nealon’s stand-up performance, the Museum’s Executive Director Sam Ankerson announced the philanthrophic kindness of two Sanibel couples in attendance, Jim and Gaye Pigott and Bill and Laurie Harkey, who earlier this spring had each made $500,000 gifts toward the Museum’s post-hurricane restoration.
“We have long recognized the significance of Sanibel’s National Shell Museum,” said Jim Pigott. “Its breath and depth of marine specimens is known and respected not only in the United States but also throughout the world. We are happy to play a part in the rebuilding and refurbishing of the Museum as it returns to its former prominence in the marine ecosystem arena.”
“The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a unique gem on this wonderful island renowned for its
shelling,” said Bill Harkey. “Laurie and I fully support the Museum’s vision to educate and inspire people to study, celebrate and preserve shells and the mollusks that create them. We are making this donation now so
we can see the results and we hope to inspire others to do the same in their philanthropic endeavors. Philanthropy in one’s estate planning is fine, but if you can make a difference now, while you’re alive, why wait until you’re gone? The need is great, the need is now!”
The Museum’s staff and Board are overwhelmed by the generosity of the Sanibel and Captiva communities. This financial support is an important step along the way to rebuilding the Museum, including the Living Gallery of aquariums which will again feature the beloved Giant Pacific Octopus, Giant Clams, Cuttlefish, Florida mollusks, and over 60 species of marine life.
The Museum was severely impacted by the storm. The ground floor which houses the aquariums flooded with over five feet of water causing extensive damage throughout. While some animals were saved, the majority perished. The storm also tore a hole in the Museum’s brand-new roof, exposing the second and third floors – which include The Great Hall of Shells and storage for the shell collection – to water damage and the elements.
Following a 3-month period of being partially open, the Museum is now again closed to the public as reconstruction begins in earnest. During reconstruction, the exhibits of the Great Hall of Shells will also be updated and refreshed to exhibit thousands of beautiful shells from all over the world. Educational programming for adults and children continues via online lectures, field education and biodiversity walks, and the Museum’s Mollusks on the Move mobile outreach program for youth throughout Southwest Florida.
For more information on the Museum’s restoration, please visit ShellMuseum.org/rebuilding. Visit ShellMuseum.org/2023-gala for gala photos and sponsorship overview.
About the Museum: The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a natural history museum, and the only museum in the United States devoted primarily to shells and mollusks. Its mission is to use exceptional collections, aquariums, programs, experiences, and science to be the nation’s leading museum in the conservation, preservation, interpretation, and celebration of shells, the mollusks that create them, and their ecosystems. Permanent exhibitions on view include the Great Hall of Shells which displays highlights of the Museum’s collection of some 550,000 shells, as well as the Beyond Shells living gallery of aquariums and over 60 species of marine life. In 2023 the Museum is under reconstruction following the impacts of Hurricane Ian. For more information, please visit ShellMuseum.org or call (239) 395-2233.