Joe and Winnie Pedalino may be retired, but they never quit working.
The couple, who live just north of the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, have volunteered for nearly 11 years at the educational and sea turtle rescue center, a place they think of as a second home.
And they love that others think of the center that way, too.
After 9/11, Winnie says she noticed an increase in visitors to the center.
“People felt more serene,” she said. “It’s an environment that is completely different from the rest of the world.”
But for all the time they spend at the Gumbo Limbo, where Joe works in the rehab center, and Winnie works with plants and signage, the couple still finds time to be active with the American Red Cross, the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Wayne Barton Study Center, where Joe tutors at-risk youth in high school math, and Winnie cooks.
“She is the most nurturing person I have ever met,” Joe says of his wife, a retired registered nurse who also assists neighbors with doctor visits.
In 2005, Winnie, who had injured her feet, cooked from a wheelchair for workers doing repairs on their building after Hurricane Wilma.
The couple also have been passionate about such causes as preserving the Ocean Strand property that is adjacent to their condo building, and Joe has been vociferous at Boca Raton City Council meetings.
“We need development, but development should be controlled,” says Joe, an engineer who retired after overseeing health and safety issues for The New York Times.
The couple, married 47 years, also have two sons and two grandchildren, a girl, 17, and a boy, 14.
They recently returned returned from a 5,000-mile road trip with the grandson to visit relatives across the country, from Ohio and Indiana to Memphis, were they visited Elvis Presley’s Graceland.
But they’re glad to be home, where their passion for Gumbo Limbo is infectious — even their grandson volunteers there when he visits them from New Jersey.
And when it comes to volunteering, their grandson learned from the master — Joe says he started volunteering about 40 years ago.
“Life has been good to us,” says Joe. “We also believe in giving to the community.”
— Scott Simmons
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school?
Joe: Spent my first 20 years in New York, and graduated from Brooklyn Tech and Brooklyn Polytechnic
Winnie: Trained at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. Grew up in New York and New Jersey. That’s where I learned to love the sea.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
Joe: No-limit Texas hold ’em. Played in 4,000-person tournaments and finished fifth and seventh. Not first, but not bad when playing against 4,000 people.
Winnie: Container gardening. I love finding what works in the harsh environment, with salt spray and sun, and love to get to show what grows best in Florida.
Q: Tell us about volunteering at Gumbo Limbo.
Joe: Of all our volunteer venues, Gumbo Limbo is closest to our hearts.
Winnie: I consider Gumbo Limbo to be a place of peace and energy, between the plants, the animals and the children.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in Boca Raton?
Joe: We rented here, then looked at communities from south of Fort Lauderdale north. This is a community that is committed to preserving green space. ... And there is no reluctance on the part of the public to pay for it.
Q: What is your favorite part about living in Boca Raton?
Joe: The people and the commitment to maintaining green space. People here understand that once it’s lost, it’s lost. Look, we have Indian middens that are still untouched.
Winnie: Our “working” retirement.
Q: What book are you reading right now?
Winnie: Butterflies of the East Coast, by Rick Czech and Gary Tudor, and The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown.
Q: What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
Joe: Music of the ‘70s and Elvis Presley’s gospel songs
Winnie: Classical music, plus recordings of the sea, whale songs, nature songs and Johnny Cash.
Q: Have you ever had mentors? Someone who inspired you?
Joe: My father. He was an immigrant who was sensitive and devoted to his family. He never lectured and led by example. He overcame a major stroke and retired at 80, died at 85.
Winnie: Teachers. I had a tough time growing up. I credit teachers with inspiring me. I was thrilled to learn that you could go to a library, borrow books and escape for awhile.
Q: If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
Joe: Denzel Washington, because he is a great actor, and color should not make a difference.
Winnie: Julie Andrews, because of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions:
Joe: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” — Sen. Edward Kennedy, from his eulogy for his brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy
Winnie: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” — Eleanor Roosevelt