At 12 years old, in rural Pennsylvania a young Ann Walborn, alongside an entourage of friends, and cousins formed a Helpers Club. With matching scarves and trailing wagons, the group of benevolent preteens journeyed through neighborhoods, scouring opportunities for good. Mowing lawns, raking leaves and helping with groceries—it never occurred to any of them to ask for anything in return. Cheesy, Ann admits lovingly, but just so much fun. From the very beginning, it was her parents that instilled a sense of respect and responsibility.

“It didn’t matter how much you had or how little you had. You had to spend some time giving back. You had to express gratitude.” It was about respect for everyone (human and otherwise) and living as a steward of the earth, through gestures great and small. And though she no longer dons her Helpers Club scarf, Ann’s seafoam green blouse, starfish necklace and personal copy of The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery in the background paints a new portrait of passion and philanthropy. It’s been 14 years with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and Ann Walborn still deems it her happy place.

As an aquarium docent, member of the Speakers Bureau and behind-the-scenes tour guide, not only does Ann Walborn reveal the astounding nature of what swims before you in the tanks, but she unveils wonders and vanquishes the mystery of life in the Big Blue. “The eyes and the wows and the holy jiminy crickets—that’s the thing that I live for,” she says. The introduction was forged in a familiar dance of hospitality: The year Ann and her husband moved to Sarasota, 42 guests came to visit the new Floridians. And all 42 were shepherded to Mote Marine by a newly obsessed Ann. From there, the desire to learn and the resources to do so never faltered.

“From Dr. Michael P. Crosby, the CEO, all the way down the line to the biologist and everyone in between,” says Ann. “Their passion—it’s infectious.” Sharing in fun facts, tag-teaming with kids on family tours to reveal the breadth of the ocean to the parents, tracking the ever-changing research and growing attached to the animals—there’s never a sullen silence, a stale moment, or a most memorable day. Ann’s most favorite memories, however, all surround a particular “gelatinous substance,” a certain cephalopod. With nine brains, two hearts, long-term and short-term memory, and problem-solving skills, the octopus, whether huddled in his tank or tasting his way up Ann’s arm with tentacles, will never fail to amaze. “Mote has my heart,” says Ann with that same giddy energy of that 12-year-old girl, simply helping around the neighborhood. SRQ