Mike and Joy Cook joke that they “almost” don’t want to tell anyone how special Jekyll Island is.
“That lets the secret out,” they said, smiling in unison.
As the now former educators—she a librarian, he a teacher—were contemplating where to sunset after their careers, Joy read something about the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC), which prompted their first visit to the Island.
“We wanted to do something in retirement that helped animals and the environment,” she said.
Jekyll’s beauty made an indelible impression on these beach-loving Florida transplants and protecting it is especially important to them. “We’re from Miami…and saw what happened there with the skyline covered in skyscrapers,” Mike said.
“Here the moss-covered trees are our skyscrapers,” said Joy, “and even the gas station blends into the landscape.”
Once they bought a house on Jekyll and settled in, they got busy volunteering. “Let me put it this way,” teased Mike, “we’re DINKs (dual income no kids) with cats.” They signed up for a class on how to get involved and found out the GSTC had a virtual education program for youth, which they then supported for several years. They also got to know the park ranger and helped with some of nature programs such as Gatorology, the history, biology and conservation efforts related to the American Alligator, and Ranger Walks, a bald eagle nest viewing tour.
These days, in addition to any volunteer activities, they can often be found contributing to the Golden Isle’s edutainment through their Native American flute performances.
“We’ve been playing for about 20 years,” said Mike. “Before that, I’d never played an instrument.” It was a trip out west that first introduced them to the unique musical genre. They started to build a CD collection at their previous home in Florida, went to a dedicated school for the instrument in North Carolina, and eventually brought their talents with them to the Georgia coast.
“We like to share the idea of the flute circle, which is to help one another,” said Joy, speaking about their opportunities to perform for people on and off the Island.
That esprit de corps is also on display several times a week while they lead a class for practitioners of Qigong, an exercise flow of coordinated body-posturing along with breathing and meditation that supports health and spirituality.
When asked what they hope for Jekyll’s future, both agree that striking the right balance between what humans want and the environment needs has to be an ongoing commitment.
“The (Jekyll Island) Foundation does a good job [assisting with funding for] restoration projects in the Historic District and around the Island, [that help to] keep things preserved,” said Mike.
When ‘selling’ Island visits to family and friends, they make sure to mention how “laid back and comfortable” the atmosphere is, how the beaches aren’t as crowded as some of the other coastal destinations, and, of course, all the attractions—the GSTC, Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum, the great restaurants, fishing off the pier, Driftwood Beach (“a must see”), Horton Pond—as well as the trolley tours.
“Even as residents we love to go on the trolley tours,” said Joy. “Depending on the time of year, there’s always something new to learn about the Island.”
They are especially fond of the Christmas holidays. “The Island events are a lot of fun,” Mike said. “We’ve decorated the (golf) cart and driven in the parade around the Island looking at all the light displays.”
For Joy, the best light displays Jekyll has to offer come twice a day. “A dawn and at dusk,” she offers, “the colors of the sky are just breathtaking.”