Ask Pam Rambo: She’ll Tell You Every Day in Southwest Florida is “Shellabration of Life.”
By John Sprecher | Photography by Milissa Sprecher, Pam Rambo and Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau
On an island that hosts the only shell museum in the United States, it goes without saying that — from the Sanibel Stoop to the Captiva Crouch — you’ll find a lot of shell lovers. However, there’s only one person passionate enough to have conceived and created an automobile completely covered in shells, as well as perfected and published her own dictionary of “shell speak.”
Meet Pam Rambo.
As Southwest Florida’s unofficial spokesperson of shells, Rambo and her daily walks on the beach are simply following in the footsteps that her mother set out for her, years ago as a child growing up near the shores of Virginia Beach and vacationing the beaches of North Carolina. “Our house was full of shells,” she recalls. “It was our kind of way of life. It’s what I knew growing up.”
Rambo’s way of life took an unusual twist (pardon the pun) in 1994, upon her first visit to Captiva Island. There, while wading in the low surf searching for shells with her soon-to-be husband Clark, the two were playfully jostling for position when his foot stuck in the sand — and he toppled over, breaking his leg. “We had rented a house on Captiva for a month, and he winds up having surgery and a cast. That’s how our love of shelling started,” she laughs today.
Following marriage and five years in Miami for his job — interspersed with regular vacations to Sanibel and Captiva — the couple decided to permanently relocate to the islands in 2001. Always an artist and a lover of art, Pam Rambo opened two galleries in three years, selling work that she and others created. As fate would have it, she sold those galleries four weeks before Hurricane Charlie in 2004.
But Rambo’s hardly the retiring type, and her passion for art and shells came together a few years later, when she started painting shells and holiday cards, and quickly gained distribution in 30 stores within a month. And then, along came her first Apple computer — and this odd thing called “blogging.”
“I took one of the classes at the Apple store to learn how to build a website,” she recalls. “When I asked the guy how to get people to my site, he said: do a blog. I had never heard of such a thing, but he encouraged me to write about what I was passionate about.”
Pam Rambo today is recognized as one of the go-to people for shelling in Southwest Florida — and has been a featured contributor to Good Morning America, the Travel Channel, Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio, the New York Times, National Geographic, Coastal Living, Florida Travel & Life plus many more, including international travel media.
That passion was shelling, and thus the website iLoveShelling.com was born. “I felt like I had found my calling,” Rambo says. “I started writing and it just took off. It’s a community of people who love what I love. It reaches so many people around the world, for so many different reasons.”
And reach people she does. According to internet and social media analytics, Rambo’s website was visited by almost 675,000 shell lovers last year in 173 countries. And her social media outlets — Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube — average 425,000 or so impressions every month. “The thing is, I’m just a sheller who enjoys sharing what I can with others,” she explains. “None of this happened by design.”
Maybe not, but Pam Rambo today is recognized as one of the go-to people for shelling in Southwest Florida — and has been a featured contributor to Good Morning America, the Travel Channel, Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio, the New York Times, National Geographic, Coastal Living, Florida Travel & Life plus many more, including international travel media.
But few endeavors to bring the love of shells to the world can top her amazing creation for the first National Sea Shell Day on the first day of summer in 2016. Working with Lee County VCB staff that conceived the holiday as a way to put a spotlight on Southwest Florida, Rambo volunteered to come up with the big idea. After two days, it hit her: a huge shell sculpture that was mobile, capable of spreading the joy of shelling anywhere.
The result is the “Shell Love Bug,” a Volkswagen Beetle beautifully decorated in more than 20,000 native shells with (appropriately) a Junonia in the center of the heart. “I came up with the idea and the design, and every single one of those 20,000 shells was collected in Southwest Florida,” she says. “Sixty-five people were involved in the project, including the Sanibel Shell Crafters, and in the end it was a 1,200 hour labor of love.” The Shell Love Bug is now the property of the Visitor & Convention Bureau and is seen at many tourism events, where crowds gather in amazement at the beauty and detail of this moveable art.
Most recently, Rambo has released a fun-filled (and pun-filled) dictionary of what she calls The Official Guide to Speaking Shellanguage. Available at her web and in retail outlets on Sanibel and Captiva, the colorful book takes readers on a lighthearted tour of “shell speak” that’s sure to have you “shellaughing.”
In the end, however, Pam Rambo is simply a woman who loves shelling, and loves sharing that passion with other like-souled individuals. “We walk the beach every day,” she says, “sometimes at sunrise, others at sunset. The best time is whenever you aren’t rushed, because the beach truly is therapy. Everything else disappears.