Large woody debris provides a buffer to the backshore at Keystone Spit. Photo: Pedersen
Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer of the Year

Sandy Dubpernell - 2018 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Text by Dan Pedersen

When a party of tourists asked Sandy Dubpernell when the next Orca capture event was scheduled in Penn Cove, anyone else might have thrown up their hands. The question came her way at Coupeville Wharf, site of a large marine education display describing the horrific Orca captures of the 1970s.

“Mustering every bit of composure, Sandy quietly explained that the capture of Orcas is illegal in the United States,” said her friend and fellow Sound Water Steward, Marty Crowley, who nominated Dubpernell to be Island County’s 2018 Coastal Volunteer of the Year. On Saturday, Feb. 3, it was announced before a packed house of more than 600 attendees at Sound Waters University, held at South Whidbey High School, that Dubpernell was chosen for the award.

“I’ve always been amazed at Sandy’s patience as she explains, again and again, why Orcas are endangered and what it means when she calls them an indicator species,” Crowley said.

Dubpernell, a stained glass artist at Penn Cove Gallery, moved her studio and her life from New York to Coupeville in 1988 and began looking for ways to volunteer in the community. By 1993 she had graduated from the WSU Beach Watchers program, and she’s been volunteering and teaching about Island County’s marine life ever since.

 “She became involved in the Rosie the Gray Whale project and found her niche –- responding to dead, smelly creatures on the beach,” said Susan Berta, co-founder of Orca Network and the Langley Whale Center.  “She has a scientific mind, the imagination and creativity of an artist and photographer, toughness and stamina, curiosity and drive to learn and investigate everything about the marine world, and the ability to  have a great time while accomplishing unpleasant tasks with a sense of humor!”

“She’s also very organized, meticulous and takes pride in the work she accomplishes to help conserve marine mammal life around Whidbey Island,” adds Dr. Stephanie Norman, veterinarian for the local stranding network.

Among Dubpernell’s many volunteer roles, she is coordinator of the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network in addition to serving on the board of Orca Network. She is also a regular docent, since 2014, at the Langley Whale Center where she curates the center’s extensive marine mammal specimens.

A member of Sound Water Stewards, Dubpernell is the eighth county resident honored since 2011, when the Island County Marine Resources Committee and WSU Extension – Island County created the Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year award. Today, Sound Water Stewards also co-sponsors the award as a third partner.

Holmes, for whom the award is named, joined the young Beach Watcher program in 1990 and, within a few years, earned her masters degree in marine biology. She led the effort in shoreline intertidal monitoring that resulted in Island County having more information about its shoreline than probably any other county in all of Puget Sound, according to Don Meehan, former director of WSU Extension – Island County. She was a leader of the all-volunteer eelgrass monitoring team, a very technical group. Like Dubpernell, Holmes loved teaching and loved helping others.

Preceding Dubpernell as winners of the Coastal Volunteer Award were Barbara Brock, Sammye Kempbell, Phyllis Kind, Jill Hein, Ken Urstad, Bob Gentz and Connie Clark.


The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is named to honor the memory of Jan Holmes, an Island County resident and WSU Island County Beach Watcher who was an exemplary marine scientist, educator and champion for stewardship of the marine environment.

In recognition of the continuing need for volunteers to carry on this important cause, the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually to one individual engaged in service, science or outreach relating to the health of Island County’s marine environment and whose work adds to knowledge about and/or protection of county marine waters and coastal resources.

Nominations are open to anyone, regardless of organization or affiliation. The intent of the award is to encourage and recognize the achievements of volunteers who work to understand, protect and restore the marine waters and coastal resources of Island County.

The award is sponsored by the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), Sound Water Stewards (SWS), and Washington State University (WSU) Island County Extension. A committee representing the three sponsoring organizations selects one winner. The award is presented during the opening ceremonies of Sound Waters, an annual one-day university held on the first Saturday in February.


Every year, hundreds of volunteers contribute thousands of hours of service, science and outreach in support of Island County's marine environment. They do so as members of various organizations and, in some cases, as citizens unaffiliated with any group. In September 2010, the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers partnered to establish an award to recognize this contribution of volunteer service and leadership. They created the annual Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award, open to any citizen of Island County regardless of affiliation.

To identify the winner, a joint committee of the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers review nominations submitted by the public. One individual is chosen and the award is presented in February before an audience of some 600 people attending the annual Sound Waters University.

No one better embodied the spirit of such service in Island County than Jan Holmes, a long-time WSU Beach Watcher and early member of the MRC. Her death in December of 2011 was a great loss to members, friends and volunteers in both organizations. In recognition of her leadership, the MRC voted unanimously in January 2012 to rename the award in her honor, The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year.

Holmes and her husband, Steve, moved to Whidbey Island after completing careers in the airline industry. In 1990, Holmes received training as a WSU Beach Watcher. She found such joy and wonder in the nearshore environment that she went back to school at Western Washington University and obtained a degree in marine science. She became a leader in the Beach Watcher organization, inspiring fellow volunteers, adults and children with her infectious enthusiasm as a teacher and mentor.

As a scientist Holmes set high standards, developing rigorous protocols for the Beach Watchers intertidal monitoring program and later creating an innovative eelgrass research project that has revolutionized the gathering of eelgrass data by citizen volunteers at a fraction of the traditional cost. She collaborated closely with the MRC while attracting talented volunteers to the project.

In 2010, Holmes was honored for her community service with the prestigious Cox Conserves Heroes Award for Western Washington, in competition with volunteers from other areas of the state. The award is given by KIRO TV and The Trust for Public Land.

Connie Clark: 2017
Bob Gentz: 2016
Ken Urstad: 2015
Jill Hein: 2014
Phyllis Kind: 2013
Sammye Kempbell: 2012
Barbara Brock: 2011
Volunteer of the Year