Alumna donates over 1,000 shells to the University of Dubuque

Feb 24, 2017 | Stacey Ortman, director of public information

DUBUQUE, Iowa – Wanda “Shelli” Tague (C’49) donated hundreds of her treasured shells earlier this month to her alma mater to inspire generations of students at the University of Dubuque.

A move from her Davenport, Iowa, home inspired Tague to think long-term about the shells she has collected most of her life. She said she was delighted to learn UD would house them on campus.

“I don’t want them separated,” Tague said softly of the shells. “I wanted them to have a home.”

Gerald Zuercher, PhD, professor of vertebrate ecology, has been tasked with cataloguing the shells. While it’s unclear how many shells were donated, Zuercher said he suspects there are over 1,000 specimens.

“Shelli was truly dedicated to developing the collection,” he said. “Included in the collection are some impressively large specimens, a complete nautilus shell, and some tusk shells.”

Those shells that are extraordinary because of their uniqueness, rareness, and/or fragility will be displayed in the glass case of the main floor of the University Science Center. Other specimens will be incorporated into laboratory sessions for several courses including biological science and general zoology.

“It’s always a thrill to learn that someone, especially with a connection to UD, wants to leave a legacy that will touch future generations of students,” Zuercher said.

Tague’s love for shells was unearthed as a child when she spotted what she later learned was a seashell.

“I’d never seen shells,” she said. “I picked it up and kept it. From then on, I fell in love with that first shell.”

Tague, a retired English teacher who nicknamed herself Shelli, collected the shells from her own travels as well as from family, friends, and strangers. She even received shells from a couple who visited Florida, a former landlord, and people whose loved ones passed away and left behind their own shell collection.

The woman who once carted her shell collection to teach oceanography to tenth-graders is grateful that her beloved shells will be used to teach University of Dubuque students for years to come. Tague plans to visit the shells one final time once they’re displayed at their new collegiate home.

“I hope that I’ll get up to Dubuque to see the shells,” she said.