A Real Shell Game

June 2023
Written By: 
Charles T. Glazer
Photographs by: 
Scott Smallin

Grand Strand Shell Club is a day at the beach

One of the club's most important fund-raising events is its annual auction of decorative items made for beach homes, many including shells and other things found along the shore.

It would be difficult to find someone along the Grand Strand–local resident or part-time visitor–who has never picked up a seashell on the beach. It’s just something we all do, from casual tourists to serious collectors. The beach offers an unseen “magnetic pull” that draws us in and makes us pick up and sift through the myriad pieces of debris that wash ashore.

Look around the Grand Strand and you’re sure to find shells, starfish, urchins, sand dollars, shark teeth, driftwood and more in the cupholders of many vehicles to front door steps to carefully placed decorations in planting beds and yards. A large majority of local residents have jugs and jars in their homes full of shells showing off the beautiful colors, shapes and textures that nature creates. And can there be any carload of tourists heading back home after vacation without at least a few shells to share with friends and family?

For the more serious collectors, the Grand Strand Shell Club has provided a venue for more than 30 years where shell enthusiasts can gather and share their interests. The club is well established and very active. Members meet monthly, on the second Thursday at 6 p.m., at the Grand Strand Church of Christ, 2212 Glenns Bay Road, Surfside Beach, except for July and August. Membership varies from 75 to 100 people and most meetings attract at least 30 or more, depending on the time of year and the guest speaker on the program.

The club strives to educate the public and its members on the types of shells that can be found locally, as well as other shells that are found around the world. Members also collect other related items that wash ashore, such as sand dollars, glass fragments, driftwood, shark teeth, bones, and more. Our Grand Strand is particularly rich in prehistoric shark teeth, an item on which many collectors specialize. Monthly speakers include experts on aquatic life and biology, environmental issues, care for the beaches and estuaries, protection of sea turtle nests, and more.

Members browse items for sale and plan their bidding strategy at the club's annual auction.

Club members set up shell displays and do public speaking programs at various Grand Strand venues.

“We are often called upon to donate shells for programs at Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park,” says Vanessa Marion, club president. “A major focus for us is education, especially for school-age children. We work closely with the park rangers and local schools.”

The club was started more than 30 years ago by two men who frequented the Nibils Café, which at that time, was on the Surfside Beach Pier. It was 1990 and they intended to educate people on seashells that could be found both locally and around the world. In its early days, the club held numerous shows for the public at Myrtle Beach-area venues, including the Inlet Square Mall. There are two current members who have been with the club more than 20 years–Carolyn Sandt, past president, and Bob Rusinko.

Marion has been a member for six years and has been president for the past three years.

“My vision is that our members come to join us, learn about shells, and enjoy fellowship,” Marion says, “whether it's going on a trip to one of the barrier islands or coming together to make crafts to sell at the World's Largest Garage Sale. We offer a welcoming atmosphere.”

The club organizes several field trips during the course of a year–some are day trips and some require overnight stays. Popular shell-hunting locations include Bulls Island just north of Charleston, Cape Lookout/Shackleford Banks at the southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and Sanibel Island, Florida. Members are a hearty bunch, often enduring bitter weather on barrier islands and remote shorelines to ply their craft. Most of the club’s field trips require short boat rides to access the locations. Avid collectors relish the idea of hitting the beach immediately after a storm has passed to get first chance at all the debris Mother Ocean has washed ashore.

Another popular club activity is the club’s craft workshops. A few times a year, club members gather at a place like the Surfside Beach Library to make craft and art items from the shells and other debris they collect. Items include picture and mirror frames, jewelry boxes, and other creations often found in curio cabinets and bookshelves.

“As we gather to raise money to donate to Huntington Beach State Park through the Friends of Huntington Beach, we assist them with getting things like sea horses for the Nature Center's aquarium or a new entrance mat that may be needed for public entry to the beach,” says Marion. “I believe we are headed in the right direction, from helping folks learn about shells and the estuaries and helping to keep them clean, to supporting other organizations and churches in achieving their related goals as well. I hope to leave my stamp on this club and make these folks as active as they want to be in shelling, collecting and crafting.”

Whitney Crooks, recording secretary of the club, also served as the chief auctioneer at the club's recent fund raiser.

Marion adds that club members are often called upon to donate shells to other organizations or speak to shell enthusiasts at meetings such as Brookgreen Gardens or the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The club assembled a beautiful and informative display for Horry County that sits in the South Carolina State Welcome Center in Little River on U.S. 17 South. It provides tourists and other visitors a preview of the little treasures they may find on Grand Strand beaches.

The club is supported financially through member dues, donations and fund-raising activities. Members are local residents who have relocated here from many different states. Club meetings and activities are very well attended and supported. “We try to have something special at each meeting,” Marion added, “Except in December when we have a Christmas Party. In February, we have an annual auction of crafts made by members and we have a yearly picnic.” 

The club participates in the “World’s Largest Garage Sale” every September at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and other shows in the area.

Anyone interested in joining the Grand Strand Shell Club may attend any monthly meeting—6 p.m. the second Thursday of the month at Grand Strand Church of Christ, 2212 Glenns Bay Road, Surfside Beach (no meetings during July and August).

Grand Strand Shell Club Board of Directors:

Vanessa Marion, President
Angela White, Vice President
Whitney Crooks, Recording Secretary
Michele Settan, Corresponding Secretary
Maribeth Gerhardt, Treasurer
Phyllis Golden, Membership Chairman
Sue Baker, Past President 
Carolyn Sandt, Past President