Recognition Corner: Bill Hoenes

Allison's 6th generation prosthesis, made by Bill Hoenes. Bill Hoenes photos.

By Teresa Shumaker

Sea Turtle, Inc. has no shortage of dedicated, talented, and wonderful volunteers. When considering who to write about, it is often difficult to find just one person. But this month we would like to highlight Bill Hoenes, who has been a volunteer at STI since his wife Maralyne began volunteering as an Allison lifeguard around 2011. (Maralyne is another wonderful volunteer and we will have to tell you about her sometime, too.)

Aside from the regular volunteer duties and supporting Sea Turtle, Inc. Bill quickly became involved in the production and design of Allison's prosthesis.

Bill was an auto engineer for the heavy trucking industry and when he first met Tom Wilson — the intern that fought for Allison to get a prosthesis to begin with — and learned about Allison's prosthesis, he knew he wanted to help.

Years before, Bill had made his very own kayak, then a windsurfing board, and just so happened to have materials and tools in his garage that would aide in fine-tuning Allison's prosthesis.

Design Challenges

From 2011 to last year, when a problem arose or damage happened to the fifth generation prosthesis, Bill would make the repairs in his home.

Corrosion was a big factor in her aluminum based structure. Then the strong and curious jaws of her tank mate, Merry Christmas, posed another hurdle. Merry Christmas found parts of Allison's prosthesis interesting and would chomp on bits, so Bill had to learn how to "turtle-proof" the prosthesis. Another constraint was the back fin, acting as a rudder to straighten out Allison's one flipper swim. In her excitement to go out into the big pool, she would bang the fin against the walls of her tank and eventually it broke it in half.

The new prosthesis

Unfortunately, one can only repair an item for so long. Bill began to wonder how he could create something that would last longer, be more durable against corrosion and have the capability to grow with Allison.

His solution was to make a solid carbon fiber prosthesis. He began working on the new design in September of last year and after many tests, fittings, and adjustments, Allison was taking her new prosthesis for its maiden voyage just before Christmas.

This project was no simple feat. Bill had to design molds for each piece of the prosthesis in order to shape the fiberglass.

Allison’s Angels

It is because of the talent and out of the box thinking of several people at Sea Turtle, Inc. that Allison is alive today and has a prosthesis. (She is the first sea turtle to successfully wear one, too!) Because of Bill's expertise, talent and dedication, Allison now has what could be the best sea turtle prosthesis out there. It is built from years of experience troubleshooting her specific needs. Bill said a prototype like this would cost around $9,000 in his past field of work.

But, building sea turtle prosthesis's is a very narrow field where one could possibly charge much more than that.

Of course, we wouldn't be able to afford him.

Thankfully though, we don't have to empty out our pockets, because Bill is incredibly generous and donates his time, his skill and the materials. Allison is one lucky turtle and we are truly humbled to be witnesses and stewards of such a remarkable tale of those around her who are willing to give so much. Thank you, Bill, your work here at Sea Turtle, Inc. is truly appreciated.

Allison trying on her prosthesis in progress just before Thanksgiving last year. 
This was just the harness attachment, the fin has not yet been added.