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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

The Magnificent Tale of Albert the Turtle

By Philip Walzer

This is the story of a fearless turtle named Albert who found a home at a big university and made a lot of friends who built him an even nicer home. One of them even started a Facebook page for him.

Albert has been at Old Dominion University at least since 2014. Nobody knows how he got here. One day, he was discovered sitting on a floating duck blind in the pond outside Gornto Hall near 43rd Street.

That made the people who work in Gornto very happy. But they weren't sure at first what to call him.

The people who worked on the fourth floor thought his name should be Albert in honor of Albert Gornto Jr., the man for whom the building was named.

But everyone on the second floor thought he looked like a Doug. So they compromised. His full name is Albert Doug Turtle.

All of the attention Albert has received coaxed him out of his shell, so to speak.

Before, "we couldn't linger long watching him from the bridge because he would get nervous and scoot back into the water quickly," said one of his closest friends, Jenny McConnell, a multimedia designer in distance learning. "But over the years, he has turned into quite the social butterfly. He continues sunning himself even as people stop to watch him."

Andy Casiello, the associate vice president for distance learning, said: "He holds his head very high now."

A sad thing happened in 2016. The duck blind sank after a big storm.

This made Albert's life difficult. A turtle can live in the water. But it needs to get out in the sun to dry its shell and to stock up on Vitamin D.

Jenny enjoys making things with wood. So she built a temporary platform for Albert. But turtles are like humans. They deserve special places to live.

Heidi Morris '99, the online content coordinator for distance learning, contacted Chad Peevy '99 (M.P.A. '17), the grounds supervisor in the facilities management department. She thought he could help.

Chad asked Howard Wyle, the equipment repair technician at the University, to design a home for Albert. Howard was happy to do it. He's a great woodworker and loves animals.

In the summer of 2017, Howard finished his creation. Andy said it was the "most upscale floating shelter" he had ever seen.

Albert's house weighs 150 pounds. It has a patio where Albert can sun himself. It also has ramps at both ends to help him get in and out of the water. The "house" part isn't for Albert - his shell is too big for him to get inside - but duck families sometimes use it.

Howard put the name of the house on it with big red letters: ODU Duck Inn. Howard chose it because it was the name of a famous Virginia Beach restaurant and because he expected lots of ducks and other animals to visit.

They have. Albert's friend Kimberley Williams (M.P.A. '17), who is Andy's assistant, once saw a momma goose and five babies on the platform with Albert. One of the little ones walked right on top of him. Albert didn't mind.

"He's very good in sharing space," Andy said.

Another sad thing happened the end of last year. Somebody overturned Albert's house and damaged it. Howard didn't just fix it. He made it even nicer.

He repainted the blue roof. He added a set of stairs on each side of the enclosure to make it easier for Albert's guests to get in and out. And so Albert wouldn't feel left out, Howard added the word "Albert's" in front of "ODU Duck Inn."

"Everybody's life is full of stress," said Howard, who was named Employee of the Month. "If they look at that and it brings a smile to their face, then it's all worth it."

Even people who don't go to ODU can see Albert. His Facebook page is www.facebook.com/ODUAlbert/.

Jenny has done some research about turtles. Based on his looks, she thinks Albert is a yellow-bellied slider.

She also learned something surprising. Everyone in Gornto thought Albert was a male. But "Albert's tail is pretty short compared to his legs," she said, and male turtles usually have long tails.

So maybe Albert is really Alberta.

This story appeared in the fall issue of Old Dominion University's e-magazine, Monarch Extra. To read more, go to www.odu.edu/monarchmag. Photo by Shara Weber.

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