Every morning, despite rain, arthritis and a broken back, Dr. Mary Jelks, a 74-year-old retired pediatrician, climbs a ladder to the roof of her modest home on Clematis Street to collect samples for meteorologists and universities throughout the state. She also receives samples by mail from Miami and Tallahassee. ("They have tremendously interesting spores up there," she says.) One of only six certified pollen counters in the state, she’s now training a national network of counters who, she hopes, will be just as dazzled as she is by pollen and mold.
Raised on an Illinois farm surrounded by allergens, Jelks is allergic to nothing. Her passion for spores was born from a pediatric practice fraught with chronically ill, tiny patients. Locally, to protect those in heavily polluted areas, she has waged war against Orimulsion, a deep sea port in Manatee, and the phosphate industry.
"We continue to keep polluting the air," she says. "The ones who suffer the most can least handle it."