Some people just have Boca Grande in their blood. Their very names are synonymous with our island. So it is with Rich and Toni Caccavale.
As fate would have it, the two have had some major life changes lately that have taken them closer to the mainland than the island. Rich has recently retired from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, where he was the marine patrol deputy in Boca Grande waters. He was also a Lee County deputy on the island for 24 years.
Toni recently closed her Boca Grande business, Island Nails.
But don’t think they’re sitting back and relaxing ... not by any stretch of the imagination.
Rich is now working at Marine Dynamics on Placida Road, selling something he knows a whole lot about ... boats. Toni is still doing nails on the island for clients in their homes, and is also working at All About You, a salon in Englewood. Ironically, that salon is operated by Carol Finley Babb, whose mother was Helen Finley. Helen was the owner of Helen’s Collections, an alteration and children’s clothing store on the island in the early 1980s that was located near where Palm on Park is now ... and where Toni’s nail shop was located.
“What’s funny is that we never knew the connection with Carol until recently,” Toni said. “She had barbered Rich’s hair for almost 20 years at the barber shop she also owns, called Babb’s.”
Rich and Toni met at a store called Herman’s World of Sporting Goods in August, 1974. She was a cashier, fresh out of high school, and he was a young man who was waiting for his dream to become a New York City cop to come true.
While he was waiting, he found himself filling in for a vacationing manager of the hunting and fishing department of Herman’s World of Sporting Goods at another location.
They met through Herman’s, and they were married a year later, in September of 1975.
Just a few months later, Rich was hired by the New York City Police Department. He had his uniform, he was ready to enter the academy along with a few hundred other candidates. The fates entered once again, when Mayor Abraham Beame decided to freeze the city budget. Rich was told he might get a call back in two years.
“That was when we decided to move to Florida with my family,” Toni said. “My parents owned a business on Long Island called Sundown Kennels. They bred, showed and trained Labrador retrievers, and decided to relocate to Southwest Florida and opened the Cape Pet Ranch in Cape Coral. We figured we had two years to kill, so we thought we’d give Florida a try.”
Rich applied at Cape Coral Police, the Fort Myers Police Department and at the Lee County Sheriff’s Department for a job. They all called him back within two days.
He chose Lee County. So when, two years later, New York City PD called him back, he graciously declined.
View More images >>“Just three years later, we were living in Boca Grande,” Toni said. “We thought our world had been turned upside down and Rich’s dreams were crushed forever when he had to return that NYC uniform. But, as they say, when you think things are falling apart, they are really falling into place.”
The couple had two beautiful daughters, Gina and Theresa, while living in Florida. Toni’s first job here was working for the city of Cape Coral in the building department as a clerk, which was where she met Braxton Bowen. He was a contractor in that area, but one day, left to go to Boca Grande. At that time, Toni wasn’t even sure where the island was, and Rich wasn’t working out here yet. He was with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office working the north Fort Myers area.
So in 1981 Rich became a deputy in Boca Grande. Just a few weeks after the Caccavale’s moved to the island, Toni ran into Braxton, just walking down the street.
“It shows that it’s a small world,” she laughed. “He became my landlord for 20 years!”
A few years later, Theresa started kindergarten and Toni decided to open a nail shop on the island.
Toni went to nail school in Port Charlotte, and in 1992 opened Island Nails in the space where Newlin’s Mainely Gourmet is now. Braxton owns the building.
“At that time I was using the whole space,” she said. “Over the years it evolved into the smaller space that I used on the side of the building.”
In the meantime, Rich was busy being a deputy and learning the ins and outs of what constituted a “police emergency” in Boca Grande. For instance, one day a woman who was very irate called the local station complaining that someone stole the radio from her car. Rich responded to the call and checked inside her vehicle.
“The radio is right here, ma’am,” he said.
“NO, it’s NOT!” she said. “There’s an empty hole there!”
He politely showed her inside the vehicle, where she had been looking at the open glove box. At her request, he then showed her how to turn the radio on.
Another time – one of Rich’s favorite memories – Mr. Barndollar called in to report a crazy turkey running around in his front yard. When Rich arrived he really did find a turkey hysterically flapping around the yard. Upon further investigation it was determined that the turkey belonged to Scooter Darna. Scooter found his pet turkey choking on a piece of food, and had tried to save the turkey’s live by giving it mouth-to-mouth rescusitation.
Back then, Whidden’s Marina actually had two turkeys named after the local deputies, and they were also honored by having their favorite sandwiches named after them in island restaurants.
Rich also learned about tarpon fishing while he was here. He bought an old boat hull in Naples, and built it essentially from the ground up. When he was done, he called it the Boca Blue. It still motors around this area today, captained by Sandy Melvin.
He also helped to captain the Moonraker with the Knight brothers. Rich got his captain’s license in 1984, and after that won the Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament two times.
To say he loves to fish is an understatement. And he is grateful to his mentor, Johns Knight, for allowing him use of that special boat and for teaching him so much.
“Our whole family loved that boat,” Toni said. “The Knight family even allowed us to pretend it was ours! Theresa was on that boat since she was just a baby, and would fall asleep in her playpen to the sound of the engine.”
The couple and their daughters lived in one of the deputy homes on Wheeler Road. They were there when Hurricane Charley hit, and found out just how close the Boca Grande community was during hard times.
“Our house had a lot of damage,” Toni said. “And the new deputy coming in, Joe Caiazza, came to look at the house. I was mortified, because it was so damaged and filthy.”
For 24 years it was their home, until a new sheriff came to town and decided that Rich Caccavale wasn’t in his plans. So Rich retired from Lee County in 2005. He worked through three sheriffs. His last job with the sheriff’s office was a peculiar one ... he brought salad dressing to one of our past presidents.
“They went on a detail to Punta Gorda airport, because the whole Bush family was leaving,” Toni said. “One of the Bushes, either father or son, wanted a special type of salad dressing from the commissary there, so Rich brought it aboard the plane for him.”
It was a sad day when they left the island. Because of the frenzy in Charley’s aftermath, the family left after 24 years with barely a whisper. And in doing so they left a huge piece of their lives behind.
The family found out that so soon after Hurricane Charley, homes were hard to come by. They rented a house from J.T. and Kathleen Turner on Spyglass Alley, just off-island, for a time.
Toni still ran her shop on the island, and Rich sold boats for a time, but when the economy turned south boat sales slowed down.
Four years after he left the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, he was approached by the Charlotte County sheriff and offered a job with the marine patrol division. He gladly recertified, and proceeded to spend several years with them, primarily patrolling the waters around Boca Grande and Little Gasparilla.
In April, Rich left the department and retired from law enforcement for good. But he’s back to selling boats, Toni is back to doing nails, but she closed her island shop earlier this year. She had been thinking about it for several years, actually, but didn’t have the heart to do it until this year.
“When she heard word I was thinking of closing, Carol invited me to join her at the salon on Dearborn,” Toni said. “After a year of soul searching about whether or not to leave the island and what to do about Island Nails, I decided to take her up on her offer. So I relocated there and will be helping out during season, or as needed.
“How ironic that her mom was in the building I occupied on-island long before any of met, and how I would wind up in Carol’s building on Dearborn where, by the way, Helen’s antique Singer sewing machine is still going strong through the talent she passed on to her daughter Cathy. Helen’s daughter Karen also works at the shop as a masseuse, too.
“After 20 years of running things alone, it’s fun to have company now.”
She does still have clients on the island and visits them in their homes, but that doesn’t make her departure from her tiny island shop any easier. To leave the place where she watched her children grow, where she and Rich were so established within the community and so loved their friends ... it’s easy to see that a large piece of their hearts still dwell on our little island.
“Boca Grande was part of us,” Toni said. “We raised our kids there. Now we are where we are ... no regrets, just beautiful memories. There is life on the other side of the bridge, but sometimes hearts stay in Boca.”
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