They visited during the winter months of February, March and April when their home state of Wisconsin was still covered in snow.
“It was freezing up there, and perfect down here,” said Chris. “That’s when I started looking at positions with departments in the area.”
Chris was born and grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., the second youngest of 12 children.
“It was kind of like the Brady Bunch,” he explained. “They each had five children, and lost their spouse. They got married, and they had me, then my younger sister. I have eight sisters and three brothers altogether.”
All of his siblings still live in the Milwaukee area, and even a gathering of just the immediate family can be a little overwhelming.
“There were more than 50 of us last time we all got together,” he laughed. “They were all teens by the time I was born, and everyone moved out when they finished high school. I became an uncle for the first time when I was 2, and I have lost track of exactly how many nieces and nephews I have now.”
During his junior year of high school, Chris joined the Army Reserve.
“I went to basic training between my junior and senior years,” he said. “I ended up in Fort Benning, Ga. After I finished basic and advanced training, I was part of a basic training unit. We were assigned to go to Texas if we were needed, but while I was there, we were never activated.”
The year that he graduated from high school, the Gulf War began.
“I got the National Defense Ribbon for that one,” he said. “We actually never got called up, since the war was over so fast. But George H.W. Bush approved the ribbon for the entire military. By the time the war in Afghanistan started, I had finished my eight years and was out.”
Chris’ father was also in the military. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 16. The Iowa boy traveled the world before he retired.
“He walked onto the beaches of Japan during World War II,” said Chris. “After that, he was part of Chesty Puller’s 1st Marine Division in Korea. When he came home from that, he retired and became a federal meat inspector.”
That was how Chris’ parents met. He was an inspector, and the single mother of five worked for Patrick Cudahy in Wisconsin.
After their marriage, Chris’ father continued to work, while his mother became a stay-at-home mom to what would quickly become a dozen children.
“She had to make two meals for every dinner,” remembered Chris. “It was the only way to make enough food for all of us.”
After Chris started middle school, his mother went back to work part-time.
When Chris graduated from high school, he moved on to Louis University in Illinois, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He met his wife while working a summer job in a grocery store.
“I was working two jobs that summer, in a factory in the morning, then in the evening, I was a stocker in a grocery store,” he said. “Stephanie was a cashier at the store. We went minigolfing for our first date, and I am pretty sure that I won. I do know that I wouldn’t have thrown the game. Three years later, right around Christmas, I asked her to marry me. We’ve been married for 18 years now.”
Almost as soon as he was out of college, Chris was working for the Dane County District Sheriff in Wisconsin. Seventeen years on, he is still happy with his career.
It even provided him with one of his hobbies: playing the bagpipes. “The police and fire departments got together and started a piping group,” he said. “We were all beginners, learning from scratch.”
Chris still has his pipes, though he admits that he is a little rusty.
In 2006, he became a full-time Floridian when he took a position as deputy with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department. Things were a bit different than the late winter and early spring vacations the family had enjoyed before.
“We moved down in May,” he explained. “May 8 was my first day on the job in Lee County. It was HOT.”
Within a couple of weeks, he had been transferred to working nights, perhaps the only escape from the heat of Florida’s summer.
There were still a couple of things to … get used to.
“I couldn’t figure out how they plowed the dirt roads during the winter,” he laughed. “Then it hit me that there wasn’t any snow, so there wasn’t any plowing. Also, the mosquitoes were as big as quarters.”
But even monstrous blood-sucking insects couldn’t keep Chris from doing his job.
“I worked in North Fort Myers,” Chris said. “It was pretty busy. There was a lot of drug activity and crime. I just went out and did what I could to help the good people in the area.”
After six years patrolling the streets of Fort Myers, he got a call out of the blue from Lt. Jeff Corkhill.
“He said that they needed someone out here on the island, and I had a good record, a good file and he thought I would be a good fit,” said Chris. “I was surprised and shocked.”
Corkhill was looking at several deputies to fill the position on the island, but about three weeks later, Chris got the news. He and his family would be moving to the house on Wheeler Street on Gasparilla Island.
They moved in late January, the height of season.
“It really wasn’t that there was less work to do on the island, but it was different work,” he explained. “Mostly it was the parking issues and golf carts that it took a little while to get used to.”
“We had been on the island before a few times,” Chris said. “My wife loves it here, and my daughters had a blast running around in the golf cart this summer. They both started school at Lemon Bay this year.”Chris has gotten in on the local fishing action.
“Emily and Howard Wise sponsored a boat for us in the Howl at the Moon Tournament,” he said. “I caught my first tarpon that night. I have no idea how big it was, because we were so focused on getting it to the boat and released as quickly as possible.”
His youngest daughter Marissa followed in his footsteps in July, when she took second place in the BoMo Memorial Fishing Tournament with a 300-pound shark. Both daughters, Ashley and Marissa, play competitive soccer with a team in Venice.
Stephanie, Chris’ wife, works as a labor and delivery nurse at Cape Coral Hospital.
“It’s a long drive, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds,” said Chris. “She works three 12-hour shifts each week, and she has her family over there if she needs to rest rather than driving back here.”
The family has two dogs, Chloe and Sophie.
“We rescued Chloe, a boxer, five years ago from the Humane Society of Lee County,” said Chris. “We think she is around 11 years old now. I tell people that I blame Sophie on Chloe. She is the perfect dog, so we wanted another boxer. Sophie was rescued by Rescuing Animals in Need, and we adopted her when she was a puppy.”
Even with season over, Chris is still finding his job interesting.
“When they brought the two manatees down to the island to release them, that was interesting,” he said. “I had never seen anything like that.”
Besides, even when it is a bit slow on land, there is always the boat.
“We monitor the manatee safety zones and do safety and vessel checks,” Chris said. “A lot of what we do just involves being visible. If we are out there, people slow down, especially in the bayou. But we also respond to calls, which can take us into Charlotte County water. In cases like an accident, it just matters that someone gets there quickly, not who it is.”
For now, Chris plans to spend 13 or so more years with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, then maybe he will become a snowbird.
“My dream is to split the year between Wisconsin and Florida,” he said. “My wife has other thoughts. She wants to go to Tennessee or North Carolina, somewhere in that area, for winter. We’ll see.”
Until then, he will play the pipes, stay loyal to his Wisconsin teams and patrol the wild streets of Lee County.
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