BY MARCY SHORTUSE AND KELLI BECTON – Many tears have been shed this week over the passing of a true Boca Grande friend, Mark Shevitski. His death was reported early Monday morning and while not much is known as to how it happened, hearts are breaking all over the island.
He was born in Fort Myers in 1952, and moved to Boca Grande in the early 1980s. Not long after moving here he founded Gulf to Bay Properties, at a time when Jack Silcox ran a shop out of the back. He then went into partnership with Paul Kruder, and opened Mark’s Theater Restaurant. After trying his hand at that for a couple of years, he then went into landscaping business and continued to own Gulf-to-Bay Tree Trimming and Landscaping until he passed away.
His life in Boca Grande was lived in service to others. He served as captain of the Boca Grande Volunteer Department, he was the manager of Mark’s Theater Restaurant, he was the founder of Gulf-to-Bay Properties and Gulf-to-Bay Tree Trimming and Landscaping, he served on the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce for years (for many of them as president), he played an integral part in the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, he was the organist at Our Lady of Mercy for years.
Friend is a word which describes him well, yet somehow does not due him justice. Over and over you’ll hear, “Mark Shevitski was there for me when …” If someone needed a job, he would find them one. When money needed to be raised for the community, he was there. The fire department needed volunteers – he was first in line. If you needed a job, a loan, a shoulder to cry on, if you needed a volunteer, a donation, or a committee member, if you needed a margarita, a listening ear, or if you simply needed a friend – he was there.
J.T. Turner said Mark a true community leader, and said many were inspired by him. Mark managed the Theater Building and started the restaurant there, which is now called PJ’s Seagrille. Back then it was called Mark’s Theater Restaraunt, and Mark was partners with J.T.’s father-in-law, Paul Kruder, who has since passed away. It was Mark who put the big aquarium in at the bar, and filled it with local sea life. He was also passionate in making sure that local artists had a place to feature their work within the Theater Building.
“When I first came to Boca Grande in 1986, he was gracious enough to give me a job,” J.T. said. “He inspired me to make Boca Grande my home, he said I belonged here. I admired the fact that he volunteered his time throughout the community and was a family man. He was an intricate part of my decision to live my life here, and has been a positive influence over the years in numerous ways.”
Island resident Jeff Gaines said it best when he referred to Mark as, “one of the unofficial mayors of Boca Grande.” But unlike an official mayor, who would surely have taken credit for every small deed, Mark was often the driving force who was hard at work, behind the scenes, getting things done on the island. He hung Christmas lights (and often purchased them as well), he manned the radio and answered calls for the fire department and EMS, he pulled cats from trees, he moved furniture, he helped the Woman’s Club, the Boca Bunch, the Boca Grande Community Center, and everyone in between.
Kathleen, Paul Kruder’s daughter and J.T.’s wife, said he was one of the most giving people she has ever known.
“He was everywhere, behind the scenes, making a difference,” she said. “He played the organ for the Catholic Church, and he would have played the organ for our wedding but he was in it!”
Joy Wyman was his friend for 30 years, and remembers the days when she worked for Mark as a secretary in his Gulf-to-Bay Properties office.
“This tiny office was located where Terry Seitz’s – Bike n’ Beach building is today,” she said. “I had a small front desk with a huge phone with many separate lines, because Mark was so involved with the community – he wore many hats. Out of that small real estate office he ran the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce, volunteered for the fire department (it was mostly all volunteer back then) and was an EMS volunteer. He played the organ on Sundays at the Catholic Church and was a family man to Darlene and Brian. I never knew who was going to be calling that office but they always found capable help and extraordinary kindness. He would want me to crack some joke about now, like he loved to do. But I’ll just say I admired him and loved my friend very much.”
With an impish grin, and contagious laughter – the giggle that wouldn’t quit – he would call friends out of the blue, just to give them a good ribbing, share a joke, and make them laugh.
“He was wacky and fun,” said his good friend Betsy Joiner. “He was the best friend I could ever have, and his presence is sorely missed. He never needed recognition; he just did what needed to be done. It’s hard to describe in just a few words, what a difference he has made.”
Mark loved children, and spent a lot of time working with island children and their activities.
“He was truly unique, a one-of-a-kind guy,” said Ruth Amen. “He taught Cara how to ride her bike, and how well I remember margaritas and rollerblading moms night. He made the margaritas and babysat for the moms. He lived several lifetimes in one short life but what an impact he had. What a privilege it was to have known him.”
Dusty Hopkins pinned down the emotions of many when he described Mark as someone that people would fight over. If someone said they were Mark’s “best friend,” someone else would be there to say, “No, he’s MY best friend.”
“Mark and I played a lot of tennis,” Dusty said. “He was the captain on duty with the Boca Grande volunteer fire department when we were playing one day at The Inn courts when his radio went off. I remember the radio was leaning against the net. You know you are in a small town when the call goes like this:
‘Toni, this is Shelley, there is a fire at Fran’s house.’
And Mark left the tennis courts and we both knew where to go. The fire was at Fran Boyette’s house. She had tried to warm up pizza while it was still in the box, and there was lots of smoke. It turned into one of the best last minute parties on the island. Just about everybody came over after the burning pizza box was removed from the house and everyone lived happily ever after … and it was the best burned pizza party ever!”
Islander Donna Moore said that Mark was the most loyal friend one could have, and he was one of the first people she met when she bought her first piece of island property in 1979.
“He was responsible for so many acts of kindness, which took place behind the scenes – the kind of things that made a difference, yet he neither needed nor expected any recognition for,” Donna said.
His good friend Terry Seitz has a very interesting memory of Mark that he shared – they almost owned the bridge.
“Mark approached me some 25 years ago and said, ‘Terry, Florida Bridge Company is putting the Boca Grande Causeway up for sale and what do you think about getting a group together to buy it?’ Mark said he would run it,” Terry said. “Naturally, Mark and I did not have money we found everyone we knew on the island and asked them to invest. I will never forget this experience as we put together a consortium of Bayard Sharp, Steve Raville, Buzz Watkins, Richard Beachum, Don Carroll and other prominent island residents. So Mark and I went and presented the Florida Bridge Company with a $2,750,000 cash offer (to close in 30 days) on their asking price of $3.5 million. We lost the deal though.”
“It is often said that you can count your true friends on one hand. Those friends that would do anything you asked of them, without the expectation of anything in return. I cannot put into words how much Mark meant to me. He was a gentleman, a man of impeccable integrity and a true friend who helped others and gave freely of his time to other people and charitable causes. And more cannot be said of any man.”
Misty Nichols, another island friend and the director of the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association, spoke of the time when Mark cared for the property with his landscaping service.
“There were days we spoke multiple times about the most minuscule things regarding the upkeep of the bike path,” she said. “In fact, if we happened to go a couple of days without talking he’d call or drop in just to check on me. He took tremendous pride in keeping GICIA property beautiful. But Mark was my friend long before he took over care of GICIA property. He even managed to talk me into getting on the back of his motorcycle – once. It was a day I will never forget. Mark was one of the most genuine people I have ever known. He was that guy who would do anything for a friend. His big, kind, generous, heart was one of his best qualities. His absence has left a void. He will forever be missed but never forgotten.”
Kelli Parker-Becton was one of his best friends. When she needed advice, a shoulder to cry on, even a loan … Mark was there. No questions asked, no lectures … he was just there.
“Mark would set me straight without judging, or would made me laugh, and he inspired me to press on,” Kelli said. “At a particularly hard time in my life he reminded me of who I really am. He believed in me and reminded me to believe in myself. I was fortunate to have him as an influence as I moved into adulthood. He was close, like a brother, that is just who he was. Even as time passed, we could pick up the phone and with one good giggle we would be the best of friends again. He performed the ceremony and married my husband, Mark Becton and me – my ‘other Mark’ is what I called him. Even as life got busy, we would check with each other about holiday plans and such. Losing him is hard to process, it reminds me to be a better friend. If you needed a hand, or needed a friend, he was there.
Thank you, dear Mark, you remain always in our hearts.”
A Celebration of Life for Mark will be held at the Crowninshield Community House on Wednesday, April 22 at 5 p.m. Everyone is welcome.