2020: It was … a year … ?

January 1, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – There’s a lot that can be said about the year 2020, and while we try not to dwell on bad news, not much of it was good. The best way to sum it up was like this:

In January, Australia caught on fire. I don’t even know if that fire was put out, because we straight up almost went to war with Iran. We might actually still be almost at war with them. There were weird things happening in China, then Prince Harry and his new bride, Megan, told the Royal Family they were outta there and headed for Canada or California, not sure which. Then there was the whole presidential impeachment deal, but that went away just after COVID-19 showed up in the US “officially.”

Then we had no toilet paper. For a long time.

In February, the World Health Organization gave us the lowdown on what we were possibly going to be dealing with for a very long time. We bought masks, hand sanitizer, and were still looking for toilet paper. We started to question whether Corona beer was safe to drink. People were talking about whether ingesting cocaine and smoking cigarettes would keep you safe. Some said drinking cow urine was the answer, and that vodka could be used as hand sanitizer. Either way, everyone suddenly had their medical degree and all of them agreed that COVID-19 was way worse than the COVIDS one through 18.

By the time March rolled around, Italy shut down and in the U.S. we officially had a pandemic on our hands, which no one knew how to handle since we haven’t really had one since 1918. People were still disbelieving the whole thing until Tom Hanks got sick, and he basically told everyone that the cow urine wasn’t the answer. Right about then America was introduced to the Tiger King, and because Netflix had become the new center of everyone’s lockdown lives we were all thoroughly convinced that Carol did kill her husband, but we were all still rooting for the tigers anyway.

In April we still had no toilet paper and the Pentagon said, “Oh, by the way, here’s some UFOs.”

In May we got some murder hornets, but we forgot about those because the worst happened: They canceled the professional sports. We started arguing again over whether all law enforcement officers are bad (they’re not) and whether all people of color are bad (they are not), and we experienced a lot of grief throughout the country. Some is still going on, some will be forever.

Then they found a dead whale in the Amazon Rain Forest, monkeys stole COVID from a lab and ran away with it, and a giant asteroid narrowly missed earth.

And that was just the first five months.

Here in Boca Grande, as usual, our problems were a little more sedate. We continued the debate about Gilchrist Avenue and The Promenade. We also had a little controversy about whether or not a portion of the Boca Grande residential historic district should be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and that’s still ongoing. Some people thought it was a good idea, others wondered why they would have their home nominated to a list that could very well raise their taxes, with little to no advantage, by a person from Sarasota who doesn’t own property in the district.

One part of 2020 that really stood out in the minds of the residents of our little island was the realization that we have a whole lot of heroes around us. When things started going south, Dr. Hana and the others at the Boca Grande Health Clinic worked feverishly to keep up on the most breaking news regarding the virus. They worked very hard to keep us safe, initiating a pledge system and the placement of hand sanitizing stations around town, and made sure everyone had masks. They did everything they could to educate our residents about how to be as safe as we could be.

Hudson’s Grocery owners Howard and Emily Wise started quietly dispersing food to families who were in need, because bills couldn’t be paid. The phone calls would come, and one by one cars would pull up at the side entrance to receive a very healthy portion of staple foods to feed their families. Every worker at Hudson’s helped, and it was done quietly so people who had never been at the financial mercy of the fates (or at least in such a strange predicament) wouldn’t feel so out of sorts about accepting their generosity.

Head-of-School Jean Thompson and the teachers at The Island School worked so hard to create a plan for their students to return to learning. Those who wanted to attend the old-fashioned “brick-and-mortar” way were given a safe way to do so. Other children could attend class from home. It is a system that has worked, and it is another reason for us to be grateful for the care and love demonstrated by the faculty.

The Boca Grande Woman’s Club went above and beyond. With help from their own coffers, and from other island organizations, they raised so much money to help our businesses and workers. As soon as they saw a need, they rallied and started writing checks. It was that quick, and that simple. What they did raised the heads of so many who had no idea where to find the money to pay their next mortgage payment, their next utility bill, or feed and clothe their family. To Mary O’Bannon, Vicky Winterer and all of the people who had a hand in that committee, God bless you all.

Other than the virus, it wasn’t too boisterous around here. We have tried to be as safe as we can, and attempted to follow the “keep calm and carry on” mentality. It hasn’t been easy, and our unease is sure to continue quite some time into the next year, as we pray for our friends and loved ones to stay safe, we pray for our country to heal, and we steadfastly hang onto the hope that one day, we will come out on the other side of the problems that seem to keep getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

January

‘Rescue Me, Too!’

The excitement was building and the fur was flying as 30 of Boca Grande’s most talented stars performed a musical review titled, “Rescue Me, Too!” for the benefit of the Suncoast Humane Society’s Capital Campaign.

Golf cart death ruled accidental …

The death of a 43-year-old man in Boca Grande Isles was ruled as an accidental traffic homicide, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Peer August Segelke, 43, of Blacksburg, Va., was riding on the back of a golf cart on Treasure Lane in Boca Grande Isles on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 when he fell from the back. He was transported to Englewood Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Boca Grande Health Clinic rings in the New Year with a renovation and more …

By 2019 the Boca Grande Health Clinic had approximately 1,500 patients with many needs, such as physical therapy and more exam room space, so it was decided it was time for a renovation. Not only were physical therapy accommodations increased, restrooms were enlarged, a new conference room was installed, and the Clinic Annex was given an overall fresh look.

Autopsy report of woman who died on beach released …

The death of a 54-year-old woman on a north Boca Grande beach was ruled as accidental by the Office of the District Medical Examiner. Marcella Solomon of Melbourne Beach had been staying at a home near where she was found, which was on the beach in the 5800 block of Gulf Shores Drive. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and Charlotte County EMS responded to the 911 call that came in on October 29 of 2019, as did Lee County EMS, the Boca Grande Fire Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Charlotte County deputies determined Solomon was deceased and would not allow medical professionals on the scene to confirm that. In a conversation with the Medical Examiner’s Office, it was confirmed that sheriff’s deputies in the field were not supposed to “call” a death.

The return of the Boca Grande Community Planning Panel …

It was announced that the Boca Grande Community Planning Association, Inc. (formerly known as the Boca Grande Community Planning Panel) was back, and they were looking for input from the community regarding potential changes to the island’s comprehensive plan. Community Planning Association President Peter Solmssen said that their objective is essentially the same: To “massage” the old community plan established decades ago to keep up with current issues that the island is experiencing. Solmssen also said the resurrection of the panel was due to disappointment on the behalf of some community members, who feel as though some people have taken advantage of and exploited loopholes in the Gasparilla Act. Solmssen was joined by former panel members Lynne Seibert and Ted Hoopes, as well as new member Andy Krusen.

Skip Perry, the unofficial mayor of Boca Grande

The unofficial ‘Mayor of Boca Grande’ left us …

On January 20 the birds stopped singing for a moment and the locals bowed their heads as Skip Perry passed away to be with his Tori angel. While many people have been playfully called “the mayor of Boca Grande,” if that position were real he would have been perfect for the job. After all, this is a man who crashed his car while driving five miles per hour … and flipped it. This is a man who, along with some other buddies from the organization Vietnam Vets Against the War, broke into the office of the Lt. Governor of Connecticut with every intent to kidnap him (too bad he wasn’t in his office at the time). He never got to enjoy that 2020 Toyota Supra, but he would have traded it all for one more minute with the love of his life, Tori, who passed away the year before him. He was one of the most renowned photographers of his time, and one of the best friends you could ever have. Banyan Street will never be the same now. Actually, nothing is the same without him.

A new dog park?

After the closure of the 7th Street dog park in September of 2019, many wondered if the island would ever have such an amenity again. Lee County officials said they were already making it so, at the old ballfield at the end of Wheeler Road. While the park is not completed at this time, there is hope that it will one day be finished.

11 films announced for the 2020 Boca Grande Film Festival …

The Boca Grande Film Festival was well attended, and 11 films were showcased at the event. They included “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Edie,” “Beyond the Visible,” “Yomedding,” “Motherload,” “For Sama,” “Weight of Water,” “Driveways,” “Mike Wallace is Here,” “Hesburgh” and “The Keeper.”

February

Taste of Boca Grande was a big hit (as it always has been) …

The Taste of Boca Grande was held with 18 restaurants serving the patrons at the Boca Bay Pass Club. The Brett Foreman Band played on, and the crowd loved it.

Stripping pilgrims were all the rage …   

A pilgrim striptease …

History Bytes, a program sponsored by the Boca Grande Historical Society, began their season with a stripping pilgrim. Plimouth Plantation Deputy Executive Director Richard Pickering performed for the crowd at the Fust Library Loggia, as well as his alter ego, John Howland. Howland, one of the passengers aboard the Mayflower, accompanied English Separatists and other passengers when they left England on the Mayflower to settle in Plymouth. Pickering went through his metamorphosis right on stage, including his change of clothes.

The loss of our beautiful Kiwi …

Nicole Coleman

The island mourned again as Nicole Ruth Coleman passed away on February 10. The New Zealand native was a beautiful young woman who left behind her husband, Capt. Charlie Coleman, three beautiful boys, and a legacy of love, sunflowers and a reminder to live every day to its fullest.

History Bytes with Milton Bell: The song of the whistle buoy, and hams that tasted fishy

It was old home week for History Bytes at the Johann Fust Community Library, with Milton Bell as the speaker and John Johnson, Carolyn Bell, Robert Johnson, Mary Knight Vickers and Betsy Fugate Joiner in attendance and participating as well. It’s never a dull moment when Milton is around, and he proved that point once again as he spoke of Boca Grande’s olden days.

History Bytes and the story of a beautiful little library …

The Johann Fust Community Library and its 70-year celebration was celebrated at History Bytes, at a presentation given by Johann Fust Foundation Director Bobbie Marquis, with a little help from Betsy Fugate Joiner and Trisha Lowe. Marquis told the tale of the Fust Library’s beginnings and the love that Roger and Louise Amory had for books, and for learning.

A race to the finish …

Nearly 400 runners (and some walkers) took to the streets of Boca Grande to run the annual Boca Grande 5K.

March

GICIA breaks ground at Mercabo …   

Groundbreaking at Mercabo Cove

The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association broke ground at the Mercabo Cove site, which was once the home of Mercury Test Center. When the GICIA originally purchased the 30 acres it housed nine buildings including dry boat storage, a conference center, office, small hotel, and room for 185 wet slips. The GICIA’s initial vision for this site was to completely restore the uplands to create a visually attractive native bird and wildlife sanctuary that would be forever protected from development. Once the upland restoration was completed, the GICIA began to explore the possibility of creating an aquatic sanctuary, and the Mercabo Cove restoration project was born. This innovative project was estimated to cost $2 million, and the GICIA announced that the Boca Grande community continued to support the restoration of the Mercabo Preserve site. This unique project was projected to provide enhanced habitat for juvenile snook and tarpon, the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish, and dolphin and manatee, as well as to allow native vegetation to thrive.

Deputy April Tomyn

Deputy April introduced …

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office introduced April Tomyn as part of the four-deputy team who work Gasparilla Island. While April had been on duty in Boca Grande for quite some time when her profile was published, it was the first that a lot of residents had heard of the Port Charlotte native. She is the island’s first female deputy.

Spaghetti Dog, great breakfasts lost to COVID …

The island was starting to see closures and cancellations due to COVID-19, including the spaghetti dinner that had been scheduled to fund the scholarship fund and the Methodist Church breakfasts. One day, the best grits in the world will return … one day …

A silver lining, a note of positivity …

As people of good spirit tend to do, Boca Grande residents started to find their niche in the midst of a quarantine. Many discovered a new technological tool called Zoom, and all kinds of groups of people were using it. Grande Glee started singing again, church services were online, even yoga classes were being taught. It wasn’t quite the same as the real thing, but it was the next best thing. People also started sending us photos of things they were grateful for. Walks on a deserted beach with their loved ones, time in the garden with a good book, or rediscovering their love of painting. Slowly, but surely, people were starting to adjust to a new way of life.

The passing of Bill Spurgeon … 

Bill Spurgeon

Another “great one” was lost to us on March 18 when Bill Spurgeon passed away. Bill was always active in the community, and was always serving others. He was a church deacon, an officer on a migrant mission board, he served as a volunteer firefighter since 1965 (along with his sons, Jay and Mark), then as a fire commissioner, he was a scout leader for Boy Scout Troop 90 in Boca Grande, and taught small engine repair and electronics at a private Christian school. Bill was a member of the Boca Grande Baptist Church, and an avid student and teacher of the Scripture.

April

Home is where the heart (and the health) is …

In a move that surprised many, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 2020-91, the “Safer at Home” Order, which meant that all people in the state of Florida should “limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services, or conduct essential activities.” The Order went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday morning, April 3.

Boca Grande Woman’s Club starts relief fund …

The Boca Grande Woman’s Club announced it would establish a $250,000 Emergency Relief Fund to provide immediate relief for the economic hardships incurred due to the shuttering of businesses and all economic and social activity in order to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Funds were to be available to individuals and families, as well as small business owners, employees, and independent contractors working primarily in Boca Grande to meet immediate needs such as rent payments, utility bills, car payments, or personal food and medical needs. 

The passing of Nina Houghton …

This spring a great lady of the island passed away. Nina Houghton was well-loved, and had a hand in many things that make Boca Grande what it is today. She was a key player in establishing the strong presence that the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center has today, as well as the Boca Grande Child Care Center, The Royal Palm Players, the Gasparilla Island Maritime Museum and the Crowninshield Community House. The Houghton Room (which used to be the reference room) at the Community Center bears Arthur’s name, thanks to Nina. Nina’s giving nature and kindness will never be forgotten on the island.

Missing Frank Marra …

Born in New York City at the height of the deadly Spanish Influenza in 1918, Frank Edward Marra succumbed to complications of COVID-19 on April 5, at the age of 101. The son of the late Arthur and Mary Marra, Frank resided for most of his long life in Yonkers, and had winter residences in Boca Grande and Sarasota.

COVID hit home …

A case, or cases, of COVID-19 showed up on the radar of the Florida Department of Health. Their web site showed “five or less” cases in the Lee County portion of Gasparilla Island.

Woman’s Club receives many requests for funding …

The Boca Grande Woman’s Club announced they had received more than 200 requests for funding due to the pandemic, and they were looking to raise even more money in the very immediate future.

Spark takes to the internet …

The island’s famed performers of Spark Boca Grande went public with the fact they would be entertaining not only island residents but worldwide lovers of entertainment with a livestreamed comedy by New York playwright and award-winning commercial writer Ed Gross. Eight actors were slated to participate in the first-ever quarantine comedy coming from Boca Grande.

The passing of Marguerite East, a true legend of the island …

Marguerite Agnes East passed away on April 27, at the age of 105. For many years she and her husband, William P. East, were able to travel extensively while residing in Indonesia until their retirement to Boca Grande in 1967. While living in Boca Grande, Marguerite was a member of the Boca Grande Woman’s Club and was vital in the popularity of Boca Bargains (she was also one of the founding members). Marguerite loved the island and its history, and in 1976, she developed and published a booklet about Gasparilla Island by Ann Daly Tretter, titled “Island of the Mind: Gasparilla.”

May

Safe, Smart, Step-by-Step …

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida would take “small, deliberate and methodical steps towards a more hopeful future” by declaring a “Safe, Smart and Step-by-Step” program. Excluded from the program at that time were Dade, Palm Beach and Broward Counties (places where COVID numbers were the highest in the state). The plan was to slowly get back to a place where businesses could open and people could return to work. At that time, we were still in official quarantine.

Unemployment not working …

As Gov. DeSantis announced that in May some retail shops and restaurants would be opening for limited business, some cheered and prepared to go back to work. Others looked into the faces of their family members and wondered how they were going to survive the next few weeks. Many had no return to work in sight, and the federal unemployment program was utterly failing them. Some had a complete lack of response from the system, others were denied for ridiculous reasons.

Kids Classic canceled, but donations would still be forthcoming …

Even as Capt. Sandy Melvin announced that his Gasparilla Island Kids Classic Tarpon Tournament would be canceled in 2020, he would still be giving out $20,000 in contributions from donations and from tournament coffers. The 2019 tournament was the biggest year ever, raising $42,000 for local charities, while 149 kids participated and released 82 tarpon in the three-hour tournament.

New tarpon tournament announced …

With the cancellation of the Chamber of Commerce Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament, island resident William Woodroffe decided to put together the 2020 Quarantine Queen Classic for the island’s female fishers. It was a huge hit.

2020 high school graduates …

Island high school graduates included Harley Rusher, Darian Torres, Annabelle Coleman, Andrew Hedderman, Noah Pirro, Brecken Stinnett, Savannah James, Andrew Corcoran, Nick Dowgiallo, Abigail Turner, Parker Becton, Karoline Bellamy, Cameron Hinkle, Adam Berry, Craig Conlon, John Caputo, Olivia Gibb, Sabrina Lopez and Gavin Hoeckel.

 

A stunning commitment to the community

The Emergency Relief Fund Task Force, established by the Boca Grande Woman’s Club, had quietly been at work in Boca Grande since the pandemic began. We were stunned to learn that the committee had raised and distributed funds in excess of $600,000. Assistance had been lent to 191 individuals and 28 island businesses, and as part of the effort Hudson’s Grocery had delivered food boxes to more than 170 families.

A sense of normalcy provided through howling …

Capt. Sandy Melvin announced that the annual Howl at the Moon Invitational Tarpon Tournament would go on as scheduled in May.

Frank Frazetta

Coming to Park Avenue: The Frazetta Museum …

The family of late legendary artist Frank Frazetta announced that their family’s shop would close and would be converted into a museum housing his works and memorabilia.

Win Big Waylon strikes again …

Capt. Waylon Mills once again showed them all how it’s done in the 16th annual Howl at the Moon Invitational Tarpon Tournament, winning first place with his team that included anglers Jake Poepl, Tony Scully and Chad Vandergriff. They got the first fish, and also had a double-header midway through the tournament. Second place prize money went to Capt. Steve Ahlers’ team aboard Spooked Again, and Capt. Lamar Joiner Jr.’s team on Searene took third with the last fish of the day.

More fishing, more excitement on the water …

Capt. William Woodroffe announced another new tournament in the 2020 lineup, and this one would help fill the gap the cancellation of the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament created. The first-ever El Torneo Mas Rico – The Quarantine Classic – was scheduled for June. Meanwhile, captains and anglers were getting ready for the Red Gill Tournament.

On to Junior High!

Island School fifth grader Makaila Lindsey wrote about the 11 TIS graduates who were on to bigger learning venues, including Devin Castillo, Savannah Pope, Will Duke, Jayden Hammond, Payton Martin, Ella Grinstead, Xyonn Daniels, Lucas Coleman, Jacob Coleman, Ava Foos and Makaila herself.

Jay Joiner buckle format changed …

The Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association announced that the winner of the Jay Joiner Memorial Belt Buckle of 2020 would be awarded to the winner with the most releases in El Torneo Mas Rico – The Quarantine Classic – which was to be held on the same days the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament was supposed to be held, June 4 and 5. That tournament was canceled by the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce due to the virus. In past years the winner of the belt was the captain with the most tarpon released during four tournaments in a regular season – the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, the Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament, the Red Gill Tournament and Howl at the Moon Ladies’ Night Out.

June

Little random gifts of hope …

An Illinois resident and frequent visitor to Boca Grande, Becky Hummel Kenyon wrote a letter to the Boca Beacon admitting that it was she and her family who had been part of the group who placed random painted shells in obscure hiding places around the island, with the hope they would brighten people’s day. The shells were painted with everything from smiley faces to words of encouragement like “Boca Strong.”

Gov. DeSantis proclaims “phase two” was in effect …

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Phase 2 of the “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan would begin to be implemented. That meant that all bars in all but three Florida counties – Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – could reopen with certain stipulations, which included operating at half capacity inside and full capacity outside. People who traveled to Florida would still be required to self-isolate if they were coming from a COVID-19 “hot spot,” with the exception of those traveling for work or students traveling for academic reasons, or for sports or school activities. Movie theaters, concert venues, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys and arcades could operate at 50 percent capacity, with social distancing regulations.

Jumping off the Causeway bridges not always a good idea …

Three Charlotte County boys found out the hard way that the current under the Boca Grande Causeway bridges could be deadly. Capt. Chuck Jenks had just dropped his fishing clients off at Pine Island on the afternoon of May 19 and was headed to the swing bridge to dip some crabs, when he heard screams for help from the vicinity of the middle bridge, and saw the boys in the water, in trouble. The boys jumped from the bridge at just wrong time, during a hill tide, when the current moves very swiftly. Two of the boys were headed out into open water, the third was clinging to a piling, cut up and bloody from barnacles. Thanks to Capt. Jenks, the boys learned a lesson they will never forget, but they are alive.

Our Lady of Mercy plans to expand …

A public meeting was held by Morris-Depew Associates, regarding a proposal to construct a new Parish Life Center on property at 221 W. Railroad Drive, just south of the Church Campus at 240/250 Park Avenue. The plan also included other changes to the church, including a covered walkway and more parking.

Capt. Charlie Coleman

Capt. Charlie takes top honors of the fishing season …

Even with torrential rain and storms the 2020 Quarantine Classic yielded 70 tarpon released over two days, Capt. Charlie Coleman and his team aboard Casuarina took top honors. The team that included Emily and Howard Wise, Nick Wenzel and Amber Gassman had the first nine releases of the tournament. They received prize money in the amount of $28,600. Following close behind, also with nine releases, was the second place team of Capt. Wayne Joiner, Chris Sanders, Alex Shoupe, Michael Moorefield and Trey Starling. They received a second place prize of $19,320. First fish of the first day prize went to the team on Phil-Jack with Capt. Matt Coleman. They also took the first fish of the day for the second day, and received $6,000 for each of those fish. The $6,000 prize for the last fish of the first day went to the team on Outta Line with Capt. Blake Cheske. The $6,000 prize for the last tarpon on the second day went to the Big Mouth team with Capt. Kalee Joiner. Because Capt. Charlie took the Quarantine Classic, he also took the Jay Joiner Belt Buckle.

Team Dorado

Dorado took first in Ladies Howl …

The sharks took more than their fair share of a taste of the action in the 12th annual Ladies Night Out Howl at the Moon Tarpon Tournament: At least six sharks were hooked on tarpon baits during the tournament, and that’s six tarpon that were lost for the ladies. In the end, it was a strategic move by Capt. Mark Crawford on team Dorado to fish the edge of the Pass in the shallow waters (waters with fewer sharks off the north end of Cayo Costa) with team leader, Susan Chitwood and her anglers, which included Shirin Vesely, Sophia Vesely and Angie Waters that landed the team first place in the tournament. Capt. Dave Chatham, Team Leader Jill Chatham and anglers Julianne Greenberg, Candy Brooks and Melissa Steyer took second place. It was Steyer who caught the prize-winning tarpon (the team’s only tarpon), just minutes before the end of the tournament.

Sitarah back in the winner’s circle …

One lone tarpon made it to the boat in the 5th annual Red Gill Invitational Tarpon Tournament held on Saturday, June 20, and one has to wonder if the team on the winning boat didn’t have a little help from a higher power. Capt. Chase McBride took his team of anglers that included Gordon McBride, Tracy McBride and Nick Morris to victory aboard the Sitarah, the legendary inboard that was owned by Capt. Mark Futch until his death in September of 2018.

 

The Trump Brigade …

Hundreds of boats came out for the Donald J. Trump boat parade, which was held on Sunday, June 28. The parade started in Stump Pass and wound down through the Intracoastal Waterway to the Boca Grande trestle, where a socially-distanced get-together took place.

July

A 4th with little fanfare …

The Boca Grande Fourth of July parades were canceled due to specific concerns regarding COVID-19. Business owners on the island requested that if visitors were still coming to the island for the weekend, whether to go to the beach or to shop and eat at restaurants, to please follow all protocols regarding mask usage and social distancing.

New Clinic CEO named …

The Boca Grande Health Clinic announced the appointment of Mark Driscoll as its chief executive officer, succeeding Hilja Bilodeau, who retired. Driscoll started at the clinic on Monday, July 6.

Sparking with ‘Last Love’ …

Spark Boca Grande TV actors had been rehearsing over Zoom to bring out their second livestream play, “Last Love,” written by local playwright Vincent Scarsella. The play was a “dramedy” with an inside look at senior relationships in assisted living facility. The cast of characters included Meryl Schaffer, Erica Martin, Linda Rollyson, Sally Johnson, Maggie Bush, James Martin and Elaine Skypala.

Second cancellation of Charlotte High School graduations …

Students who graduated in 2020 had already experienced one commencement cancellation, but in July it was announced the summer ceremonies that had been planned were canceled as well. The second cancellation was due to a spike in Coronavirus cases.

A right to ‘quiet title’ …

A verdict was reached in the case of residents who live along The Promenade, in the 20th Judicial Circuit Court representing Lee County. The final ruling was that the residents won their right to “quiet title” to the property. Quiet title is a term that means they have jurisdiction over the land that borders their property, and this ruling will “quiet” disputes to that in the future. However, to this day the residents have allowed “promenadors” to continue to walk along The Promenade in front of their home.

Missing Bobby Sullivan …

A son of Boca Grande – Bobby Sullivan – passed away on Monday, July 13. He was remembered in the Boca Beacon by his friend Babe Darna, who recalled playing basketball with Bobby on the 1955 team, and graduating together from the Boca Grande High School. “He was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. He always finished a job, no matter how long or difficult it was. He respected everyone he met and everyone respected him.”

Taking the Pledge …

An initiative by the Boca Grande Health Clinic called the “Boca Grande Pledge” had almost every business and many individuals sign up, stating that they would do what it took to keep the island as safe as it could be from COVID-19.

… and then code enforcement took our safety signs down …

2020 was certainly full of irony, including the fact that Lee County Code Enforcement was busy on the island taking down the COVID safety signs the Health Clinic had placed around to remind people to be safe. They visited after an anonymous complaint about illegal signage was made to their department. The code enforcement officer also took down signs for a local business that just opened, as well as a few others.

Beach Club renovations and new facilities progressing 

The Boca Beacon got a sneak preview at the ongoing renovation of The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club, as well as at the new cottages located on the old 7th Street field. The first phase of the project – to build the cottages, fitness and yoga facility and Inn Adventures – was moving along at a rapid rate, and the exteriors were almost complete. The fitness and yoga studio featuring a 5,000 square foot outdoor yoga garden and state-of-the art exercise equipment, along with a new fitness pool, were moving along as well. In all there were two new four-bedroom cottages and seven new two-and three- bedroom cottages. The cottages also have their own pool and cabana.

Let’s add a early active hurricane season to the mix …

A storm named Isaias, which had the potential to become a hurricane, was tracking in the direction of Florida – but plenty of uncertainties were still in the equation. In the end, the storm didn’t touch us.

Saying goodbye to Bill …

William “Bill” Taylor Hinman passed away on July 11, leaving many friends on the island feeling sorrow at his loss. Bill came to the island in 1973 as a Lee County deputy, but eventually returned to Fort Myers. But the Boca Grande sand in his boots and the many friends he had made here brought him back, and he worked and performed the music that he loved here for 40 years. He was featured at the Boca Grande Club, The Theater Restaurant (later PJ’s) and private parties and weddings. You may also remember Bill from his day jobs at Nabers Chevron, The Gasparilla Inn & Club and as Manager at the Inlet Motel.

 

August

A new face at the Chamber of Commerce …

Orlando girl Lilly Taylor came to Boca Grande to be the next executive director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce.

Feisty blacktip takes a bite …

An Iowa man went home with an interesting Florida story when a blacktip shark bit his arm while he was fishing. As he attempted to release the shark, it bit his left forearm. In the end, he was fine.

New wastewater facility ...

The Gasparilla Island Water Association announced that the ongoing project to renovate the island’s wastewater treatment facility was moving along. The project included two new concrete tanks and installation of equipment, purchased by GIWA, including a new state-of-the-art treatment system. The most recent update revealed that 48 concrete trucks delivered 450 yards of concrete for the slab for two new concrete tanks. The work was completed in one night.

Boca Grande primary results …

The Lee County Board of Elections announced the results of the primary election for the island’s precinct, held on August 18, and Boca Grande stayed true-to-form with its Republican vote. The Board of Elections reported 261 total ballots were cast in the Lee County portion of the island, including 173 Republican votes and 71 Democratic votes. There were 17 non-partisan votes. Island voters chose Kevin Ruane over Michael Dreikhorn by 130/19 in the County Commissioner District 1 race. County-wide Ruane took the lead with 62 percent of the vote. In the District 3 race Ray Sandelli triumphed over Nick Batos, 106/32. In the District 5 race Frank Mann received 115 votes, compared to Steven Haas who received 28 votes. Overall in Lee County Sandelli won the primary with 62 percent of the vote. In the Lee County Sheriff’s race, Carmine Marceno received 132 votes, compared to Jim Leavens who received 31 votes. County-wide Marceno took the vote with 69 percent.

September

Back to school in a whole new way …

Overcoming adversity was key for the first week of classes at The Island School, as 60 students and staff headed back for a particularly interesting new scholastic year. Changes in the school’s daily schedule due to the virus included students walking themselves to their individual classroom’s external door, where their temperature is taken. Each class stays in the same room all day, with minimal contact with anyone other than their teachers (no other students). The students take lunch outside in small groups or in their classrooms, and wear masks throughout the day when they are indoors.

The loss of a great boat builder …

The island mourned the loss of George Luzier, a premiere boatbuilder who created some of the finest tarpon boats to motor in Boca Grande waters.

Island resident creates chalk mural, island deputies hose it down …

A chalk mural down the length of Banyan Street became a bone of contention one August Sunday morning. The mural, painted in water and chalk, said “Black lives matter” in multi-colored letters. According to Lee County Sheriff’s Office reports, the artist who created the mural (who was also a resident of Banyan Street), said it was an expression of “peaceful, non-violent protest.” The artist was notified that the Department of Transportation owned the road, and that they would be removing the artwork at the request of the manager of Lee County DOT, Doug Busbee. They did, however, let the artist finish her work before washing it away, and advised her that a permit would be needed for future chalk creations on public roadways. According to Lee County Public Information Manager Betsy Clayton, though, there is no such permit. The official statement issued by the artist was that, “She was simply exercising her right to a peaceful protest using a non-destructive medium (chalk).”

 

Spark TV and the Boca Boys …

A new Spark TV sitcom was in the works. It was called “Boca Boys,” starring Jerry Edgerton, Dan Headington, Roger Lewis, James Martin and Wesley Locke. It was aired frequently throughout the pandemic, and the fans loved it.

What’s this nomination about?

An otherwise sleepy September in Boca Grande was stirred up with the news that segments of the residential downtown historic district had been nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, and that a presentation was to be made to the Lee County Historic Board before residents were notified. While Lee County Principal Planner Anthony Rodriguez made assurances that no action would be taken at the meeting, the fact that it was on the agenda without anyone in the district being notified made some people in the community take notice … and not in a positive way.

The nomination was brought in front of the board by Mikki Hartig, a Sarasota resident and historian who has worked with Boca Grande projects in the past. Hartig did not name who asked her to file the nomination paperwork, and at the Lee County meeting she asked board members to propose a motion to accept it … which they did not.

Tower talk on hold …

Lee County authorities postponed a meeting that was scheduled for September 18 at the Boca Grande Ballfield Park about a proposed communications tower that could potentially be placed there. The county said they would have further details soon about a new meeting date and potential ways people could participate virtually. The proposed communications tower is needed to enhance the safety and welfare of the community by boosting the capabilities of Lee County’s Department of Public Safety, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Boca Grande Fire Department.

October

Historical Society receives a rare gift indeed …

A call to the Boca Grande Historical Society turned into a real treasure of a find. The caller said he had early documents from the American Agricultural Chemical Company, the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway, the Peace River Mining Company, the Boca Grande Land Company and its successor, the Boca Grande Corporation, the companies that established commercial Boca Grande. Several of the books of original documents have now arrived in Boca Grande, constituting one of the most bountiful treasure troves of new island information found in a very long time.

Signs of a return to “normal” …

Lee County announced that the Boca Grande Community Center and the Johann Fust Community Library would be opening back up, after months of closure due to COVID. There were still stringent safety guidelines in place, but the move seemed like one of the first steps back to a new “normal.”

Sam Murphy Park gets a fresh look for GICIA birthday …

The Gasparilla Conservation and Improvement Association announced that the restoration of the Sam Murphy Park was complete. The work was done to honor the GICIA’s 50th anniversary in 2021. Landscape architect Mary Ellen Flanagan of Tropical Landscapes, was hired in August to design and implement a beautiful new landscape plan, with the help of Luis Mendoza of Gasparilla Landscape Service.

Friends begins new season with a virtual financial presentation …

Friends of Boca Grande hosted their first program of an unpredictable season with Boca Grande resident and Wall Street investment banker Jim Runde’s talk titled, “The Economic Report: Coping with the Pandemic.”

Bocapalooza 2020 takes place with a smaller, more casual gathering …

To say it was a small, refined group of Bocapalooza-goers who gathered this year would not exactly be accurate – a small group, perhaps. Refined? Well … not as much. Either way, the group of people who call Boca Grande their hometown, ranging in ages from single-digits to … higher double-digits … got together and made the best of things. The cruise that was originally planned obviously did not work out in this wonderful year of COVID.

New information comes to light regarding nomination …

An interesting matter arose in the case of the nomination of portions of the residential historic district of Boca Grande to the National Historic Register, and it even had Lee County’s attorneys scratching their heads in puzzlement. The most recent revision of the nomination that was turned into the Department of the Interior in Tallahassee showed Gilchrist Avenue no longer listed as “not applicable,” colored with a “non-contributing” color and listed as nothing more than a “public space” or “plaza,” but instead was showed in green … a color change that meant the nominator’s intention was to have it listed as contributing. This new change flew in the face of everything that had been purported about the Gilchrist median strip’s part in the NHR nomination to that point.

A perfect match recognized …

When island resident Candy Brooks made the decision to be part of the Big Sister/Little Sister program, she was paired with a young girl named Aaliyah. The pairing worked out so well, they were honored with being named the 2020 Big Sister/Little Sister of the year by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Sun Coast program.

A different kind of Halloween …

The Boca Grande Community Center and Lee County Parks & Recreation held their annual Halloween festivities, but with a different flair. There was still a costume contest, but instead of a carnival the kids went “trunk-or-treating” from socially-distanced golf carts set up on the lawn. The Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce Halloween Walk was held as usual.

November

General election results were in …

Approximately half of Lee County residents registered at Precinct 18 in Boca Grande had already voted by mail when Election Day came. Still, almost 500 showed up to exercise their right to vote in person.

President Donald Trump received 586 votes (60.98 percent), while Joe Biden received 364 votes (37.88 percent). Candidate Jo Jorgenson received three votes. In the Congressional race for district 19 Byron Donalds (REP) received 662 votes (70.43 percent), and Cindy Lyn Banjai (DEM) received 277 votes (29.47 percent). In the state Senate race for District 27 Ray Rodrigues (REP) received 681 votes (72.68 percent) in comparison to Rachel Brown (DEM) who received 256 votes (27.32 percent). In the state Senate race for District 76 Adam Botana (REP) received 675 votes (73.05 percent) while Anselm Weber (DEM) received 249 votes (26.95 percent).

In the Lee County sheriff’s race, current sheriff Carmine Marceno (REP) received 689 votes (74.89 percent) while Robert Neeld (DEM) received 201 votes (21.85 percent). NPA candidate Michael “Coach Ray” Qualls received 14 votes (1.52 percent) and NPA candidate Carmen McKinney received 16 votes (1.74 percent). Marceno won countywide, and will continue on as our sheriff.

Historic Preservation Board ruled 4-2 against nomination …

The Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board voted 4-2 against supporting a nomination for a portion of the Boca Grande residential historic district to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places at their monthly meeting in November, after a public hearing was held and contention and confusion about the nomination was obvious. However, the matter still had to be heard before the Lee County commissioners in December.

Hurricane Eta stopped by …

Hurricane Eta thought we were so nice, she stopped by twice. The storm brushed our part of Florida as a tropical storm, then wobbled her way back around to brush the coast with high winds and lots of rain.

GICIA announces Bike Path renovation …

The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association announced that work to restore the GICIA Walking Path had begun. The 3.5-mile sand path, which was exclusively designed for walkers and runners, was being refurbished with 30 loads of coarse sand.

December

A 60-day extension …

At their monthly meeting, Lee County Commissioners unanimously voted that the nomination of the Boca Grande historic residential district to the National Register of Historic Places should be remanded back to the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board’s custody, in order to remove the Gilchrist Avenue element from the equation. They also asked that another public hearing be held in front of the local board prior to it being heard in commission chambers again. Commissioners said if the process could not be completed in 60 days, the action they would take would be denial.

Tree lighters …

The Boca Grande Woman’s Club chose Mary O’Bannon, Jean Thompson, Dr. Lauren Hana and Joe Wier to be the honorary Community Christmas Tree lighters, in recognition of their tireless work to help the community during the pandemic.

The Christmas Star …

One of the prettiest Christmas displays on the island wasn’t found on the ground, but instead was in the sky. Many turned out to see the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, about 45 minutes after sunset. The 2020 great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was the closest since 1623 and the closest observable since 1226.