‘Kin to almost everyone on the island’
As the sun would start setting on any given day, you might find Jo Anne Speer down at 1st Street beach. Sometimes her nephew and caretaker, Nelson, would accompany her. Other times it was her little dog.
Jo Anne passed away on March 7, 2022, in her sleep, in the house she and her husband, Bill, built on Damficare Street. While no one wanted her to leave, it was the very best way to go.
Jo Anne was born in Arcadia on October 6, 1928 to Marlan G. and Nadie (LeVines) Morgan. Her family lived on Gasparilla Island even then, but Arcadia had the closest hospital and she had to be born by Cesarean section.
The family had a little house down by Port Boca Grande (at the south end) and Jo Anne attended school in Boca Grande until she reached her high school years.
Jo Anne’s sister, Marlane, is younger, but remembers those days very well.
“It was very very difficult in Boca Grande those days,” she said. “It was the time of the Depression, and everyone did what they could. We would catch a bunch of mullet and people would gather together in a big empty lot, sometimes next to the Anchor Inn which my grandmother owned, set up tables and have the whole town out there to eat. They would fry the mullet, bring in corn bread and vegetables.That’s how they fed the town. They worked together to help each other. It makes you wonder how they make it, but they did.”
As Jo Anne got ready to attend high school, her father took a railroad job in Lakeland. Jo Anne attended Lakeland High school, then the University of South Florida.
It was also in Lakeland where she met the love of her life, Bill Speer. He was in the Navy at the time, and Jo Anne traveled with him throughout his military career. When he was discharged they settled back in Lakeland where Bill became a conductor, just as Jo Anne’s father had been.
Eventually Jo Anne and Bill moved back to Boca Grande and started Speer Plumbing and Electric. Family members believe this was sometime in the 1950s. They lived in the old Sprott house for a time, then eventually built a home on Damficare Street.
Bill and Jo Anne had been married for 35 years when he passed away suddenly at home in 1981. Jo Anne said, “When you have a marriage with someone like Bill, 35 years just isn’t long enough.”
Jo Anne continued to live on Damficare by herself until about seven years ago, when her nephew Nelson came to live with her. Even in her declining years she was still sweet and kind, and a good Methodist woman.
“I have a lot of good memories of her,” Marlane said. “She told me about the times she begged for a little sister, then 11 years later she got me. When I asked her what she first thought of me she said, ‘You looked like a red rat with a hunk of black hair.’ She thought I would like Shirley Temple and come out singing good ship lollipop.
“And she made beautiful clothes, right down to the underwear, that looked like they came from a department store.”
As Marlane said, her family was “kin to just about everyone on the island.” From the Whidden’s who owned the first grocery store where Hudson’s Grocery is now, to the Whidden’s family at the marina, to the Sprotts who ran the ferry and the Browers who ran other businesses on the island. The sand of the island and the salt in the Gulf is in their veins.
Jo Anne is survived by her sister, Marlane of the Tampa area; her nephew, Nelson (Marlane’s son); and four grandchildren named Chris, Billy, Justin and Morgan Speer.
She was predeceased by two sons – William and Jeff Spear.
A service for Jo Anne will be held on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. at the Lighthouse United Methodist Church of Boca Grande. Her ashes will eventually be scattered in the Bayou by her family.
Shown in the photo are two beautiful island ladies: Jo Anne Speer and Janell Johnson.