‘Mother was Grande Marshal’ … hence the hats — Star Ford Whitney and Mills Ford reflect on 50 years in Boca Grande at History Bytes

March 8, 2019
By Marcy Shortuse

Star Ford Whitney and Mills Ford, brother and sister who first came to Boca Grande in 1960 for spring vacation with their mother, Eleanor Ames, and her husband John S. Ames Jr., were the featured guest speakers at an event held on Wednesday, March 6. The presentation was part of the Boca Grande Historical Society “History Bytes” events held each season at the Johann Fust Community Library.
“Eleanor was a true lady – she was the most fascinating, beautiful, elegant, funny woman – just a great person,” said Betsy Joiner before she introduced the speakers.
Star recalled that in one of the first years they came down, they stayed in the maid’s quarters of a little house, and they used old rusty bikes to explore the island.
“One of the highlights for us in those days was going to Miller’s Marina tackle shop and buying packages of red pistachios – our mother always caught us because of the red dye on our hands,” she said.
Mills said spending time on the island as teenagers wasn’t very exciting, but he admits it didn’t take long to get hooked.
“Part of the problem was there was nowhere to go to meet other people our age at the time,” Mills said. “But we were very creative.”
Each year when they returned, they’d find out who was on the island by looking at a list The Gasparilla Inn would post on who was staying in the hotel and what room they were in.
“And in those days there were no keys, because nothing was ever locked,” Star said.
She talked about the history of the Ames family, and how they were in the business of making shovels.
“The shovels were used to build the railroads in Boston, and I’m sure some were used to build the railroads down here,” she said.
Eleanor was widowed at age 55, and full of energy, she became involved in the community and held wonderful parties for which she was well known.
“Mother would find most of the acts for her parties at the Laff-a-Lot,” Star said. “The parties always had a theme … there was puppet show, a magician and a disco party where the neighbors showed up wearing tinfoil.”
Mills recalled that he and his mother were kicked out of The Temp bar one afternoon for laughing and being too loud.
“Mother was also known for her hats,” Star said. “She was Grande Marshall of the parade one year, and she wore five of them – all stacked up on top of each other.”
Star said her mother adored Mark Futch, and he would insist on picking her up from the Tampa Airport runway whenever she would fly here to visit.
“He’d taxi up to a huge jet, we’d grab our luggage and off we went – those were the days.”
The siblings shared memories of how active their mother was with the Boca Grande Woman’s Club, especially when the Community Center was in terrible disrepair.
Star said that when she is at her northern home, she finds herself pining for Gasparilla Island.
“If you spend time here, at some point you fall in love with Boca Grande,” Star said.
“There is no place I know of quite like it,” Mills added.
The History Bytes programs are free and open to all and are sponsored by U.S. Trust.
If you are interested in sharing your experience in Boca Grande, contact Betsy Joiner at the Boca Grande Historical Society at (941) 964-1600 or visit bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com.