■ BY SUE ERWIN
Every winter for the past 11 years, Phyllis Slutzky has come to Boca Grande for a few months to enjoy the peaceful, leisurely living that is offered on the island.
Phyllis and her husband, Stanley, spend two or three days each week fishing with Capt. Matt Coleman, and other friends, hoping to bring home a fresh catch for dinner.
She catches to cook, and he fly-fishes to release.
“We love to fish with Matt. I cook fresh fish for dinner at least three days a week,” Phyllis said.
Phyllis and Stanley can often be seen walking around town or riding around in a golf cart with their 6-year-old Westie, Bailey.
“He loves golf cart rides,” Phyllis said. “All we have to do is pick up the key and he’s ready to go.”
Phyllis is from Rosiclare, a small town in southern Illinois, along the Ohio River. Rosiclare used to be the fluorite capital of the United States. Mining ceased when it became cheaper to import it from China.
“I still have several pieces that I keep in my garden, and they’re just beautiful,” Phyllis said.
After finishing high school, Phyllis worked as a secretary for a while, and then she attended fashion school in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
She earned a two-year degree while working full time at a bridal/designer clothing company, and she graduated as a qualified bridal consultant. She’d already made one buying trip to New York to purchase fashion accessories for the store, so that work experience brought her an array of opportunities in the Chicago area.
“I was offered positions with Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago, and with Gimbels in Milwaukee,” Phyllis said. “And I really wanted the job at Gimbels, because they were based out of New York and they had stores throughout the Midwest and the East Coast.”
Although she was competing with people who had four-year degrees, she was invited to go into the executive training program at Gimbels and stayed with the company for years while working on advancing her career.
From there she worked at Chapman’s in Milwaukee, where she had the opportunity to go from merchandising to sales promotion, which is advertising and marketing in today’s vernacular.
After that she took a position in New Orleans, where she was vice president of fashion at DH Holmes, a very high-end department store.
Within months she became corporate vice president of advertising, marketing, special events and publicity.
“I had 45 people reporting to me from 19 stores,” she said. “It wasn’t just advertising. We had special events like bridal shows and children’s shows. We also did a national catalog that was produced out of New York.”
As part of her job, she also organized big charity benefits, at which she’d work with famous designers like Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass.
“We’d have big theatrical stages set up with runways, and they’d bring their new lines of fashion, depending on whether it was spring or fall, and I used local professional models,” Phyllis said. “They were big, elaborate events that made a lot of money for charities and the arts.”
She recalls that Geoffrey Beene once said his mother had never seen any of his shows, because she refused to travel to New York. So when there was a show in New Orleans, he asked if Phyllis could help get her to attend.
“I invited her to sit at my table, which was right at the end of the runway … She was the sweetest little southern lady, wearing a simple cotton dress … It was so heartwarming, and he was just thrilled she was there.”
Although her career was very glamorous and exciting, it was also very stressful, with very long hours and constant travel. She was the spokeswoman for several stores and appeared on television quite often.
Phyllis said that every winter she finds herself wanting to stay longer in Boca Grande.
The first time they stayed for two weeks. This year, they are here for three months, and they plan to stay for four months next year.
“It’s just a perfect place,” she said. “To me, this is like being on a tropical island, but even better because of all the wonderful people and things to do in town.”
Phyllis met Stanley in Atlanta while she was working for Uptons, a department store based in Georgia with locations throughout the Southeast.
She was having dinner with colleagues, and they stopped for a drink in the lounge. Stanley approached the women and introduced himself. Her colleague was very rude to him, and Phyllis called him the next day to apologize. He asked her to lunch, and although she was reluctant, she agreed after he said: “Listen lady, I’m a great catch.”
After discovering how much they had in common, they started dating – and the rest is history.
After years of travelling around the world for her career, Phyllis decided to retire.
Before discovering Boca Grande, they spent two weeks every year in Grand Cayman. They decided they wanted to find a winter place in Florida that they could drive to and still be able to play golf and fish every day.
Twelve years ago, they were staying at a resort on the east coast of Florida, and they took a drive to the west coast to visit friends. The friends recommended a visit to Boca Grande.
“We came here for the day and had lunch at the Loose Caboose, and we realized right away how much we liked it,” Phyllis said. “So we went across the street to Boca Grande Realty and found a place we really liked. We really enjoy it here – we’ve made some very good friends on the island. As long as we are strong and healthy, we’ll be coming back.”
Phyllis regularly takes a yoga class at the Boca Grande Community Center.
This year, she helped Sue Spurgeon organize and plan the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust Boca Grande fundraiser at The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club.
“It’s such an important organization, because they don’t just study the health of the fish in the ocean; it’s the entire ecology.”
In mid-March they’ll head back up to their home in Atlanta and to their 3.5-acre farm in Mineral Bluff, Georgia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they spend weekends.
Phyllis has many outdoor hobbies, including gardening, and she practices farm-to-table dining almost every day. She doesn’t eat beef or pork but prefers seafood or poultry at most meals.
“I’ve always been interested in my own nutrition and where my food comes from, and I believe in holistic medicine,” she said. “I like to grow my own herbs. I have a salsa garden, and I also have plots of beans, beets, okra and asparagus, and then there are the fruit trees.”
Phyllis and Stanley enjoy range shooting, and they added a small shooting range on their property in Mineral Bluff.
Even though they’re both proficient in the sport, they still attend gun safety classes.
Phyllis has three stepsons who all live in Altanta.
She and Stanley are the proud grandparents of nine grandchildren.
Phyllis said she’ll go back to Atlanta with some great memories from this season and will look forward to returning to Boca Grande next November.