Salmon always return to the same river where they were hatched. It doesn’t matter if you pick them up and move them to a different location, they will eventually come back to their river home.
Rick Montgomery is like a salmon.
After attending the Ringling College in Sarasota, Rick was hired by the Walt Disney Company, ESPN, and found himself working in North Carolina.
“I was in North Carolina where it was cold. How do I say this?” Rick said, fighting back emotions. “It was hard. I need to be around water.”
When Rick joined the company, he went on a beach trip. “Disney gave us a trip to Myrtle Beach, and I’m excited that we got to go back to the ocean. I had already been up there a couple of months and I thought I can’t wait to get there. I’m just going to dive in that water. We get there and the water is murky, and it looks dirty to me. Everybody is diving in and I’m thinking, ‘Man, don’t they know there’s something wrong here?’ I thought that I was getting a beach fix, but this made it ten times worse. Now I’ve got to get home.”
And that’s what Rick Montgomery did. He spent the next ten years planning his eventual return home to Gasparilla Island.
“When I was doing those jobs, I tried to get into every department. I wanted to learn about audio. I wanted to learn everything I could about cameras, lighting, editing, and shooting. I couldn’t come back down here and do what I did if I didn’t have those learning experiences.”
Born in New Orleans but raised in Boca Grande since the age of 2, Rick had an idyllic childhood.
“My parents ran the Temptation from 1969 to 1992, so that was like my home. We had an apartment up above the Temp and a house in Venice, but I would not leave the island for any reason unless I had to. I spent pretty much my whole life here. There are no words to describe it, but it was incredible.”
Listening to Rick reminisce about his island youth conjures visions of a time gone by, Mark Twain-like children, running barefoot around the island like they owned the world. Rick admits that the island kids were close.
“I remember the kids on the island were not only best friends, but they were also family. Back then, we didn’t have our island elementary school. Our school was in Englewood and to me, that was like going to a foreign land. It was traumatic for a kindergartener or first grader in that environment. Every once in a while, you’re going to see your Boca Grande family, your friends, and even though you don’t always get along with them all the time, they’ve got your back. They’ve got your back to this day.”
Because Rick is a Boca Grande Island Boy, he is a font of knowledge for all things Boca Grande-related. The first question was about the iguana situation.
“Oh my gosh! I think there’s a couple of stories going around, but I’ll give you my version of this. I went to Fort Myers one day and I bought four, spiny tail iguanas from a pet store. I came home and man, they got nasty on me. I went down by the ball field because I used to walk our German shepherd down there. I’d take him and just let him go because there was nobody around. I brought them down there because they were just nasty, and they were biting. I just couldn’t deal with it.”
Yes, it is true. Rick Montgomery just might be the inadvertent origin, “Ground Zero” if you will, of the iguana “situation” in Boca Grande.
“I let them go and I didn’t go back for quite a few weeks. I eventually took my dog back out there and I saw one had grown. He ran across the path and then, well, the rest is history. I don’t know for sure, but that’s right when it started and that’s the species that’s here, I believe.”
To continue with the salmon analogy, salmon migrate to the oceans to mature before they can make the long trek back home.
Rick attended Ringling College in Sarasota because he was fascinated by the field of computer animation.
“With this degree, I had the option of doing special effects for movies, which I did in my internship. I interned at Universal in Orlando, and I did some special effects for some feature films. It was exciting, especially seeing your name in the credits. But I wanted television.”
After graduating from Ringling College, Rick was hired by The Walt Disney Company and ESPNU, where he worked for more than 10 years.
“I was a senior animator. It was an amazing place. My career was taking off. I got to work with ESPN Sports Network and so I was doing Monday Night Football, crashing helmets, the 3D animation; I loved it.”
The entire time Rick was building his career, it was always with an eye towards finding his way back home.
“It was hard for me to leave Boca Grande. I had this amazing career going. I remember walking into one of my coworkers’ office offices and she had a reggae playing and pictures of these beautiful islands up on her wall. I would just go in there and reminisce. I would look outside, and it would be snowing, this was when I was in Charlotte, NC. I would be thinking, ‘There’s something wrong here. I can’t do this.’”
One day, the solution fell into Rick’s lap. “I was sitting in a meeting with a bunch of executives, and they were talking about how we need a presence online and how we have to have our television online. Oh my gosh, right in that meeting, boom, a light went off. I could finally see my way to get back home. That’s how it happened.”
At that moment, Island Television was born.“I stuck it out in North Carolina. It was an amazing job, to work with absolutely incredible people, but coming home was always on the radar.”
Now married to his beautiful wife, Tracy, the Montgomerys have three children. “Caitlin is our daughter, and she is living in Asheville, NC. We have two sons that are now home with me. Tyler is in college, he’s pre-med. Jacob is the youngest, he’s 16.”
Rick saw an opportunity to combine his passion for computer animation and television with his hometown of Boca Grande.
“In addition to doing Island TV, I work for a company called Sharecare. This is fascinating because we’re creating the human body in virtual reality for Doctor Oz and CNN. You put the headset on and you’re literally inside the body. You’re looking at the heart, the lungs, the brain; you can go inside the body. It’s a training tool for Harvard, Yale and some of the big-name schools are using this software to train their medical students.”
It was through Sharecare that Rick got the green light to come back and launch this programming along with Island TV, where Rick does all of the work out of his home. “We cover the tarpon tournaments, the bike path parade, and all of the events on the island. It’s opened doors for me to do some other things here on the island, including work with the history center, especially with Jim Blaha, who’s been a joy to work with.”
The residents of Boca Grande have been delighted to have their very own Island TV and are pleased that the channel is focused exclusively on all things related to Boca Grande. “We don’t try to include all of the people from surrounding areas but try to keep it hyper-focused and local.”
Averaging between 1,300 to 1,500 views a day, bocagrandetv.com has been a hit. Originally wanting a soft launch, Rick said it took off immediately.
“The word just spread, and it was like drinking from the fire hose. We were doing a boating show for a while with Captain Tom Healy. He would show the route, how to get there and he’d say to avoid this area because it’s kind of shallow sometimes. When people were watching it, they were watching it on their cell phones while they were navigating. They were grateful to have that information.”
In addition to Island TV and Sharecare, Rick has been active with the Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to give a shout out to Gary over at the Chamber because we’re working together. We’ve got exciting things planned.”
Now that he’s home where he belongs, Rick is focused on preserving the rich history of Boca Grande and preserving memories and sharing stories of his childhood. He frequently works with the Boca Grande History Center, and loves to collaborate with people like Jim Blaha on special projects, such as the “Island Icons” series.
“I had no boundaries here as a kid, or at least it didn’t feel that way. I would pool hop in every pool on this island with my friends. It didn’t matter if the tenants were home or not home, we’d open the gate in the pool. Of course, we never did any destruction or anything like that, but we would swim in their pools on hot summer days.”
When asked if anyone ever reported the pool interlopers, Rick answered with a laugh, “No reports. I remember them looking out their blinds sometimes and kind of waving. My mom could always call one of the other local moms to find me, but we have the run of the island. Back then, the depot was abandoned, and we had a fort in there. We also had a treehouse on Banyan Street.”
Life has come full circle for Rick Montgomery. From Ringling College, to work at Walt Disney World, ESPNU, Fox, CNN, then back to his island home of Boca Grande, where he is excitedly planning the upcoming Bocapalooza reunion, Rick is more than happy to take the island life over the glamorous life any day.