The Boca Grande History Center presents ‘The Fugate Family in Boca Grande’

August 6, 2021
By Staff Report

BY KAREN GRACE AND THE BOCA GRANDE HISTORY CENTER

The first Fugate in Boca Grande was Jerome who arrived by train and ferry in 1909 before the railroad trestle to the north end of the Island had been constructed. He came to work at the port commissary located at the south end of the Island. Jerome had been born in 1882 in Williston Florida (southwest of Gainesville), the son of Dr. Randolph Montgomery Fugate originally from Virginia and Sarah Catherine Thomas of Alachua (north of Gainesville). He was one of 11 boys.

Before coming to Boca Grande, Jerome worked at a store near Williston in Levy County and then worked for his brother at a Fort Ogden (DeSoto County) retailer. In Fort Ogden, he married Floyd Granger and before she died, as a young woman, they had a son, Bryant. Jerome also worked at the Punta Gorda post office and at the Peace River Phosphate Company commissary in Hull (DeSoto County) before arriving in Boca Grande.

After two years at the Port Boca Grande commissary, Jerome moved to the recently built Boca Grande Mercantile as manager and a minor stockholder. The Mercantile was a two-story red brick building that sold groceries, meat, dry goods, hardware and furniture.  Years later the second floor burned and was not replaced so today it is a single- story building housing the Post Office and Boca Grande Real Estate.

In 1911, Jerome married Ida Will Ormsby of Buck Key, an island near Captiva. Ida was the daughter of George Murray Ormsby of Wilmington NC and Sara Elizabeth Tomlinson of Americus, GA. The Ormsby family homesteaded the south end of Buck Key near Captiva in 1897 and farmed citrus and other fruits. Jerome and Ida had three children, Jerome Jr., Delmar and Elinor all of whom grew up on Banyan Street in Boca Grande.

While working at the Mercantile, Jerome bought a drug store originally located on Park Avenue from a local doctor and moved it to the Thompson building at the northeast corner of Fourth Street and East Railroad. According to a newspaper article by Carey Johnson in the Boca Beacon, the drug store sold everything from Vom Hoff tarpon reels to patient medicines.

“There was the prescription department in the rear and the soda fountain up front with tables and chairs down the center between the candy and notions on one side and cosmetics, cameras etc. on the other, with saddle fans overhead.”

The soda fountain and tables were the “meeting place for business, social and young lovers’ meetings in the early days of old Boca Grande. 

“Everyone’s credit was good. He (Jerome) was once quoted as saying that he was no financial expert, but he knew that if he bought something for one dollar and sold it for two dollars that he had made money.” 

Jerome is credited with originating the first tarpon tournament in 1923.  The current Fugate’s building opened in 1937 and Jerome retired in 1951.  Jerome also served on the original board of the Health Clinic and later rented space in the Fugate’s building to the Clinic.

Of the Fugate children, Bryant became a landscape architect and Elinor (Ellie) married and moved to Massachusetts. Jerry and Delmar remained in Boca Grande. Jerry graduated from the University of Florida School of Pharmacy and served in World War II before returning to Boca Grande and Fugate’s.  Delmar graduated college then worked for Macy’s in New York before returning to work in the family business. 

The Fugate sons, Delmar and Jerry, courted and married two new schoolteachers, Margaret Nevitt, of a prominent St. Petersburg family and a recent college graduate, and Geraldine Parkinson, daughter of an early Lee County pioneer family. Margaret taught eleventh and twelfth grades and married Delmar. Geraldine married Jerry and taught first grade. Hazel Presley Singletary remembers that she had both women as teachers.

Jerry Fugate took over for his father and he and Geraldine ran Fugate’s until 1987 when it was sold to John and Susan Weiner. Subsequently ownership has passed to Toby Weiner and Nancy Blank and finally in 2011 to the current owners, Scott and Jennifer Allen. In 1980, Fugate’s served as a temporary island location for the First Federal Savings and Loan of Englewood and in 1982, Italiano Insurance was located in Fugate’s. 

In 1984 Betsy Fugate Joiner managed the store for Geraldine and Jerry.  Fugate’s participated in the early Christmas walks and in 1981 won the prize for best window decoration with a display that featured Jerry Fugate with “his live mannequins. Jerry put on a great performance in his chair with his pipe and paper in hand showing off his many Christmas gift selections.”

According to long time Island visitor and resident, Peter Ffolliott, who called the store the Boca Grande Drug Store, Jerry and Geraldine added the Patio shop with Geraldine choosing the shop’s clothing and accessory lines.  He says that Geraldine “was very careful not to sell the same style dress to two different customers who might show up at the same social event.” He tells the story of Mary McLean who when interviewed at a Washington DC social event and asked where she got her beautiful gown, she replied, “the Boca Grande Drug Store.” He says that Geraldine loved this story.

Jerry and Geraldine loved to travel and 1980’s editions of the Boca Beacon reference their travels to Italy, Greece, Egypt, the Holy Land and Spain. During these travels Geraldine found items for the Patio shop as well as furthering her interests in art, architecture, history and religion. Their children, Park and Suzanne, sometimes accompanied their parents on these trips and remembered that their mother’s favorite was Greece although they also commented on a photo of Geraldine in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza “looking like an explorer.”

More of this story will cover Delmar and Margaret Fugate, their family and their “other” business, the Pink Elephant, in a future edition of the Beacon. 

Early issues of the Boca Beacon provided much of the information for this story. These issues are archived in the Small Town Papers Archives and are available at <bcb.stparchive.com>. 

To learn more about the history of Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island, visit the History Center website <bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com>, like us on Facebook, or visit the History Center at 170 Park Ave. or call 964-1600. The History Center welcomes input from all.  Please send comments or questions to bocagrandehistoricalsociety@gmail.com. This History Center Archives also invites the community to lend photographs, documents or other materials which it will scan and return to the lender.