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Items filtered by date: May 2015
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:25

When times get really hectic

When times get really hectic, we often have to pause and ask ourselves if we are keeping up.  Most people want to ‘meet the test’ and participate in the process of life to the maximum extent possible.

The question, though, is what criteria we judge this process by.  If we’re saying keep up with the Joneses, then the criteria must be material acquisition and the recognition we get from displaying the accouterments of wealth – those ubiquitous symbols of achievement that seem to define a substantial chunk of Americana.  And why not?

We’re a country put together by a large number of disenfranchised Europeans.  The Irish, fleeing from English hegemony, the Italians – most of whom just wanted the opportunity America offered, or, the Eastern Jews – leaving behind the historical legacies of religious prejudice. Most early immigrants came from a place where certain types of ownership were denied them either because of who they were or how they thought.

Hence, modern Americans take an almost hysterical pride in buying what they want (though not always what they need).  Everywhere you look today-TV, magazine ads, newspapers, even signs on the sides of our public buses - reminders that consumption = success are visible.

On the other hand, new age liberalism has produced a few in our generation who believe that the process must be spiritual.  Operating on principles that border on asceticism, the proponents of this mindset often lose the attention of most.  This is also understandable.  After all, when someone tells you to sit in a hot trailer and sweat because running your air conditioner is destroying the tropical rainforest, it’s hard not to let comfort reign over a philosophy that seems at best only marginally applicable to our everyday lives.

So where is a person supposed to focus their daily thought, on committing to the mainstream or joining the fringes.  For someone who thinks they can make a difference by their choices, this question becomes the anvil that  they forge their moral views upon.

While it seems so easy to take the high road of thought, or as Frost said “The Road Less Traveled”, consider that a well-worn path (this could be the Interstate you know) always facilitates quicker travel, not an insignificant fact.

I suspect that both sides have merit - both material and spiritual, because I don’t want to live in a world where it’s necessary to believe that “they’re” wrong and “we’re” right.

To me, black and white is great, but it’s like Plato’s concept of perfection – great for philosophers espousing doctrines of thought that sound meaningful, while they live amidst the largesse of material abundance and all the while knock the very foundations they stand upon. It’s intellectual arrogance and the main reason why most people today ignore scholarly thinkers.

The world for most of us is grey. Some days a dark grey and some days almost white, but grey nevertheless. Suggestions that ignore this reality are seldom followed.                             

Carl Conley, Ed.

Published in Editorial Archives
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:24

When a person frightens babies and dogs

Spring is definitely in the air.  The snowbirds are going back north and our rains are returning.  But more importantly, those of us that live here year round will start catching up on all the fun that we tend to forget when the Season is upon us.  Hopefully we’ve saved a few dollars and are looking forward more to the relaxed pace of spring and summer and less to the frantic work load we all seem to carry in the winter.

We’ll finally be able to drive to our friend’s houses without arriving feeling like we’ve been on the New York Thruway.  And going out for lunch will once again mean that we don’t have to stay for dinner.

Restaurants we haven’t been to in four months will see our faces again and the Little League field will be a social gathering place.

The Gulf finally starts warming up enough that some of us will actually go swimming and the smells of backyard cook-outs will fill the air.

It’ll be nice to walk the Beach in the morning and catch a few moments of quiet.  Yeah I know, it also means we better get our air-conditioners running or at least move our boats away from the Mangroves.  (These mosquitoes aren’t called our state bird for nothing you know).

But before the summer arrives in full force we have the wonderful respite of spring.  This is a time of renewal.  When nature undergoes a metamorphosis and new life springs forth.

I’m hoping that everyone is able to gather in some sense of springs meaning to share in the transformation of our Town.  For even though winter visitors don’t get to directly experience the way our Spring arrives, Islanders feel the changing of our season just as profoundly as Northerners do when leaves fall and mark the passage of yet another season’.

With our Spring comes the rains and water, more than anything else defines our environment. We live near the River of Grass and the Ocean. Seeing water every day we tend to forget about its’ importance. A person can go weeks without eating, sleep on the ground, wear rags and essentially do without the things that most of us hold to be essential. However, when the water runs out a human being is dead in approximately three days and that makes H2O precious indeed.

It’s like many things around us, until they’re gone we don’t really notice how important they are. We get comfortable and that’s why I like it when Islanders start emerging from the cocoon of high season. It shakes me up a bit and reminds me that all things eventually go full circle.

Carl Conley, Ed.

Published in Editorial Archives
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:23

Spring is definitely in the air!

Spring is definitely in the air.  The snowbirds are going back north and our rains are returning.  But more importantly, those of us that live here year round will start catching up on all the fun that we tend to forget when the Season is upon us.  Hopefully we’ve saved a few dollars and are looking forward more to the relaxed pace of spring and summer and less to the frantic work load we all seem to carry in the winter.

We’ll finally be able to drive to our friend’s houses without arriving feeling like we’ve been on the New York Thruway.  And going out for lunch will once again mean that we don’t have to stay for dinner.

Restaurants we haven’t been to in four months will see our faces again and the Little League field will be a social gathering place.

The Gulf finally starts warming up enough that some of us will actually go swimming and the smells of backyard cook-outs will fill the air.

It’ll be nice to walk the Beach in the morning and catch a few moments of quiet.  Yeah I know, it also means we better get our air-conditioners running or at least move our boats away from the Mangroves.  (These mosquitoes aren’t called our state bird for nothing you know).

But before the summer arrives in full force we have the wonderful respite of spring.  This is a time of renewal.  When nature undergoes a metamorphosis and new life springs forth.

I’m hoping that everyone is able to gather in some sense of springs meaning to share in the transformation of our Town.  For even though winter visitors don’t get to directly experience the way our Spring arrives, Islanders feel the changing of our season just as profoundly as Northerners do when leaves fall and mark the passage of yet another season’.

With our Spring comes the rains and water, more than anything else defines our environment. We live near the River of Grass and the Ocean. Seeing water every day we tend to forget about its’ importance. A person can go weeks without eating, sleep on the ground, wear rags and essentially do without the things that most of us hold to be essential. However, when the water runs out a human being is dead in approximately three days and that makes H2O precious indeed.

It’s like many things around us, until they’re gone we don’t really notice how important they are. We get comfortable and that’s why I like it when Islanders start emerging from the cocoon of high season. It shakes me up a bit and reminds me that all things eventually go full circle.

Carl Conley, Ed.

Published in Editorial Archives

Have you ever had one of those current experiences that make you think back?  It’s like a form of wistful remembrances.  Perhaps Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young said it best when they coined the song “Déjà vu.”  Last week when I visited Universal Studios-Orlando my main thought was to explore how  security had changed at our Florida attractions and determine the effect that those changes  would have on our tourist based economy.  I wasn’t looking for any personal revelations nor did I really expect to have any.  True to Murphy’s law these things always seem to happen when “you least expect them.”  My girlfriend seemed to think that it was really cool that we were going to two of the bigger theme parks in Florida, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  She was so excited about the rides and attractions that I actually started to look forward to experiencing them myself.    

Though born in Georgia, I lived in California for the first seven or eight years of my life.  Like most young boys, I  pleaded and begged every year to go to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Pikes Peak out on Long Beach.  Since no parents can long resist the wheedling of a determined child, every vacation season would find me in Captain Nemo’s Undersea Adventure land or hurdling down Matterhorn Mountain in a flume log. Yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs, life was thrilling and  everything seemed so new and fresh.  It was the proverbial “never a dull moment.”                   

I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but it was probably my third or fourth season in the Magic Kingdom. After rushing through two or three of the bigger rides I found myself crying.  I couldn’t understand it, but my dad did.  You see, as a grown man, he knew exactly what was happening.  Ever the subtle diplomat he asked me.  “Son, what’s wrong, aren’t you having a good time?”  As simple as that question was, I actually had  to think about it.  I should have been having a great time.  I always did before.  After all, this was Disneyland, every kid’s dream idea of fun and excitement.  And yet, all that aside, my answer was simple.  “No Dad, I’m not, and I don’t know why.”  So he put  his arm on my shoulder and we started walking, leaving Mom, my aunt , and the other cousins waiting in the line of Mystery Mountain. After a few minutes of manly communion we found ourselves standing in front of a game.  It was one of those  deals where you plunk down your cash and they hand you a machine gun powered by air.  The object was to shoot out a red star in the  middle of a target board  and win a prize.  Now, I had never played the games before.  It was always the rides and the sights that would hold my attention.  But for the entire 45 minutes it took the rest of the family to get off the roller coaster, my Dad and I stood there like fledging Capone's and tried our hardest to shoot out one of those stars… and you know what, I was having fun again.  The tears had long dried up.  When my Mom asked if we were ready to go, I was right back pitching for more dollars to blast those stars.  Of course, all good things come to an end, but I’ve never  forgotten my Dad’s explanation when I asked how the rides could be so much fun one year and seem so dull the next.  The explanation was hard to understand.  He said the rides hadn’t changed, they were still the same, but I had changed.  I guess life is really like that.  It doesn’t really matter what’s out  there that much.  It only really matters how we feel about it  inside.  Maybe Mark Twain said it best when one of his characters exclaimed, “When I was 17 my Dad was the dumbest guy in the world.  Boy, I’ll tell you, I just turned 18 and I can’t believe how much that guy has learned in a year.”                              

If you’re looking for a lesson here, Fawgitaboutit! Because I just turned 45 and when I just got off the Twin Dragons coaster at Islands of Adventure do you think I was crying?  Well, I wasn’t.  I was laughing my ass off.

Carl Conley, Ed.

Published in Editorial Archives

A friend talked to me recently about balance in life, and my mind started whirling.  Ever since I started thinking for myself, I’ve struggled with this issue.  The ancient Greeks believed the human dilemma was to bring the mind, body, and spirit into harmonious co-existence.  The Indian philosophy of Karma with its goal of nirvana rests upon this same objective.  Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity – study any of the world’s major spiritual movements and, at their core, you’ll find this principal operating.

Understanding the desirability of bringing my life into conformity with this belief has never been the problem.  For me, it’s not a question of wanting balance; it’s a matter of accepting responsibility for it.

The obstacles are subtle.  A few too many candy bars or milkshakes and there goes my body.  A little too much complacency with my TV and there goes my mind.  And, perhaps most importantly of all, too little attention to my spiritual condition and my zest for life dissipates.

I’ve worked out and ate like a vegan; I’ve used my mind like a steel trap and I’ve meditated on 12 Step programs to find God; yet, I can’t ever recall having all these elements working together in balanced proportions simultaneously.  I’ve often had one aspect working great guns.  Like the two or three times I worked out so much I was bench pressing 300 lbs. and running 6 miles a day.  In a few instances I’ve had two factors working together.  But to get all three working in tandem, now that’s a feat of Herculean size – I can’t honestly say I’ve ever managed.  What, I often ask myself, prevents me from attaining this goal?

The answer must lie within me.  Discipline my father would say.  Just say no is quite popular and, of course, joining a monastery has been suggested by some.  All joking aside, I guess I’m just human (my God, did I really say that) and couldn’t resist temptation that easily.

Yes, I will make improvements, but perfection is not for me.  Along the way I guess I’ll be like most of us, dreaming of a body by Bo-flex, a mind like Einstein and a spirit like Mother Theresa.  And in the midst of this struggle I’ll likely pause for coffee Hagen Daz, watch All in the Family re-runs and continue to dream of my arms around my soul mate on the shores of Tahiti.  Oh well, we all have to go sometime, but I’m sure glad for the delights life offers along the way no matter how imbalanced they may be.

Carl Conley, Ed.

Published in Editorial Archives
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:19

Dave Green, Island Profile

By Carl Conley

 Editor

                Legends are formed by action. Deeds with character; brought to life and embodied in the people around us. Every place has them; you know, your neighbor or co-worker, someone whose story, once heard, makes them loom larger than life. Usually they are associated with the spirit of the region where they’re born. In this manner, the anvil of community thought becomes their forge. It is here the legends are wrought.

Island life centers around the sea, and the men and women who go to Her, in pursuit of their dreams and livelihood, often obtain a form of legendary status in the minds of their friends and neighbors. Such is the case with Dave Green, a local fisherman whose life has already been the inspiration for several feature stories. To understand why, you have to go back to Dave’s parents, probably some of the earliest residents on the Islands.

Dave’s father, Frank Green, named a sizeable number of the geographic locations doting our surroundings. Consider one such site in the Back Bay - ’Starvation’.

In the comfort of the San Carlos Island home he built by hand, Dave related this tale:

                “My father was one of the first settlers on Ft. Myers Beach. When he got here there weren’t any roads at all. Back in those days, a run boat (a supply boat from Punta Gorda) came around once a week. It would bring the groceries and supplies and pick-up the fishermen’s catch. Well, this particular time the run boat broke down. My dad and his crew waited, but the run boat still didn’t show up. After awhile, they ran out of food and had to resort to eating their fish catch. That’s how Starvation Island and Creek got their names.”

Green was born on the Beach in 1925. His childhood home sat on the site where the Matanzas Inn is currently located. Green says, “Back then Old McGregor Blvd. came across on the west side of San Carlos. You know, San Carlos Island used to be part of Estero Island, but the hurricane of 1926 tore the two apart.”

What an exciting time in Island life. Change was in the air, but how much even the Green’s didn’t suspect. There were only three or four hundred residents and they all knew each other.

“My mother ran the island’s grocery store - Green’s Grocery - and my dad was a fishing guide”, said Green, and then continued; “rich people would come down on their yachts where they would live while visiting the area while my dad and others would take them fishing. Boca Grande was particularly popular for Tarpon. I always liked shallow water for Tarpon fishing though. They jump more. Boca’s deep water, and after a leap or two, they tend to sound and that’s just not as exciting.”

It’s the ease that this type of local fishing lore rolls off Dave’s tongue that catches your ear and invites attention. It makes you want to know what kind of a life he’s led. Well, his story reads like a resume for a life on the sea.

“After working with my Dad when I was growing up, I knew that working around boats was what I wanted to do, so first chance I got I joined the Navy. I was a bosun’s mate in the Pacific, working on a sea-going tug towing disabled ships. Man what a boat-220 feet overall with   42 thousand horsepower,” said Green on his experiences during World War II.

After his discharge, Green returned to Ft. Myers Beach where he obtained his charter boat license. “I ran the charter service until 1947. A red tide killed everything in the Back Bay, so I decided to take the time to study diesel mechanics. I moved to Memphis for two and a half years.”

It must have been fate that called Dave to Memphis since this is where he met his wife, Ruth. He remembers that time well. “I was working in a diner. Ruth was a nurse and after we returned back here, she worked at Lee Memorial, but she didn’t work too long since I was making great money fishing at the time.”

When asked how the fishing was back then, Dave wistfully drifted back to a by-gone era. “We caught upwards of a 1000 lbs. of snook and redfish in one day. We didn’t give a thought to depleting the resources. They seemed endless. Redfish Pass, Captiva Pass, offshore structures, just about anywhere.

“I shrimped for 18 years. In between running my charter boat I’d mullet fish. Basically, I’d charter all winter, when the tourists were down and shrimp in the summer. Now I know a lot of boats go to Texas for winter shrimping, but I was committed to Ft. Myers Beach. In Texas they don’t have to deal with the jelly (Jelly Fish), the drag is clean, but I always liked Southwest Florida better. To me it was Home with a capital H”.

Dave’s skills weren’t limited to fishing. He built a 43 foot charter boat from scratch. He named her Sea Jade and started making runs to the Dry Tortugas. “You wouldn’t believe the amount and variety of fish that we used to catch when we’d make the Tortugas’ run”, said Green, and then continued, “when I wasn’t running down south, I’d run Stone Crab traps. Some days we pull in three to four hundred pounds of claws. I needed at least a hundred pounds a day since I had to pay the boat’s upkeep, pay my mate, David Chumbley, and put gas in the boat. We were only getting $3.50 a lb. for the smaller claws and $5.50 a lb for the larger ones. But you know what, I made a good living and really enjoyed being on the water. In those days things weren’t regulated like they are now.”

Many watermen feel that increasing governmental restrictions make it hard for a fisherman to start up a business today. Green agrees with this sentiment and had this to say.

“Regulations are going too far. I’m for helping the Manatees and other marine life, but hell, they’re regulating and restricting areas that I’ve never seen a manatee in. Some of these people making the rules need to spend a little time on the water, and not just on a visit or two. They need to go out daily for a year. Then they’ll get a better picture of what’s beneficial and what’s not. People sitting in offices making rules usually don’t have the experience to know how to regulate. I’m afraid they’re going to close Hell Peckney altogether”.

You might think that after 70 years on the water, Dave would be ready to hang it up. That would be sad underestimation, for not only does Dave maintain a fleet of fishing boats outside his beautiful San Carlos Island home (that he also built by hand), he also still finds the time to entertain friends and family at the 52 Mile Marker on Alligator Alley. Here, at his camp, you’ll probably have to get airborne to find him, since most likely he’s in the back country on his airboat -”Capt. Crab”.

Wherever you find him though, most likely it’ll be around the waters that have issued their siren call to him for the better part of the 20th century.

Now it’s the 21st century and Dave is still with us, a living repository of local lore; a storehouse of what life was like here before the Beach was a tourist destination. When living by the sea meant hard work and self-reliance. A time when rugged individualism and a pioneer spirit were all a man needed. That time may be gone, but Dave Green’s still here. Holding in his mind the knowledge that our heritage was, in large part, created by the men and women who went to sea to earn their living from her bounty.

Addendum: Since this Story’s original publication, David Green has passed. However, people like him continue to be great repositories of our area’s vivid history. 

Published in Archives
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:15

Beach News Pioneers (Pt. 2)

Last week we left Dr. Jean Matthews, owner of Shoeless Publishing, as she was relating how the island had changed during her lifetime. Recently she observed how these changes filtered down to news sources.  “I noticed about two years ago that the local papers stopped covering controversial subjects.”

                 Joe Workman, who lives on the Beach with his wife Grace, and is one of our most respected newspapermen, talked about some of the reasons this may be so.

                 “It’s not easy to separate the money from the story.  This is one of the greatest problems in a weekly.”

                Workman worked for the News Press for 35 years.  “I started as a reporter and went through a series of promotions, copy editor city editor, regional, then Assistant Managing Editor, Associate Editor and finally spent my last 15 years with the News Press as a Columnist,” a job that along with City Editor he considers the best he’s had.

                 One thing is for sure his long tenure and varied positions have given him unique perspective on many issues, some of which are active and controversial right to this day.

                 “The island was a lot different back in the 60’s.  On my days off I’d go to the south end of the Beach to read and I might see 2-3 people,” he said and then continued, “back in those days most of the shops just closed down in the summer, we really didn’t have season and off-season, it was winter and summer that determined the pace of the island, about the only business open during the summer were the Surf Club, The Mermaid (now the Beached Whale) and Thompsons’ Grocery [Ed. Note: There’s one for the archives]  formerly located around mid-island.

                When asked how he compares the island then to the island now Workman didn’t hesitate,  “I’m not crazy about the rapid growth-particularly high rises-too much of the development has not been orderly.”

                 “Several factors have played a role,” he said, “but one of the reasons was encouragement by the county commissioners.”

                “The county was giving the Beach accesses away to adjacent land owners.  “They’d request that the county vacate and they would!  This continued until the News-Press crusaded against it with help from the Jr. Chamber (Jaycee’s).  This campaign brought a halt to vacating the accesses”. This statement shows how much the printed word can influence people, and, in turn, public policy.  Workman says this is a positive role for newspapers, one that he wished was taken more seriously today.  Tom Myers a respected local businessman concurs with Workman.  “At one time the News Press took island issues a little more seriously.  Now we seem to be, for lack of a better word, like a stepchild.  The only time they love us is when it’s a crisis or some kind of a juicy story.”

                Myers has a good memory for island history and his recollections of the newspaper business are no exception.

“Fran was good friends with Carol Lamb, who used to be the Editor of one of our local papers.  Of course we both knew Lou Slack from his time with The Mad Shopper.  The island was a different place-a laid back kind of community.  The people who owned and ran the newspapers were an integral part of the island’s social group.  I think a new newspaper would add to our community”.

                Workman echoing some of these sentiments remembers how Rolf Schell and Jean Workman talked about the limited capital and other problems associated with bringing the news to the Beach.  Well, Workman echoed some of the same sentiments.

                “It’s very hard to start a new newspaper.  It takes a lot of capitalization.  Another thing is peoples reading habits.  I’ve observed that even in towns with terrible newspapers, people are set in their ways.  It’s habit.  They get used to picking up a certain paper and getting them to change is tough.  If a paper is good I believe it can be done but it’s a long up-hill trip.”

                 Workman who came to Ft. Myers in 1962 and moved on the Beach in 1968 says that while “he doesn’t really remember all the newspaper people here on the Beach, since his connections were in town, he does have a recollection of a few.

                “My wife, Grace, whose father was the Episcopal Priest on the Island, worked for Ginny and Duff Brown.  They had the Mad Shopper after ‘Bunny’ Schell.  It’s now the Observer.  The Beach Bulletin was a small newspaper that focused on community news instead of being an advertising vehicle.   I used to run into Duff at the Surf Club.  He told me that a newspaper chain once said he had to sell his paper because he wouldn’t have the ability or capital to compete.  You know, not too many people know that Duff’s wife, Virginia ‘Ginny’ Brown’s mother was a very famous newspaper woman out of Philadelphia -one of the pioneering women in the business.”

                Workman also remembers when Dave Holmes was the editor of the Beach Bulletin.  “They (Dave and his staff) wrote the paper, printed it and even delivered it.  Up until a few months ago he was the editor of the Pine Island Eagle.  Now he works for the News-Press.  That’s some of the problems with newspapers-the turnover is tremendous.  I worked for the News-Press for 35 years and I’ll bet I only know about 10 now.”

                Starting on the Beach with a weekly and using that experience to segue into a job with a local daily is not all that uncommon.  Charlie Whitehead, who worked for the Naples Daily News, wrote for the Beach Bulletin from 1984-87.  He lives on San Carlos Island with his wife Debbie and their four children.  He lives in the same house his Grandparents bought in the 1960’s.  Whitehead loves being a newspaperman and his enthusiasm shines through.  He says that at one time Lou Slack when he was working the Observer was “a great character-sort of the unofficial mayor of Fort Myers Beach.  He used to play Santa Claus.  I remember when Charlie Bigelow wanted to buy Bowditch Point. Lou went downtown (which he usually never did) in his Santa Claus hat and stood up during public input and told Charlie he’d better buy the Point.”

When it comes to Beach news, Whitehead has a great memory for people who played a part.  “Barb Rae used to work at the Bulletin as Advertising Mgr.-she still lives nearby in San Carlos Park.”

                “Pam Oakes used to by the Editor of the Bulletin.  She now owns and operates Pam’s Motor City where she’s a mechanic.”

                “Joe Workman, now there’s a good guy to talk with.  He’s been around the business a long time and in many capacities.”

                Whitehead’s recollections are too numerous to list them all, but he holds a special thought for Carol Lamb, who he says was “the most influential newspaper person on the Beach until 1988.  She really went out of her way to get the news out.  She was accessible and passionately cared about what happens to people on the Beach-young and old-rich and poor”.  Lamb was a newspaper Editor for over 30 years.  She eventually left the Breeze Corporation to run for County Commissioner in 1988 which she lost by a narrow margin.

                Whitehead also expressed feeling about a reporter being close to their beat.

                “The more local a newspaper person is the better.  Living away from the Beach makes it harder to do a thorough job, no matter how hard a person may try.  When you go home to another place you’re not in this community anymore.”

                What’s the main difference between working on a big daily and a community weekly?

                “A weekly is not a scoop oriented paper-but if you work the local angles hard enough you can occasionally get a breaking story.  Before I came here the Bulletin was a family owned newspaper.  The Staff was accessible.  It’s very important that the Editor of a weekly be available.”

                Difficulties often arise getting and keeping good editorial help.  Whitehead says “this is because most weeklies are run on a shoestring.  [Boy, we’ve heard this before!]  A weekly paper is an unbelievable amount of work.  It would take a tremendous amount of dedication to start a newspaper today, not to mention money.”

                Loquacious and insightful, Whitehead has developed his own personal philosophy of what constitutes a good reporter.  “When we reporters write something good about someone or something, it’s not because we’re their friend, or, when we write something bad we’re not their enemies.”

                While this two-part attitude is in no way a comprehensive report on newspapers and reporting on the Beach, we hope that it has provided some insight on how print media arrived on Estero and San Carlos Islands and how the people involved with starting and running the papers have interacted with the social fabric of Ft. Myers Beach.  The possibilities for exploration are limitless.

                In conclusion, we’d like to leave readers with an old saying by Charlie Whitehead.

                “The job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and inflict the comfortable.” 

Published in Archives
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:13

Beach News Pioneers

“There were two things that we really wanted-a school and a newspaper.”

As Dr. Jean Matthews related this statement, the importance early islanders attributed to having a reliable source of local news moved me. Right after a school! If a newspaper ranked anywhere near a school in terms of community priority, there must have been a compelling reason, because certainly the education of children has always been a paramount consideration. Furthermore, the fact that it was a newspaper made it even more personal.

Pondering, it became apparent that the isolation felt by the 900 full-time residents attributed to the importance that was attached to having a community sounding board. For this reason there was a thirst for the printed word. People needed a forum-a place that would anchor the community spirit.  When a compelling need arises, someone usually surfaces quickly to meet it. This article presents the memories of a few who worked to bring the news to Ft. Myers Beach.

After asking a few questions, it became apparent that Rolfe “Buny” Schell figured prominently in the minds of local historians. A search revealed that Schell had moved away from the Beach, but as luck would have it, attorney Bill Shenko came up with a phone number. When contacted, Schell, now living in Dade City with his wife Lois, was more than happy to talk about his early years as the publisher of what Schell says is now the Beach Observer.

“The Shopper was started by myself and Kay Purinton who had just returned from the Pacific after a stint as a photographer for the government. She was looking for a job, so there was now a photographer on the Beach. I suggested that we do a weekly-illustrated Shopper. I called it something crazy like the Mad Shopper. Kay would take photos of all clients’ goods to sell and I’d cover the editorial part as well as set the typography. I was doing nonfiction writing at the time and had started a small publishing outfit that I called the Island Press.  I shipped out what I had put in camera-ready copy set up on an ancient machine called Varityper. (The Historical Society should have the original Varityper as I gave it to Lee Melsek, formerly of the News Press) By typing the line twice, you got right justified columns, which I used in my future books. The first one was called ‘1000 Years on Mound Key’, and was published in 1962.”

Lack of funds characterizes many start-up ventures and Schell’s Shopper was no exception. Working with antiquated equipment and always under the gun, he and Purinton gave it the good fight.

“We started with no capital and split profit after paying for the small press printing done on a 10 inch by 15 inch copy machine in Bonita Springs. You wouldn’t believe the comical snags we had in the beginning”, said Schell.

What kind of snags we asked? “Well”, answered “Buny”, ”let me tell you a good one. Sometimes when it would rain we couldn’t get the paper out because our folding machine was so big and our garage-office so small the end of the machine sat out in the yard, so we just waited until the rain stopped and then we’d get the paper on the streets.”

Despite working with old equipment and a lack of cash the venture continued to grow. After a while, the Shopper was able to afford a little more equipment. More importantly, they acquired a press, which enabled Schell to print his own papers. The larger equipment and increased business also necessitated moving into larger offices on San Carlos Island by the Beach Bowl.

Schell recalled the hectic pace of these early years. “The idea grew and soon we were splitting a couple hundred dollars for our 3-day work. I heard of a used Davidson press in Miami and Ken Lewis and I drove over in my VW bus to look at it. It was quite ancient, but hardly used, so I paid the money and we took it home, putting it in a garage which later became a real printing room, with a second Davidson and a 14”X20” press”.

Just when the business started running fairly well, Puriton suddenly quit.  “The winter of our first year publishing the Mad Shopper ended with Kay deciding to go north for the summer. She had her fill of commercial photography so she quit. I decided that I could do it by myself, so I took on the writing, photography and developing, plus making negatives to burn on the litho plates, printing and distributing. It was now a five day job, but I received all of the profits which was about five times what we started out with, said Schell”.

Now working full-time on the paper, Schell turned to developing more editorial and article content for the Shopper. This eventually led him to consider selling the weekly so he could devote more time to book publishing. “I had several people wanting to buy it, and eventually an outfit from Orlando bought it, but I was fairly well through with newspapers and worked on magazines. I remained in book publishing until about 1995. Then Jean Matthews bought my ‘Island Press’, but I really enjoyed the times I had running the Mad Shopper”, Schell fondly remembered.

What stands out in Rolfe Schell’s tale is the fact that his early publishing ventures still exist in some form today. The Mad Shopper became the Observer and Island Press, Schell’s later passion, still publishes books on the island.  Dr. Jean Matthews, who bought it from Schell in 1994, renamed it “Shoeless Publishing”. Several of her publications have sold remarkably well, particularly the remarkable book on early Beach history-”We Never Wore Shoes”.

Dr. Matthews still lives on Estero Blvd. in the house her father built in 1952. She says “growing up I always wanted to be a news reporter”. She’s fulfilled that dream in several ways, but most recently she was writing articles for the Fort Myers Beach Observer. “I used to write for the Observer on the comings and doings around town. It was entitled ‘What’s doing on Main Street.’ I’d often include historical information”

Dr. Matthews is a gold mine of information on the history of Fort Myers Beach. She remembers well the early sources of news on the Beach. “They started the Bulletin when I was in the first grade at the elementary school, sometime in the 50’s. At that time the Bulletin was ran by Ginny and Duff Brown.

The Browns were good friends of my parents, who had lived here since 1941. When asked if she remembered what the Bulletin was like at that time she replied that she certainly did.

“The Beach Bulletin was well received. Even though Duff and Ginny started on a shoestring, people supported them in spite of the fact that they weren’t a big corporation. At that time it was a full-service newspaper, like the Observer is now. The Browns would occasionally do features on historical events or in-depth stories. The residents on the island liked that and I suspect they would still like to see more stories like those. Duff and Ginny would give both sides of the story. They were the type of people who cared about Ft. Myers Beach and wanted to give people a chance to speak on the issues of the day. They were also extremely supportive of community projects. I recall they were an essential part of fundraising for our first library.”

Like ”Buny” Schell earlier, Matthews remembers several amusing stories about island life.

“I remember an early issue of The Bulletin when a public service announcement from Mildred Basset, then the principle of Beach Elementary, gave notice to the parents to be sure and have their kids wear shoes for the next several weeks because the cafeteria was being worked on”.

Matthews also remembers that the Browns took on the paper, not because they could make money but, rather, to do something that the island needed.

“We had a desperate need for a paper. After getting a school, it as one of the most exciting events to happen around here. We needed a way to get community news out. Before the paper if you found out something it was probably because Jeff Brame told you. He and his wife Ruth opened Gulf View Shops, which is now part of the Red Coconut. They had a phone and a telegram. When something happened, Jeff would jump in his red jeep and roar around the island and spread the news. If you lived on a boat, which many did, Jeff would jump in the water and swim the message out in his mouth-he was quite a character”.

According to Matthews, before there was a paper on the Beach, “we were considered the playground for Fort Myers proper”.

“Islanders wanted an identity, but the only way to get info around here was to talk”, Matthews elaborated.

Matthews also remembers ‘Buny’ Schell well. “He was a great mind - a tremendous talent. It seemed like he could do just about anything he set his mind to and not only just do it, but do it well. In 1960, when Hurricane Donna came, Buny and I wrote a book about it entitled ”The Last Big One.”

Matthews remembers the devastation of Donna well. “This hurricane was bad! In many places houses were picked up off their pilings and slammed onto the Beach”

In Dr. Matthews opinion hurricane Donna had a lot to do with the current state of Beach development.

“In the year after Donna, property started to sell like mad. The boom was on. Condo’s on the south end-people building houses left and right-I just couldn’t believe the growth coincided with the devastation of Donna.”

This sudden growth was not well received by many of the residents on the island. Many felt it contributed to the decline in social ambiance that existed in the first 60 years of the 20th century.

“When we used to get out of school and come by the Surf Club or the Mermaid, we knew whose daddy was there because we recognized every car”, said Matthews. “Entertainment used to be at people’s homes, there was a strong sense of community”, she continued.

Does this sense of community exist now? Her answer reveal her insights on current island social life. “Some people feel a sense of community, but a lot of people feel it’s gone. There are many sub-communities on this island that are viable and exist without the need to contact the other sub-communities. During the 60’s we had tremendous pressures that alienated one generation from the other. Prior to this we never locked anything up. The trust of older residents in people who moved in began to evaporate. We have far more transients today than we had then. They come for different reasons, if they come for any reason at all. It would be nice if we had some way of connecting, romance and all, but there’s just no trust”.

When asked why, Matthews was ready with an answer. “The problem is too many people in too small a space. The need to control space and possessions creates a gap between islanders. I’m afraid this is going to be an ongoing dilemma. It used to be that the dribble of folks who came to winter were our friends-we couldn’t wait to see them. We didn’t look at them as a separate group. They pitched in and helped the island work and were just generally part of the island social structure. I remember they spent hours and hours planting coconut palms. “

Matthews also feels that things get blown out of proportion today. She talked a little about this.

“When I was a kid, Lee Melsek (formerly a reporter for the News Press) and I used to swim in the back bay all the time. We didn’t have anything but raw sewage going into the bay. Heck, we only had septic tanks and leach lines. If a tourist saw some sewage today, they’d probably go crazy....

Published in Archives

Here is a little history. Including how the term ‘Leatherneck’ came to be. 

  • Most Americans are unaware of the fact that over two hundred years ago, the United States had declared war on Islam, and Thomas Jefferson led the charge!
  • At the height of the eighteenth century, Muslim pirates were the terror of the Mediterranean and a large area of the North Atlantic. Theyattacked every ship in sight, and held the crews for exorbitantransoms. Those taken hostage were subjected to barbaric treatmentand wrote heart breaking letters home, begging their government andfamily members to pay whatever their Mohammedan captorsdemanded.
Published in Op Ed
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 16:03

Get Ready For Life Without Oil

Saudi Arabia isn't the nicest ally to have. The desert kingdom just handed out a sentence of 1,000 lashes to a blogger for running a website devoted to freedom of speech. Not exactly the kind of regime we want to have in our circle of friends, especially once you figure in their financial support for Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups.

Published in Business
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