Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Friday, April 29, 2016

Nick Heinemann, Marathon

"I made it to the Keys in August of 2015. Like many others down here, I decided to sell all that I owned. My decision to move to Marathon, was one of those where you just throw caution to the wind. I had no job to come to, no place to live, I knew no one and had $2500 in my pocket. 

Being newly single, I decided it was worth the risk. After a 3 & 1/2 day drive from western Colorado, I found what I needed. The ocean. I purchased a sailboat and moved aboard it on my second day here. Living on the water ever since.

I have been fortunate enough, to do some truly amazing things in my life and through my own determination and efforts. I have seen parts of the world that others fear to tread or always dream of.

Always keeping in mind that being humble in your accomplishments, tends to bring more interest in you as a person.

The Keys are where I am supposed to be. Life is different here but in both a miraculous and good way. There is a peace here, unmatched by any other place on earth.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Marshall Merriman, Islamorada

“I grew up in the Keys. I went to Key Largo School, PKS, and Coral Shores.

I moved out of my dad’s place at 18 onto a sail boat here at Robbie’s. I want to sail and circumnavigate the world; it will be me, my dog Maui, and a surf board. I want to go to Hawaii and New Zealand the most. I am saving up now and getting my Captain’s license. I don’t plan on getting rich, I just want to chill.

When I was 18, I bought my sailboat. It was a derelict, which means it didn’t really run or sail very well. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get it from Miami to the Keys. A tropical storm hit right after we started back to the Keys and we got lost at sea for 6 days; it was me and a couple of friends. The storm tore my sails up and broke my Rutter, so we were just kind of stuck. We lived off of peanut butter, jelly, and rum.

I did have an EPIRB on board that worked so we pushed it and that is how they found us. I tried flares and stuff, but there wasn’t anyone out there to see them. We just waited to be found by the Coast Guard; we were like 15 miles off shore. 

The lesson I learned? Make sure your motors work. Yea, I could of watched the weather too, but I didn’t really care at the time, I just wanted to get my boat down here.”

HOK “You were the invincible 18 year old, nothing was going to happen to you.”

“Well, nothing happened to me, I’m here. I got some gashes and stuff, but they are all healed and I’m ok!”

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mitchell Molina, Islamorada

“I moved to the Keys to get out of my mom’s house in Pembroke Pines, Fl. 

I have an amazing roommate and friend. I was fortunate and met a friend only a couple of months ago. He let me stay at his house rent free for 2 months so I could get myself established. A place became available and we moved into a new place together, so he is still my roommate.

I have rented my first house and it’s on the water! This is my first time moving on my own. I feel like I am high on life. I am doing good for myself, I have my own place, I work 2 jobs so money is ok, and I have met a good girl. It feels amazing to be independent living life on my own!”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Karen Bockenstette, Marathon

“When I was 3 years old, my father got a job as a maintenance mechanic for the King of Saudi Arabia to take care of his fleet of Jetstars. I grew up in Saudi Arabia.

We traveled all over the world. 

In Ohio, I started selling homes and I met my new husband; we worked for the same home builder. We did that for the next 10 – 12 years. When the real estate market busted in 2008, I went to massage school and my husband went to Yamaha mechanic school. After he finished school he sent out his resume and got a job in Marathon. That is how we came to the Keys. I just followed!

I like the Keys. Sometimes I just need to get out though, because there isn’t a lot to do here, you get tired of doing the same things. Once we hit Homestead we hate it immediately and are ready to come back! We tried to leave a year and a half ago, but that didn’t work out.

I love how laid back the Keys are. What I was told, when I first arrived, by a boat captain was ‘The Keys gives you what you want’. He told me it would take 6 months before I would start making friends, because the people who live here don’t want to befriend someone who is temporary and not going to stay; because it’s too boring, too expensive, or whatever. He was right, I started making friends after about 6 months. My friends here are different; they are very accommodating and non-judgmental. They are up for anything. I love the people.”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dalton Newberry, Islamorada

“I spent all my summers playing baseball in Nashville. I had a job opportunity here in the Keys, so I jumped on it. I left corporate America in Nashville doing logistics and moving freight, for the Keys lifestyle, having fun and doing what I want to do. They pay didn’t change much but the cost of living is much higher here.

I have been here about 6 months now. What I am looking forward to most is women. I know, 10 – 1 odds, but there are a lot of people who move through here so you never know! I’ll meet a lot of people, it could happen.

My biggest struggle other than the cost of living is finding people I can trust. It’s hard to meet good people you can trust when you’re in a new place. I left a really wide circle of friends in Nashville and now I am like a lonesome dove.

Your reputation down here is everything. It’s a small town, nothing stays quiet. People talk. You don’t want to have a tarnished name down here, it ruins your credibility. I am part of the chamber; things are changing down here and I am young enough that I can be a part of that change, for the better. I would love to sponsor a baseball team down here for kids; that is one of my goals for the next couple of years, I just need to meet the right people and figure it out.

You have to have goals, you have to have a plan to move forward; no one likes a person who’s stagnant. I don’t. If I’m not moving forward I feel like I’m moving backwards. That’s just me.

I have a future for myself, I have a plan, and I am going to get it. Whatever I have to do, I am willing to work hard for it!”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mike Ashcraft, Islamorada

 “I say a guy carving with a chainsaw and I thought to myself “I can do that”, so I did.
I practiced every day after work until I was able to carve full time. It hasn’t been easy. I moved to the Keys about 6 years ago and have been vying for a spot; now I have this spot in Islamorada. I came to the Keys for sales, for the volume of the people that drive through.
My dream is to have a small resort on an island somewhere, where there is some surfing and fishing. I just want to carve out the resort.
The bravest thing I have ever done is step out on my own and work for myself. I used to be an iron worker; there wasn’t a future in it. There isn’t a future in this either, but I work for myself, love what I do, and can do whatever I want.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Mitchell Shulman, Islamorada

Mitchell Shulman, Islamorada
“MIOWSHU” at Rain Barrel
“I am a native of South Florida. I enjoy everything about living here!
I have loved art since I was little, but started creating seriously about 12 years ago. I really got the passion to create a couple of years ago because I realized how short life is after I experienced a great personal loss.
I came to the Keys about a year and a half ago full speed ahead. I totally changed my life. I moved where I lived, what I was doing for a living, who I was living with, and everything else about my life all at one time. I came to the Keys to follow my passion, which is my art. A complete 180!
When you do something like that, it is probably one of the most difficult things you can do, but it is also like magic. You see things laid at your feet that you never knew you needed, you see connections and energy flow your way you never knew even existed. I have changed my whole way of looking at energy and the universe, everything really.
I noticed how I affect other people when I am in front of them. I realized it isn’t just a matter of having a smile on my face but that there is more going on within our vibrations that affect others. I have been feeling the inspiration of helping other people follow their passions and telling children, and others, how important it is that they don’t just follow their passion, but when society drags them in other directions, other than what we have in our hearts, have an exit plan so when it is time, and you will know when, you can follow what is really in your heart to be happy.
I also realized this year, that happiness is inside your head. It’s in your thoughts and it comes from inside you; it doesn’t come from material things, it doesn’t come from a closet full of new shoes, or a new car and it doesn’t come from others; it has to come from yourself.”
You can find Mitchell’s work at MIOWSHU.COM

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


"You know the difference between a winner and a looser? They both pretty much go through life with all the experiences coupled together in a parallel mode. The winner only counts when he wins; he never talks about when he lost. The looser is always telling you all the shit that ever happened to him; he is so focused on the past that he forgets the present is all that matters.
Nothing bothers me. Why should it? Life is so short. I’m already past my time with all the shit I have done, it’s a miracle I’m still here. I don’t worry.
I don’t count. Math is only good for money. Remember that. Who cares if there’s really 26 and you say there is 25 or 27? It doesn’t matter, it only brings on stress. Stress is a killer! Stress doesn’t just kill you mentally or physically, it kills your drive, it kills your initiative, it kills your creativity, it kills everything! It’s the price of what life takes, don’t take it!
Do you know what being a human being means? It’s all about the being part. We aren’t doers, we aren’t complex, we are simple. It’s being; being in the moment at all times. That’s life, the present. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist yet; all that is real is the present. Don’t lose your present.
We are only in control of one thing in our life; how we respond. How do you respond to what just happened? How do you respond to others? How do you respond to the weather? Exercise the control you’re given, your responses. Think about how the world would change, maybe not to everybody, but to you!"

Monday, April 4, 2016

Barry, Islamorada

“I tell people I have had a great childhood, and it’s been a long one!

I was born in Black Creek, Florida which no longer exists. It’s now Cutler Bay. I have been in and out of the Keys for 40 years.

I have never had a job a day in my life. I had a great career racing motorcycles, I played guitar and drank the beer, I have fished and sold the fish, I had a pet store, and now I am starting a key lime and pineapple nursery. I take care of my dad and Coco here takes care of me. My dad taught me to never lie, cheat, or steal. I did all of that, but in the end, dad was right.

I have dove every piling of the Seven Mile Bridge, the Long Key Bridge, the Channel 5 Bridge and the Channel 2 Bridge. I have circumnavigated the Keys, starting at the beginning, Biscayne Bay or Key Biscayne, out Government Cut to the ocean, past the tail end buoy (which is past the Tortugas on the ocean side}, then back up the bay side up and out Jewfish Creek and back up. I have been all the way around all the islands on both sides. I haven’t had my greatest adventure yet though!

Don’t ever leave the Keys, it’s a big mistake.”

Friday, April 1, 2016

Brandi Gardner Wolf, Tavernier

We lived at Holiday Isle until I was five or six years old. My grandfather, Ed Goebel actually built Holiday Isle. My dad, Terry Gardner, worked there and we lived on property in one of the rooms. For a kid, that was amazing! My brother Chad was 14 months older than me, and we thought it was fun growing up at Holiday Isle. We had friends who came back to the resort every year. We knew people from all over the world, because they stayed at the resort. We remained friends with a lot of them all of our lives. Chad and I were in the first commercial for Holiday Isle; playing on the beach. I wish I could find a copy of that!
"Holiday Isle before the Tiki Bar was built"
They called all of us kids who lived there the “Dock Rats.” We were always wearing our speedo bathing suits. I must have owned about 7 of them; one for every day of the week! It was all we ever wore, because we were always in the water. We only had to put on real clothes if we were going somewhere. We were always outside, going on excursions and adventures. We never just sat in the house and watched TV. There was just so much to do outside; exploring the mangroves, swimming, fishing. There wasn’t much here at that time. I mean, really. My grandfather would say to us kids, “Here’s a quarter, go play in the street.” And we did! We would play out in the middle of US1, and sometimes it would be hours before we would see a car. There was just no traffic.
Our big treat was to go to Mr. Pete’s Ice Cream Parlor for ice cream and hamburgers. It’s where the Shrimp Shack is now. We loved Mr. Pete’s! Irene & Georges’ was our department store; it was where Island Silver & Spice is now. Upstairs was the toy department, and we loved to go up there and hang out! That was a lot of fun. The Trading Post was the only grocery store we had for years. There weren’t a lot of options…no McDonald’s or Burger King at that time. My uncle moved down and he and my dad built a burger place on Bimini Row, so we had that for a while. I remember when the Howard Johnson’s opened up next door to Holiday Isle, I used to love to go over and eat their fried clam was the best thing ever. It’s funny the things you remember!
I was 4 or 5 when we got our first boat. We used to go out to the sandbar, and there was nobody else there. We were out there all the time. I remember one time, I was out by myself and the engine died. I just waited until somebody came by and towed me in. There were so few people here, everybody knew everybody, and they all helped with each other’s kids. That was just how it was. Everybody looked out for us kids, everybody helped raise each other’s kids!
We ended up moving out of Holiday Isle, and up to Tavernier near the airport. I went to Kindergarten at Coral Shores because it was the only school at the time, K-12. Then I want to Key Largo School for first grade; Coral Shores became the high school and KLS opened as the elementary school. Before I started 2nd grade, Island Christian School opened, so I went there for second and third grade. And in fourth grade, PKS opened. The Keys were growing fast about that time… we went from 0 to 100 just like that! I can’t believe the changes in that short time.

Then my mom decided that she didn’t like the education system here, and decided to send Chad and I away to boarding school. If you can believe this, they enrolled us in The Flint School, a live aboard sailing boarding school. Can you imagine putting your 10 and 11 year old kids on a ship to travel the world?! But that’s what we did. There were two boats; the TeVega, a two masted schooner, and the TeQuest, a three masted schooner. We sailed the Mediterranean Sea for 9 months. I went to 27 countries that year! I guess you could say we grew up a lot in that year. We had been pretty sheltered in the Keys, and then all of a sudden, we realized there was a big world out there and we saw and learned things we didn’t even know were going on. It was kind of scary. There was a lot more to life than deciding which speedo to wear that day.
The next year, we came back to Florida, but not the Keys. I went to an all girl private school, and Chad went to an all boys school. I didn’t do well at the girl’s school. I wanted to be home with my family. By that time, my parents had divorced and my dad moved to Oklahoma. So, I went to live with him for a while when I was about 12. Then I came back to the Keys in 7th grade. Funny story - everyone’s favorite teacher at PKS was Mrs. Brown. She taught me and Chad, she taught all four of my kids, and now my daughter has her job!
I have four wonderful children; Casey, my oldest son is 27; my daughter Alicia is 23; daughter Caitlin is 17; and my youngest son, Devin, is 16. I call them my “Fab 4.”

Chad was always so involved with my children. I used to joke that I had to have four kids to give my mom her grandchildren, two for me and two for Chad, since he was never going to have any! I did the books for Chad from the time the deli first opened. I remember for a while, I was taking classes at Miami-Dade north campus, getting my associates degree in travel and tourism. I would drop my two youngest kids off at Chad’s Deli early in the morning, because he was always there early making the bread. He would watch them and get them on the school bus for me. He helped me out so much. He loved all of my children, and always did things with them. They loved their uncle.
I was closer to Chad than anybody else. We were just always together growing up. But, at the end we actually weren’t speaking to each other. We had a falling out a few years ago…had a disagreement and I never got to fix it. I’ll never forgive myself for that. That is probably the hardest part for me, knowing I never got to make it right.
It was such an incredible shock to me and our whole family when we lost Chad. We were just literally devastation. Who would even imagine? I mean, he was 48 years old. I was in bed when I got the call from my son that night. He told me Chad had suffered a heart attack and I just couldn’t believe it. He said we needed to go say our goodbyes. I did get a chance to say goodbye. He was on the machines, and they said there was no brain activity, so I don’t know if he heard or knew I was there. But, I was holding his hand and telling him how sorry I was and how much I loved him when my daughter walked in. She said, “Look mom,” and pointed to Chad’s face. There was a tear running down his cheek. I think he heard me somehow and I’m going to hang onto that.
Right after he died I was numb. But one night, about three days later, I was looking at some old photos and I realized that nearly every one of them was of us together. There weren’t pictures of just him or just me, they were all of the two us together. There were so many memories. He had been my everything. My mom even dressed us alike when we were little! I always thought I would have time and then he was just gone. It was just so final.
I was overwhelmed and I started screaming to God, “Why? Why him? He was such a good person. Why him?” I was just so angry and I had to get it out. Then all of a sudden, I felt this calm wash over me; just like that, I felt peaceful. I’ve never had a feeling like that, to go from so angry to that incredible peace. It felt like Chad was there with me; like he was holding me, letting me know he forgave me and that it was going to be okay. It really felt like he was there with me.
Life is so short. I called everybody I knew and told them I loved them and thanked them for being in my life. I never got the chance to tell Chad “thank you” for everything he did for me, and I’ll always regret that. Don’t take for granted that you’ll always have time. Don’t wait, do it now.