Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cliff and Bobbie Stutts, Tavernier

Bobbie – “We moved to the Keys permanently about 10 years ago. We lived in Miami and had a house down here for a few years before moving down full time.”
Cliff – “Me getting sick caused a lot of changes in our lives. We sold our home, sold our business, and moved to what had been our weekend/vacation cottage. Everything was about getting my health back together for about 9 years. Now, I don’t want getting sick to be my identity; I want to get past that. Let’s just say it was a life changing event, but we had a soft landing.”
Bobbie – “Believe it or not, it was a really good opportunity for us to look at our lives and evaluate what was important to us. And we realized that none of the things we had lost were important. It made us more focused. Life is more ‘distilled’ now.”
Cliff – “One positive thing that came out of it is that I probably wouldn’t have started playing music again otherwise. My background in music is that I went to school for it; I was a Grad assistant at UM, and have a masters in jazz performance. But I ended up not liking the way money and music mix together; so I did what I thought was the reasonable thing to do since I wanted to have a family, I went out and sold life insurance… Which eventually I hated! Then I ended up selling roofing tiles and learning Spanish and had a 25 year successful career. But, I may not have ever gone back to playing if I had not had this happen. So that’s a good side of it.”
Bobbie – “And we live in the Keys. This is the only place I’ve ever been where there is not a lot of attention or importance placed on appearance. People just accept each other the way they are. The people you think would be the most unlikely friends end up being the best friends. I love living near the ocean. It really is like Mayberry here. Now that I’ve lived here for 10 years, when I have to go up to Broward or somewhere like that, it’s just too many people. I don’t like it! I feel like, in a place like this, your stress level just goes way down.”
Cliff – “For me, the weather is important. The sunshine, and being outside, changes my mood from melancholy to brighter, so I try to be outside as much as possible. I like the natural environment. I would much rather live in a more rural place than an urban one. My grandfather used to tell me that it was important to spend time in a natural setting, because when humans get together, they can create false realities, and when you get outside of that you start to see things clearer. I just know that I much prefer to be in a more rural setting and I love the Keys.”
Bobbie – “We have two children, a son and daughter. Our daughter and her husband are in Sunrise. They have a daughter, our granddaughter, who is everything to us; she’s just a bright spot in everything. We just love her!”
Cliff – “And our boy is out in L.A. He’s into motion graphics for television and film. He turns 30 this year!”
Bobbie – “I went out and visited him recently. I had never been to California. It was really fun. We are so proud of both our children.”
Cliff – “Bobbie home schooled both of our kids.”
Bobbie – “It was great for us. It’s not for everyone, but it was for us. I really felt like, if my children were supposed to develop a world view of themselves, then I needed to be a part of that. I just had a really hard time with how schools are segregated by age. I mean, I would hate to walk into a room and be told, “Ok, you can only hang out with people who are 55.” I wouldn’t want that. And you’re not really training your children to be children; you’re training them to be adults. So anyway, home schooling worked for us; we did a lot of alternative education stuff. They both came out very smart, very independent, and they are good learners.”
Cliff – “She was an amazing mom and an amazing teacher. I’m proud of my family.”
Bobbie – “All of our adult lives, our faith has been very important to us. With the rough ride we’ve had the last few years…something like that can either ruin you or it can give you a perspective that’s better. You know how everybody says that everything happens for a reason? Well, I don’t really believe that. I believe that life is just life, and the important thing is that you remain the person you want to be regardless of what happens in your life. I think as far as our faith is concerned, although it has definitely been a little shaken at times, we have survived and we probably have a more realistic approach to our relationship with God. He comes through for us every time. I’m proud that we are still the same people we were even with everything we’ve been through.
I also don’t like that saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I say that when life gives you lemons, if you like lemonade, that’s great, but if not, just order a soda. You’re not stuck with lemons, just order something else. There’s always a bend in the road. I don’t like lemons!”
Cliff – “I went from being a pretty successful business person with a stay at home wife, to pretty much just being on the couch, and her having to go out and find work, and it hasn’t been easy. She worked at K-mart for a while and now she’s working as a server and bartender. She has done whatever she had to do. It’s a super big regret to me that she had to go through all that. But she doesn’t feel that way. She tells me that it’s her time.”
Bobbie – “I felt like I had 20 to 25 years to do exactly what I wanted and now I can go back to work and give him that.”
Cliff – “Well, the couch wasn’t really what I wanted! Believe me; I would have had a lot more to say when we were picking that thing out if I had known how much time I would spend on it!
It’s like back when we were in college, she’s tending bar and I’m playing bass. We’ve come full circle!”
Bobbie – “I like working. I work in a good place where I like the people and it’s rewarding. It’s physically challenging sometimes, but that makes me feel good too; knowing that I can do it. We manage. Things are easier with money, but not necessarily better.”
Cliff – “I want to see how good I can get, musically. I want to practice and practice and just see how good I can get. That is one thing I always wondered…if I had stayed in music, what I would have done with it. Well, now I have a chance to find out.”
Bobbie – “I have to confess that I am not a resolution maker or goal setter. To a large extent, I’m just about letting life happen and being who I am. I do a lot of creative stuff, like making jewelry and I want to keep doing that more and more. I lost both my parents young, so in my mind I know very strongly that we don’t have any guarantees about the future; it’s only the present that matters. You can make all the plans you want, but the future isn’t guaranteed.”
Cliff – “The older I get the less I am about teaching anyone any lessons. I prefer to just live, gently if I can. I just want to keep living the way we are. I’m happy with what we’ve got going. My family is what is most important to me.”
Bobbie – “The most important thing is to just be here now. Don’t be somewhere else in your head or your spirit. I want people to look at my life and realize that you can go through some bad stuff and get really mad at God and he can handle it. He’ll still take care of you. No matter where we’ve been on the spectrum, he’s always been faithful to us. Just hold on to the person you think you are. Don’t let go of that. And, play with your children, play games and have fun. Eat good food. Don’t take it so seriously.”

Monday, June 27, 2016

Pam Godfrey, Islamorada

"My family started coming to south Florida in 1968.  We vacationed on Singer Island when there were no high rises out there!  We would stay in a very small resort, and every morning my parents would go down to the beach and come back to tell us whether or not we could go swimming that day.  There were no lifeguards, or warnings of riptides or sharks or anything.  If they saw a barracuda washed up on the beach that had been eaten by a shark, they would say, “No, sorry kids, no swimming today.”  So we learned how to swim in an ocean that was wild and natural.  That’s where I spent my summers between the ages of about 12 and 16.  We were living in Ohio, but as I got older, bit by bit my family started moving to Florida.  

My mom and my brother both ended up living in the Keys.  I was hearing all about the Keys for years, and had to come down to visit and really find out what it was about.  Once I got down here, I found that it was very similar to the Florida I had known as a teenager, in the 60’s.  I felt like I had found the old Florida again, and I was hooked, I wanted to get back here.  It was March of 2004, I was about to turn fifty, my second marriage had just ended, and I decided, “You know what?  I’m moving to the Keys.”  I found out about a marathon in the Keys that was on my birthday and decided to start training and run a marathon in the Keys on my 50th birthday.

I was working for Fox Media at the time, and they owned and operated a station in Miami, so I went to work there.  I thought I was going to be able to work in Miami and live in the Keys.  But, I was living at MM105 with my brother and working in Miami Lakes.  The drive was almost 2 hours each way, longer during rush hour.  I did it for almost 2 months, and then one morning it took me over 3 hours to get to work.   I decided that I needed to find a job in the Keys, but I knew it was going to be tough.  You know, I was from a big city.  There were no big TV stations or big radio stations in the Keys.  There was a radio station but they had a pretty full staff at the time.  About that time Kim Cheshire left, so they had an opening for the weekends.

My brother Patrick worked for the radio station part time for a while; a lot of people down here knew him as Rick.  Apparently, he had talked to everybody there all about his sister up north….”My sister has been in radio since the 70’s…My sister works for a big TV station…My sister, my sister, blah blah blah…!”  My interview for the radio station was at Snapper’s Restaurant.  KC Stewart, the program director, had just finished his radio show there.  I went in, sat down and I remember I pushed my resume across the table to him.  He just pushed it back and said “I don’t need that.  I know all about you.  Do you want to start Saturday?”  By the way, I never got to run that marathon because a few weeks before, I was running at Key Largo park, training, and I broke my toe.  On my 50th birthday, instead of running that marathon, I started my radio career in the Keys!

It was my brother who got me into radio in the first place.  I got into radio by accident.  Radio was his dream, not mine.  My real story with radio is that I was painfully shy.  Patrick got into radio in college, working for the college station.  When I started college, he said, “Why don’t you come over to the station and hang out?”   I really hadn’t decided what I wanted to do, so I would go, hang out, and just watch.  Then one day, I was there and they needed a voice, so they stuck me on a microphone, and it was kind of fun!  Little by little, just because I hung around, I started getting thrown into stuff.  Soon, I started taking classes, and before long I was working for the campus station too.  Because I was shy, I wasn’t sure I could do it; but, it was easier to talk on a mic in a room by myself than in front of people.  I gained more confidence and started looking for jobs at other stations in town.   I went to apply at a station when I was 19, and they were very impressed with how much I knew and all I had done already to be so young…and a girl.  It was really a man’s world back then.  This station had no women at the time.  I started doing the news and gradually more and more.  I learned a lot and made all the mistakes!

I started my career in radio in 1973.  I did the “Dr. Johnny Fever” tour (WKRP in Cincinnati!)  I worked in Akron, Ohio, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Pittsburg, and Cleveland; I did morning shifts, day shifts, night shifts, whatever I needed to do.  I worked in country and in rock.  Rock is great because you can do so many different formats within the same genre.  I’ve done big band and jazz.  I’ve been a news person; I’ve been the engineer... I was the person that always wanted to learn everything.  Back in those days, media was always changing.  So every time something new would come in and they needed somebody to learn how to use it, I was always like, “Oooo, Oooo!” with my hand up, like that kid, Horshack, in Welcome Back Kotter!  I was always kind of a geek about radio.  I just liked it and thought it was really fun, and it beat work!  Why not play music for a living and have fun?  I just thought it was the neatest gig.  I got to go backstage at concerts, and I haven’t bought a cd or a record, a t-shirt, or paid for a concert ticket in almost 40 years!

I’ve had a great time in radio.  It’s been a wild and crazy ride.  And, wow, the changes I’ve seen in my years in media!  At the very first radio station I worked on the college campus, I used reel to reel tapes, a turn table, and a cart machine…I needed 3 arms!  Now it’s all computers!  I was in television for about a decade before moving to the Keys; I worked for a sign company for a while and learned a lot about outside advertising; I even worked at a newspaper for a while selling ads.  I guess I just love media!

But, I’ve really always loved radio, because it’s “theater of the mind.”  I have a vivid imagination and I’ve been running music videos in my mind since long before MTV.  When I was a girl and I would sit in my room and listen to music, I would listen to the DJ’s and the music and make little music videos in my head.  I realized that with radio you could hear what you wanted to hear and your brain could fill in the rest.  And, I just love music.  I have met so many music artists over the years, even gotten to be friends with some of them.  And living down here, we have so many amazing musicians right here in the Keys!  I tell people all the time, if you want to walk among music stars, just come to the Keys.

My life philosophies are simple.  I will not stop going until they put me in the ground.  I’m going to keep trying to make it right, keep trying to make it good, and make my life count for something.  And I pray to God that I can bring somebody a little happiness every day."

‘Life’s not about how many breaths you take, but about the moments that take your breath away.’

‘Life is like a camera; focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out, just take another shot.‘

Friday, June 24, 2016

Suzi Youngberg – Suzi’s Promoplans, Tavernier

I arrived in the Keys on November 2, 1997. My husband, Scott, and I moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee, with four cats and a bird. We had come down on a diving vacation with his family earlier that summer; we came back in September to find a place to live, and moved down two months later. We both wanted to live somewhere warm and tropical, and we had fallen in love with the Keys. Scott knew that he ultimately wanted to start playing music for a living, but he started his life in the Keys waiting tables in the “fine dining” at Lorelei. (The fine dining section was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and never rebuilt…I’ll never forget they had the absolute best clam chowder EVER!) He was fortunate to be playing music full time within a few months.
My job situation was a little different. For five years prior, I had been working as an account executive for a financial insurance company. My clients were banks, credit unions and finance companies; and my territory was the southeast USA...Seriously…Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I was on the road a lot; but I was young, and it was exciting and interesting. Scott and I had just started dating in August of 1992, so he soon became used to the rhythm of my travel. We ended up moving in together in ’94 and were married in ’95. Life was good, but we both had Caribbean Soul and tried to get to a beach every chance possible. We made several trips to Jamaica (we were married in Negril!) and frequent trips to the coast of Georgia, the Panhandle and other areas of the Florida coast. But, it was that trip to the Keys with the Youngberg’s in June of 1997 that we found the place where we were meant to live.
I remember telling my boss that I was moving to the Florida Keys and that I hoped they could use me in Florida. Looking back, it seems kind of fearless. I’m not sure what I would have done down here at the time if they had said no. But, it turned out they did need me in Florida, and I continued to do the same work, just travelling all over Florida and South Georgia. Florida is a big state, and I was still on the road a lot! I averaged 35,000 to 50,000 miles a year on my cars for almost 20 years. Over the years, the companies changed a couple of times, but the job remained basically the same. At the last one, I was Vice President. My experience and training made me one of the foremost knowledgeable people in my field in Florida, perhaps the southeast. I don’t mean to brag, it just happened because I was always learning, always reading and studying, and taking continuing education classes. I also created all of the marketing materials, and designed and maintained the website for years; and, I still design, write and publish a newsletter for them about risk management, insurance advice and compliance related topics.
After 25 years, the designing, writing and website part ended up being the only part of the job that I liked anymore; other than all the nice people I met over the years. I was just so tired of the traveling. Back in 2014, when Scott was going through cancer treatment and I was so afraid that I might lose him, I remember thinking about all the time we had spent apart over the years. I just didn’t want to waste more of my life sitting in hotel rooms waiting for time to pass. Believe me; the life of a traveling sales woman isn’t very glamorous. Most nights I was in my pj’s ordering room service and watching TV. Sometimes I would go out, but sitting in a bar alone in a strange town can have its own problems. Mostly, I was waiting for the time to pass until I could go home to my life.
This past year I made the decision to make a change. My father-in-law, Gary Youngberg, has his own promotional products company in Tennessee, Promoplans, and he offered to make me a franchise. I figured that after 25 years in sales and marketing, I certainly knew a lot about the subject! I’ve been creating sales and marketing materials, designing the company website, and handling all purchasing of marketing and promotional items for many years. And, after living down here for almost 20 years, I do know a lot of people. So, I decided to form Suzi’s Promoplans and focus on selling promotional products and providing other marketing and advertising services. Gary is so knowledgeable about promotional products; it’s kind of amazing how much he knows! I’m very lucky to have him as a mentor and partner. The business has been slow taking off, but he’s been patient and we’re starting to get more orders now.
We did the Bay Jam shirts this year! You may have noticed how the picture on the front is soft to the touch, not thick and plastic feeling. They were printed with water based, environmentally friendly ink; it’s not only soft, but it won’t crack and peel off with time. Of course, we can do the plastisol printing, or embroidery, or pretty much anything you want. Gary has connections with suppliers from his years in the business and can find the best prices without sacrificing quality, every time. You can browse our on-line catalog, but if you want something specific, just ask me and we’ll find you the best product and work with you to make sure you get exactly what you want.
When I was first starting to go out and let local businesses know about Suzi’s Promoplans, I stopped by the local radio station to talk about t-shirts and stuff. While I was there talking to Dewey, he told me they needed a sales person to sell advertising for the stations. So, I started working for Florida Keys Media. The products are just a natural fit. I’m talking to local businesses about branding and marketing anyway, so radio advertising is just another facet of the full service marketing. I can offer you anything from ink pens with your name on them to a full radio commercial campaign! It’s all about what the client needs to make them more successful.
I love working at the radio station! Florida Keys Media has eight radio stations in the Keys, with coverage from Homestead to Key West. But here in the upper Keys, it’s primarily SUN FM and Thunder Country. I work with Joey Naples and Dougie Hitchcock, Dewey Engstrom, and Kim Chesher… most of them I have known and been friends with for years, so it’s been a very nice experience for me. They have all been so welcoming and helpful. I even get on the air every once in a while when we’re out at live remote broadcasts. That’s fun! I really enjoy being on the radio! And I enjoy writing scripts for the clients’ commercials. It allows me my creative outlet.
Mostly, I’m enjoying being able to stay here in the Keys; working with local businesses and meeting local business owners. I’m able to join groups like the Upper Keys BPW, and attend Chamber events and local functions. When I was traveling all the time, I rarely got to do things like that.
Last year, Rhonda Hixson asked me to become her partner in Humans of the Keys. That has been so fun and rewarding! I have met some amazing people, and it is an honor to tell their stories. Again, it’s nice to be able to write and be creative and know that it’s reaching people. It is mostly just a labor of love. We just like telling the stories behind people in the Keys. We do offer “Business of the Keys” advertising, for a small fee. We offer a more “Human” side of advertising than a traditional commercial or article. We’ll tell the story of your business from the human side…like we’re doing with my business now! I’m proud to be part of Humans of the Keys, and love promoting the people and businesses in our community. Just let me know if you would like to tell your story!
I also try to volunteer and get involved with benefits and other charitable functions. When Scott was in cancer treatment, we got help from this wonderful community. They held a benefit for him and it was so humbling. That is one of the things I love most about living down here; we take care of our own. When someone is in need, there is a benefit. When we lose someone, there is a celebration of life. It’s just what we do, but it was a very different experience being on the receiving end. We are forever thankful because our town helped keep us going when Scott was out of work for 8 months.
We also received help from the American Cancer Society in the form of six months FREE lodging in Boston at one of their Hope Lodges when Scott had to have his treatment up there. The Hope Lodge was a miracle for us and I don’t know what we would have done without it. In an effort to repay a little bit, we are the Co-Event Leads for the Upper Keys Relay for Life. It’s a lot of work, but also fun and rewarding. This year, we exceeded our goal and raised over $30,000! Our team, Team Suzi’s Promoplans, raised over $6,000! We look forward to beating that next year!
In my “spare time,” I maintain a personal website and blog, Suzi’s World. It gives me a place to share my poetry, songs and stories; share my music, movie and TV preferences; promote local events and just have fun. I do write songs and song lyrics. Scott has arranged most of them, but I’ve also collaborated with my brother Mark on a song. Scott and I even have a few songs we sing together! That is really fun for me! These days, I'm all about enjoying life, being happy and trying to spread a little love and joy around when I can!
When we moved here, I never dreamed what a small town it was, or how much I would come to love this community. We live in a magical place. Not only is it paradise, but the people in this community care about and take care of each other, unlike any other place I know. It is special. I’m proud to be a part of such a great place, and look forward to working here and helping to make local businesses more successful. I’m also looking forward to joining and getting involved in more community groups and events, and giving more of my time to help make our little islands even better.
If you are looking for a creative approach to advertising and marketing, and if you want your brand to stand out from the crowd, call me. If you want to get your message out to people in the Florida Keys and south Miami Dade, call me. With promotional products, radio advertising, and mixed media, Suzi’s Promoplans can help you Get Seen, Get Heard and Get Found!

Call Suzi: 305-393-6830

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sharon Hamilton, Tavernier

I was born in Miami Florida and raised with my brother by our hard working, divorced mother who is my hero. She taught me a strong work ethic and that there is nothing I could not accomplish with hard work. My mother worked in Miami as an administrative assistant at the Copa Cabana. She worked with Cab Callaway, Sammy Davis, Jr. and many notable people; her stories are fascinating. She would later own a children's clothing store in the Hollywood Mall, which I believe was the first inside air conditioned mall in Florida. As young children my brother and I modeled for her store, and it turned out to be a rewarding experience I will always treasure with my brother.

I attended school in Miami, later Fort Lauderdale and graduated from Flagler College in 1985. In the fall of 1985 I started Nova University Law School in Fort Lauderdale. That's where I met my husband Michael Crimella who was a fellow student. What a great time! And, with a lot of hard work we both graduated in 1988 and took the Florida Bar Exam that same year.

Mike and I were married on May 20, 1989, one of the happiest days of my life. We both knew we wanted to live in the Florida Keys. We decided the big city and big money were not what was important to us, but a natural small town quality of life was and the Keys were the fit for us. We honeymooned in the Bahamas for a few days, but returned to the Keys because Mike had a job interview. Mike was hired as an Assistant State Attorney and we moved to the beautiful Florida Keys on June 1st, making our dreams come true.

We decided to move to Key Colony Beach in Marathon. I had not even had time to think about a job, having just planned a wedding and only being married for 10 days! Mike and I both ended up working in Marathon, he at the State Attorney's office and I worked for attorney John Conlin. Later, we both became partners with the law firm of Cunningham, Miller, Heffernan, Crimella, Hamilton & Wolfe.

Life was great and we decided to build our own home in Marathon. We did almost all of the work ourselves and my husband challenged me to tackle the electric job. I can tell you, I was intimidated at first, but up to the challenge. Thank goodness Kelly Electric was there to oversee my work. It was a great challenge that served me well later on when we built another home in the Bahamas; proof that my almost 92-year-old mother's teachings of “there is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it” were true. Of course no work in the Keys goes without an inspection. On the day of the first electric inspection, I had court in the morning in Plantation Key and came home to finish one more minor thing before Walter Jenkins, the inspector, came by the house. I climbed the ladder in my pencil skirt and had just finished when the inspector knocked on the door. He completed his inspection and, I am happy to say, he pulled out a failed inspection notice from his shirt pocket and said, “I guess I don’t need this.” (As a lawyer warning, climbing a ladder in a pencil skirt is not recommended. But at least I took off my heels!)

It was in my early years in Marathon that I began my pursuit of the protection of abused, abandoned and neglected children. Over my almost 30 years in Monroe County, I have dedicated my time to the vulnerable children in our community. I have served as the Chief Judge designee on the Community Based Care Alliance Board for the abused, abandoned and neglected children of Monroe County and the 16th Circuit Juvenile Justice Advisory Boards. The Guardian Ad Litem program submitted my name for an award for community advocacy and I received this honor from the Florida Supreme Court. I cannot think of a more honorable way to use your valuable time than to be a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem or work for the protection of these vulnerable children. It has always been my honor to work with these dedicated people.

Mike and I left our partnership in the Cunningham law firm and sold our house after learning that he had a heart condition that was unsuccessfully treated. He has had four operations that were not successful. We decided to travel in our sailboat while his health was still good and enjoyed cruising and building our home in the Bahamas. Mike and I have crossed the Gulf Stream hundreds of times having wonderful smooth crossings and some pretty rough crossings. You learn really quickly to respect Mother Nature and travel by plane if the weather does not look good for boating.

Because of Mike’s heart condition, he’s on a blood thinner. On our ten year anniversary we were heading to the Bahamas from the Keys. We were maybe half-way there, out of sight of land and were preparing to make the crossing and starting to put up the sails. I was turning into the wind and he was back by the winch, when I heard him yell. I looked back and he was holding his hand. I said, “Is it bad?” He said “Yes.” I said, “How bad? Is it call the Coast Guard bad?” He said “No.” I said “Bad enough for me to turn around and go back?” And he said yes. His finger had gotten caught in the winch, and it took a chunk of his ring finger. They had to cut his wedding ring off at Mariners and we joked about it, hoping it wasn’t an omen! With him being on a blood thinner he was bleeding freely. So I turned the boat around, got the sails down, and went through the shipping channel by myself! He was inside using a tourniquet which I didn’t know. He told me later that he didn’t want me freaking out. I called some friends and they met us with a nurse friend. We took him to Mariners. He ended up having surgery to reform his finger, but it was ok. I took the sailboat back to Marathon with some friends, and sure enough there was his finger tip, stuck in the winch. When I told him later, he said, “You should have put it on a hook and trolled with it!”

And, it wasn’t an omen; we’ve been married for 27 years! Of course, with 2 lawyers in the house, nobody wins an argument. But we don’t really argue. We enjoy bouncing things off each other and we’re a team. Everybody gets upset at their spouse, partner, child, parent, anyone in your family, about little things. Like them not putting their toothbrush away, just little things. Sometimes you can’t help feeling that feeling of frustration or even momentary anger. When that happens, I try to stop and ask myself, “If he wasn’t here tomorrow, would it really matter that the toothbrush was not put away?” And then I put it in perspective and let it go.

In 2005, I returned to work for the Monroe County court system and we moved back to Keys, this time to Tavernier. We now live on our sailboat in a beautiful marina. I never really intended to live on a boat this long, but marriage is about compromise. It makes him happy, and I’m good with it. We have volunteered for Reef Relief and mapping out coral for the Nature Conservancy. We love the water, we love to have fun and we love to help preserve the environment. Over the last 30 years I have volunteered for many organizations like Zonta and BPW in Marathon and I have recently volunteered for Bay Jam, Islamorada Bacon Fest, Islamorada Seafood Fest and the Elks Children Programs.

Over the last 11 years I have continued my dedication to the abused, abandoned and neglected children, as well as overseeing the family self-help program, the domestic violence case management program and the judicial case management programs for all types of cases throughout the county. As a result of my broad experience in virtually every type of legal case in Monroe County since 1989, (then) Chief Judge Richard Payne appointed me to serve as a General Magistrate. I served in this quasi-judicial capacity for over 10 years, presiding over trials and motions of all types and making recommendations to almost every judge in our circuit, including Judges, Taylor, Slaton, Audlin, Becker, Garcia and Ptomey. My jobs over the years have had me driving up and down the entire Keys. Back before cell phones and smart phones, I always kept a yo-yo fishing reel and a lure in the car. If I got stuck in traffic, I could always fish off a bridge!

I have a reputation for being a little bit clumsy even though I am athletic and played tennis in high school and college. My husband Mike reminded me of a couple of funny stories about my clumsiness. One is when the 16th Circuit was having a breakfast at the Women’s Club in Key West and the Chief Justice from the Florida Supreme Court attended. I had a plate of food and was speaking with my friend Jane when I tripped on the carpet, and my plate went flying, of course, all over the Chief Justice! She was very gracious and I, of course, was mortified. The second story is about a conference Raquel Galvan, as Judge Taylor’s Judicial Assistant, and I attended in Tallahassee. As part of the conference, they gave us a tour of the Florida Supreme Court Building. Raquel and I were on the second floor, coming down the stairwell, when I slipped and my shoe went flying off and hit the wall in front of me. I grabbed the rail and picked up my shoe, but suddenly every security officer in the building was heading for the stairwell door to make sure everything was okay. I guess my shoe hitting the wall had echoed and made a loud noise in the building! The moral of these stories is that good friends never let you forget your clumsiness because it makes everyone laugh.

I think it all comes down to treating people the way you would want to be treated. I truly believe that if you live by this rule, your integrity and compassion will come shining through. No matter what you are doing in life, if you stop for a minute and think “Is this how I would want to be treated?” it can only be good. And, I don’t think about regrets. You learn in life. You learn from mistakes. You can’t go back and change things in the past so you learn from them, and I love leaning. Life is an adventure. You’ve just got to enjoy the moments.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jo Foster Gunthner, Tavernier

"I’ve been coming to the Keys since I was 6. My mom and dad would drive down from Maryland with 3 girls, my two sisters and me. We would sleep in a tent and eat out of a cooler for 2 weeks every year. I remember the mosquitoes! We always came in July, on my birthday, and I would fish the whole time.
I was my father’s son, because I was the 3rd girl, and a real tom boy. I always loved fishing. That’s where it all started for me, with the fishing. When we would come down here, I used to sit on the dock or seawall and fish and fish and fish. My world is about fishing. When I was in fourth grade, we moved from Maryland to Ft. Lauderdale. When all my girlfriends were playing, I would sit by the canal and fish.
I always wanted to move to the Florida Keys. My aunt was manager at the Key Colony Beach Hotel. I spent a summer with her when I was 14, cleaning and helping out, and I was hooked. I said then that one day I would live in the Keys. A few years later, when I was 21, I lost my father suddenly and I decided to follow my dream and moved to the Keys to live with my aunt. I had a dental laboratory in Crystal River where I made dentures. I was very successful at a young age. When I decided to move, everybody said you’re crazy! But my dad died at 50. I decided right then and there that I was going to live my life to live and enjoy it, not just to make money.
I think it’s the best decision I ever made. At that time I had a 22' Aquasport boat which I brought to the Keys. My plan was to get my captains license and I was going to fish for a living. I ended up commercial fishing for yellowtail. After doing the yellowtail fishing for about 5 years, I switched back over and did the dental laboratory down here for years. Then I got married and had my children, and switched to mostly volunteer work. I was pretty much a stay at home mom otherwise; I had a son and twin girls! It was cheaper for me to stay home if you figured the cost of day care. Besides, I wanted to raise my children, not pay someone to raise them. I’m so proud of all three of my children!
My kids were getting older and I decided to go into real estate in 2005. I was extremely successful. But I was burning the candle at both ends. It takes a lot; you have to dedicate your life to real estate. Then we had a fire at our house and I stopped. We had a lot of damage, and it took a lot of time and effort to get everything repaired. The community saved us. When it happened, every fire truck from all around was there. That was awesome! But, after the fire, I never really got back into the real estate. So, I went back to the dental work. I am Upper Keys Dental Laboratory and I've had my license here since the early 80's. I don’t solicit to the public, only to the dentists. I like to make people smile, and I’ve given so many people their smiles.
I love our world here. I love fishing, and I love boating and snorkeling. I love being in or near the water. I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t live here. When I was selling real estate, I think part of why I was so successful was because I was selling what I love. It was like, why wouldn’t you want to live here? Why wouldn’t you buy this, no matter what it costs?
I have a newspaper clipping from 50 years ago that says, “Only the rich will live in the Keys.” And I see that happening. It is hard to make a living down here. It’s hard for regular people to move here now; they are being priced right out of here. I’ve had multiple jobs forever. I’ve been fortunate to have the dental business on the side. But, I’ve had many jobs… I’ve mixed it up. Besides fishing and real estate, I’ve been a dental assistant, a waitress, a painter, a caretaker... I’ve done a lot! Living here, you do whatever it takes and you make it work. It’s worth it! But, I didn’t move down here to get rich. That is not my goal in life, my goal in life is to enjoy it!
I love it here. Everything is as perfect as it can be; just knowing that every day I can go home, jump in my boat in the canal and go out on the water. Our water here always looks so inviting to me. It is paradise to me! It’s Heaven. And, have I mentioned that I love fishing?! I am very competitive, but I really just fish for fun now. Going out there in my boat is indescribable. Nothing makes me happier! I go out by myself and just fish for yellowtail. There’s just freedom out there. I feel very fortunate that I have access to the water so readily.
One of my twins is going to college thanks to Take Stock in Children. The other is going to Switzerland to work and go to school. My son became a fishing captain as soon as he was out of high school and he is very successful. Raising a family here was a very good choice and I've been lucky, my kids are awesome! I still do volunteer and fund raising, but we all do. It’s what we do down here.
But, you know I’m in Alaska part time now, right?! I recently got into a relationship…my boyfriend named Rich. He’s so great! ... but, he’s From Alaska. Of course! There’s nothing like a REAL long distance relationship. We went to high school together, and reconnected on Facebook. We just clicked; it’s just so easy... Except he lives in Alaska! It’s Valdez Alaska and it’s on the water. Thankfully it’s on the water! He fishes too, but it’s for different fish. When he came down here, I took him yellowtail fishing. We caught a few, then he said, “So, when are we going to catch some real fish and not bait?” But then I cooked them up for him and he changed his tune! I’m looking forward to fishing up there for halibut and salmon, and to seeing whales. I see myself spending a lot of time up there, and he will spend time down here. We’re both pretty rooted to our communities, but we’re excited about sharing our worlds with each other.
After watching my dad drop dead at 50, I really think there is more to life than making a living. My dad worked so hard his whole life, then one night he went square dancing and just died. So I learned the hard way a very good lesson. Moving here when I was 21 was the best decision I ever made. I had two aneurysms a while back, and I could have died. Thanks to the excellent care I received at our local hospital, Mariners, I am alive today. We’ve lost so many people lately; people way to young. You just never know. Life is so short. Live it and love it. If you don’t love it, change it."

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Andrade Family: Esteban, Amy, Trinity and Haven - Big Pine Key

"When searching for a place to get married, we knew we wanted a destination with a tropical feel, but no passports needed; and a fun, safe place that military friends and family from both coasts could join together. After little deliberation, we picked Smathers Beach in Key West.
Five years later, the blistering cold in Pennsylvania had taken its toll. 8-degree weather for nearly 2 weeks straight burst the pipes in the kitchen of our 8 bedroom, renovated farm house that was built in 1900. That was the beginning of what we now call the “great purge”.
The story goes: Amy looked at Esteban and said, “I have an idea. Let’s sell this big house filled with all this crap we don’t need. Let’s sell these cars we don’t drive, buy a camper and pull it to the keys.” Esteban nodded his head in agreement and simply replied, “Ok”.
The next morning, the house was listed. Facebook friends came with handfuls of cash from all over and bought everything we owned. What didn’t sell via Facebook, yard sales soon completed.
Never having pulled a camper, or even camped as a family, we went to the RV store, bought a camper and started the almost 1800 mile trip to the Florida Keys. With 2 kids in tow, 4 and 5 years old… the adventure began! With joyful spirits and no expectations, we headed south, very south.
Almost 2 years later, we call the Florida Keys home. We still live in the little camper. We joke about getting something bigger, but we constantly remind ourselves that, “Bigger isn’t always better.”
Trinity and Haven both attend Big Pine Academy; they are green belts in tae kwon do, and are avid snorkelers and fisher-kids.
As for mom and dad? Esteban is currently working with KLM Services in the air conditioning business (which he has never done before) and is heading back to school using the remainder of his GI Bill from his service in the ARMY to complete an additional degree from FKCC in Business Diving Technology. He is also Super Dad and serves as the President of the kids PTO.
Amy is an adjunct professor at FKCC, event planner for Checca Lodge’s 70th Anniversary celebrations, Beer Ambassador for Florida Keys Brewing Company, and the former Director of Sales for Florida Keys Media, where she still continues to sell in her spare time.
As for a decade from now, we aren’t going anywhere soon. The Ocean is our home, as well as the Florida Keys who accept all who arrive here with a happy heart and a friendly smile."


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reagan and Susie Ptomey, Islamorada

Reagan- “I always loved the Keys. When I was in college and law school, every chance I got I was down here; in an old Volkswagen, camping. Then after I had been out of law school a few years, an opportunity presented itself here, and I moved to Key West in 1980. I knew Susie from Pensacola; she came down about a year later, and we got married. I was with the state attorney’s office then.

We lived on a houseboat for several years in Key West, at Murray Marine. I remember it was right next to the dump. Funny story about our wedding…We got married on our houseboat. The marina really was next to the dump, and the methane was burning off during the ceremony. In the pictures, people think that it’s torches burning in the background! Also, Susie was working for the sheriff’s office, and the prisoners in the jail made our wedding cake! Then we moved up to Big Pine where we had our first child, Josh, in 1984.“

Susie- “Josh was the last baby born at Fisherman’s Hospital!”

Reagan- “I knew I wanted to be a judge, but I never thought I would have the opportunity. I thought you had to be part of the system, play the politics game, and I just wasn’t political. I really was in the right place at the right time. It was 1986 when Allison DeFoor, the first county judge in the Upper Keys, announced he was not going to run again. It was a new position at the time. So, kind of on a lark because I knew I could do a good job, I qualified… And nobody ran against me! I didn’t know anybody up here in the Upper Keys. Our Keys life had been in the Lower Keys up to that point. I just went around and met all the lawyers up here; told them I was going to run. Nobody ran against me, so I became county judge of the Upper Keys.

I’ve only had to run for office one time in all these years; only one opponent in over 30 years. I actually had to do the political thing in 2010. I had to campaign and run, and I realized that I absolutely hated it! Some people love it, but I think they are from outer space. I didn’t like it at all.”

Susie- “We met a lot of people and made a lot of good friends through the campaign. People we wouldn’t have met otherwise. It wasn’t all bad.”

Reagan- “My last term was 6 years, and it’s up at the end of this year. I retire in December. It’s definitely been tough being the judge in a small town. As you know, it doesn’t take long before you know everybody. When we order take out, we never give our real name! I’m worried about the extra sauce!”

Susie- “But, really, in all the years, there has only been one time where a guy came up to us somewhere and was angry. There have been a lot of people that have come up to him and thanked him for saving their life or saving their families, but only that one guy who came up to us in a parking lot and was angry with him. Well, then there was that time the guy shot at him…in court!”

Reagan- “Yeah, he didn’t like me! That was in 1991. This guy was standing in front of me and we were doing arraignments. He came up to me and he was suspicious to me right away because he was wearing a 3 piece suit! Why would you wear a 3 piece suit in the Keys?! Well, he pulled a gun out of a shoulder holster. The bailiff got him down in a bear hug, but the gun went off and shot my bailiff in the hand. The bullet hole is still in the wall there in the courtroom. That was an interesting day! At that time there was no security to get into the building; no metal detectors, no pat downs, no wands, nothing. There just wasn’t any money in the budget down here then. But, it was kind of nice in one way, because after that happened, people in the community started collecting money to buy metal detectors for the court house.”

Susie- “It was tough on our sons, Josh and Luke, growing up the sons of the local judge. But they were such great kids. I’m so proud of both of them. They are both here living and working in the Keys now; they went off to school and they both came back!"

Reagan- “The only time they ever got in trouble with the law was with me, and it was for things at home… “Ok, who colored on the couch?” That was Luke by the way.”

Susie- “Then there was the time Josh came home from school, in the first grade, and he had cut his pants off into shorts. They were obviously cut, straight cut…but he told us that he had fallen on a rock and they had gotten torn like that!”

Reagan- “On the door of our house, we have one of those little chain locks that you put on the inside of a door. Except ours is way up high, because when Luke was little, he figured out how to undo that latch and get out. So I had to take it and put it up at the very top of the door, and we still to this day refer to it as the “Luke Latch.”

Susie- “Overall, they were just great kids. And, we always had kids at our house. Some of them had parents who worked so much they were kind of on their own. I always made sure they got something to eat, and had a safe place to come. We had 3 rules: no smoking, no alcohol and no bad words. It was nothing for there to be 8 or 9 kids hanging around the house.”

Reagan- “One thing that amazes me about our community is how many great musicians we have down here. I mean, really amazing musicians. Many of our local musicians are every bit as talented as people who are booming in the music business. We love going out to see live music when we can. And, of course, we always go if Luke is playing anywhere. His mother makes sure we never miss one of his shows!”

Susie- “We have always been involved with all the music down here. We’ve worked all the Bay Jams. It’s nice to have it at Founders Park. Founders Park was my one foray into the political arena. I got up and spoke about the new amphitheater. A lot of people didn’t want it. They said we didn’t need it, that it was a waste of money. But, I thought it was important and I helped fight for it.”

Reagan- “And, it’s not just the amphitheater or Bay Jam and music festivals. Before Founders, Harry Harris was where the kids played soccer. I remember there was exposed cap rock on the soccer field. We had several kids get hurt. That’s when we, Susie especially, starting pushing for the improvements at Founders Park. Any parent with kids who played soccer was behind it. Now it is such a gorgeous place. We should be really proud of it.

The Keys are our home. I’m retiring in December, and everybody keeps asking me, “Where are you going? Where are you going?” And I say, “Nowhere!” This is home. This is where I’ve lived most of my adult life. I’m not leaving this community.”

Susie- “We have great friends down here, and both of our sons. It’s a great place to live. The community comes together and helps each other. It’s important to treat everybody like you want to be treated, because it’s a small community. It’s a caring community, as you know from all the fundraisers.”

Reagan- “That is an amazing thing about the Keys. When somebody gets sick or has a tragedy, or needs help in some way, I have never seen a community get together to help like they do here. There are so many benefits here. It is really something to be proud of. So there again, where would I go when I retire? Nowhere! I have arrived! Once I retire, I plan to have a lot more time to fish. As a matter of fact, when we leave here, I’m going to buy tackle! If I’m not on the boat, I’m sitting at the house tying fishing lines and knots and rigging poles. I love to fish.”

Susie- “He has to get a job! He can’t stay home. No way. He has to find something to do. You can’t go out fishing every day.”

Reagan- “You watch! You just watch!”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Captain Jim Sharpe Jr., Cudjoe Key

“This year, I will mark my 40th year living in the Keys. My parents moved my sister and I to the Keys in 1976, when I was 10 years old from North Miami. We lived in Big Pine for a year or so while we built a house on Cudjoe. I grew up on Cudjoe Bay. I went to school here, graduated from Key West High School, and did 2 years of college down here. I went away for college and came back to work in the family charter boat business.

Most of my memories are on the water, that’s what I did. I shark fished as a hobby, I commercial fished, crawfish trapped, stone crab trapped, and fin fished for yellowtail snapper and grouper, all with my dad. I have done just about every type of fishing in the Keys.

In 1981 we ventured into charter fishing. My dad was a mate on Pier 5 in Miami back when he was a boy, about 10 – 12 years old on a boat called The Sea Boots. My dad called Buddy Carry the owner of the original Sea Boots’ and asked him if we could use the name for our charter boat. He was fine with it, so our first charter boat was named Sea Boots.

I charter fished for about 25 years, through high school and college, getting married and all. I got my captains license at 18, as soon as I was old enough! I moved from the cockpit to the bridge in May 1985.

The September after I earned my Captain’s license I caught a blue marlin, the exact same weight as the largest blue marlin Earnest Hemmingway ever caught, 468 lbs. My first marlin as a captain!

I have caught 5 spearfish along with many other billfish. Spearfish are common in the Pacific, but rare in the Atlantic. It is estimated by the International Game Fish Association that it takes an estimated 30,000 hours of trolling to get a shot at a spearfish; I have caught 5 and had a 6th one on a few weeks ago, but pulled the hooks.

Fishing in the Marathon sailfish tournament I had one of my best achievements I have in my fishing career to date. We caught an estimated 180 pound Blue Marlin on 12 lbs. spinning tackle. That was a great catch.

I have pulled, probably, 200 – 250 Cuban refugees off the water and got them to the Coast Guard.
My dad beat me with numbers though. He cheated I would tell him; he found a tugboat with about 80 people on it!! I always tease him about that!

I have had so many adventures and unique experiences on the water, but my most memorable is finding the Cuban refugees; when you back up to these Cuban refugee boats or rafts made out of just about anything and these people are just so sea sick, dehydrated, starving, scared, with eyes as big as saucers, and they don’t know what to expect from us. It just gets burned into your memory. We would throw them food and water as we contacted the Coast Guard. That is what was most memorable; to see people escaping communism and risking their lives leaving their families behind to go across 90 miles of water; some of the most treacherous water in this hemisphere. You don’t ever forget those faces.

I received a couple accommodations from the Coast Guard for helping with the Cuban refugees. One of the letters was from a 14 foot boat we found with a 2 cylinder diesel in it; there were 12 people aboard; they were slowly making their way towards the Keys. We were out in 750 feet of water when we found them, just outside the 12 mile limit. We started throwing them water and food and I asked them if they were ok. They told me there was a lady on board about to give birth. I relayed that to the Coast Guard but they were coming out of Marathon so it was going to take them about an hour to arrive. We fished around the refugees until the Coast Guard arrived. During that time I noticed a man on board that seemed to be in charge; he was a lot more aggressive than anyone else on the boat and he was dressed in fatigues. I had seen enough refugees to know this was unusual behavior. I relayed this information to the Coast Guard; he was not the norm. The Coast Guard boat had 5 guys on the bow as they approached the Refugees. They went back into the cabin and came back out in full military garb with assault weapons. They took that man off the boat first and got a medic on board for the pregnant lady. They called for a medi-vac for the lady; she wasn’t doing well. We never found out what happened; the last communication we heard was she wasn’t going to make it. The guy I cued on being not your normal refugee turned out to be Cuban military. That is what I got the commendation for.

I got out of charter fishing and got into construction and real estate. About 10 years ago I went into real estate full time with my wife Beata with Coldwell Banker Schmit Real Estate Company. The fishing industry was changing; and it was time for me to make a change. I still enjoy fishing and being on the water, but now it’s just for fun”.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lourdes Spellman

Written By Steven Harris, Lourdes Fiancée
"For those of you who don’t know why Lourdes’ friends are having a benefit for her, I just want to let you know what happened. 

A year and a half ago, she came home from a concert and, though she was entirely sober and hadn’t had a drink for eight hours, she slipped and fell on our tile floor and hit her head. I didn’t wake up and find her for over eight hours and, though she had crawled to the couch, she could not sit up and she was vomiting profusely.
I took her to Mariner’s where her brain swelled so much her eyes bulged out and pulsed with her heartbeat. They ambulanced her up to the brain ward at Baptist Hospital in Miami where they discovered that she had fractured her skull and had a brain bleed. After several days on morphine with bags of ice piled on her head, during which she mostly slept, she was able to get up and use a wheelchair, then walk with a walker for a few feet with help. (Thank you Kathy Whitehurst for being there for us and keeping an eye on her when I had to go home). The doctors moved her to a rehab place where she relearned how to fold laundry and water plants, make lists and cook meals. They worked her up to longer distances with the walker, and then shifted her to a cane.
After a week there, she came home and was on morphine for severe headaches and had severe vertigo and double vision, and for months she couldn’t lay on her back and she had to get up so slowly due to vertigo and nausea that it took her thirty minutes to shift from horizontal to sitting on the bed. With physical therapy, she relearned how to get out of bed, and how to walk and turn her head without waves of nausea. She was on the road to recovery, keeping a positive attitude as only Lourdes can.
Four months after the fall, she went out to California to take care of her mother who has lung cancer and was going through radiation and chemo. Lourdes doesn’t complain, so I hadn’t realized how badly the fall had damaged her vision until she told me on the phone that she had been talking to a mailbox. Her mother helped her buy glasses, and she could see again.
Then, she had a seizure. The doctors saw that her sodium levels were going down to dangerous levels. It turned out she had SIADH and Hyponatremia due to damage to her pituitary gland which is the boss of all glandular activity, likely caused by the fall. (Thank you Dr. May for diagnosing this rare syndrome). This means that her sodium and electrolytes wash out with just a little liquid, which affects the osmotic balance in her cells and can cause stroke and seizure and damage the brain, kidneys, and liver. Limiting her liquid intake was the solution at first, and, for months, she could only have three glasses of liquid of any type (including fruit) daily or she could seize again. So she could not really go outside or do any exercise, she was dehydrated and her kidneys were at risk, and all she could think about was water.
We tried to find a way to increase her intake. Lourdes is on a drug that helps her hold onto her electrolytes, and she is up to five cups of liquid per day. But the drug can effect the liver and can make one susceptible to C. Diff, and the syndrome is only partially managed. We visited doctors in Boston, too, who suggested a treatment we are pursuing as the most likely long-term solution, but it is experimental, expensive, and few doctors know how to use it because it’s so tricky to manage and the syndrome so rare.
Lourdes has not been able to work for a year and half. We have been getting by (Thank you Sharon Archer for helping shoulder the burden). We are downsizing and limiting our expenses, but we’re circling the drain. Her friends put together this benefit for her. Lourdes knows this situation is not exclusive to her and that many struggle with far greater loss and difficulty, and she is moved with gratitude (as am I). This community is part of Lourdes’ heart and is her dear family."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Charles (Uncle Charlie) Reisinger - ***RIP***

We are sorry to find out Charlie passed away last Tuesday at 98 1/2 years old.
RIP Charlie!!
Viewing will be held at Murry Nelson Community Center MM102 Bayside, Key
Largo, Saturday June 11 from 4 to 9 pm. Masonic Funeral at 7:00 pm.
Funeral will be held at Burton Memorial Methodist Church in Tavernier, Sunday June 12 at 2:00pm with reception to follow in fellowship hall.

Charlie requested instead of flowers please send a donation to:
The Shriners Hospitals for Children Tampa.
12502 USF Pine Drive
Tampa, Fl. 33612
“Uncle Charlie” memorial fund.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Susan Anseman Ashmore, Islamorada

Forty years ago, Susan Anseman Ashmore crammed everything she could into her little Vega, including her beloved 90 pound Doberman, Chivas, and drove to the Florida Keys, supposedly just for the summer! She had sublet her apartment in Columbia, South Carolina and planned to return in August to complete her final year at the University of SC. Her boyfriend had moved to the Keys a few months before, after the two of them had vacationed there, and she was going to spend the summer with him.
Of course, as has happened with many of us, she fell head over heels in love with both the Keys and the boyfriend. When August rolled around, she headed back to South Carolina. But instead of returning to school, she packed up the rest of her stuff and her cat, Mr. Quincy Jones, and headed back to paradise. She worked for a year at the Indies Inn on Duck Key (now Hawks Cay) as a bartender and her boyfriend was a mate on the Miss Duck Key head boat. In June, they got married in Marathon and honeymooned in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Shortly after returning, they both ended up quitting their jobs on the same day, unbeknownst to each other.
Shortly thereafter, Susan got a part-time job as a bartender at Cheeca Lodge. She had only been there for a couple of months when she complained to one of the accounting clerks about being bored. The clerk said, “Come to work in the accounting office and you will never be bored.” As luck would have it, they had an opening for someone to do the payroll and Susan was given the position. Over the next three years, she moved around the office learning all of the clerk jobs. When the resort lost the third Controller in three years, Susan’s father told her to go talk to the General Manager, Harry Galloway, and tell him she owned a home in the area and was not going anywhere. In spite of her misgivings, she did it, and became the Controller of Cheeca Lodge; a position she would hold for 13 years.
Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last, but Susan did get two beautiful daughters, Ashley and Lauren, out of the deal. Both girls are now married and live right here on Plantation Key. Ashley has two sons, Dylan and Braylon Lindmar and Lauren has a 3 year old son, Rylan Solis, and another boy on the way. Susan considers herself the luckiest grandmother in the world to have everyone so close by.
After all those years of bean counting, Susan was looking for a new adventure, but didn’t want to leave Cheeca. The General Manager at the time, Herbert Spiegel, saw some potential in her and sent her out on a couple of sales trips. Shortly thereafter, the Director of Sales position became available and she went for it! At that time, the sales office for Cheeca was located in Miami, near Dadeland Mall. So, for seven years, Susan commuted from Plantation Key to the office in Miami. She also traveled the country, promoting the resort to corporate, association and incentive meeting planners as well as travel agents; and she was fortunate to stay in some of the finest hotels and dine in some of the top restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Atlanta, Boston, D.C. and more. She made a lot of great friends and developed a true passion for travel.
When Herbert Spiegel left Cheeca, Susan found herself liking her job less and less. She decided that since she was great at making money for other people, maybe it was time to make money for herself! She obtained her real estate license and had a very successful career for the next 10 years. She is one of only 4% of all Realtors to have earned her CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) designation and is also a Graduate of the Realtor Institute. She served as President of the Florida Keys Board of Realtors, the Florida Keys MLS Board and the Upper Keys Century BPW. She was honored to be a mentor for Take Stock in Children for four years. She also found time to graduate from Leadership Monroe – Class 13 – the best class!
Of course we all know what happened to the real estate market in 2006 and Susan was not immune to the downfall. Just when things were really looking bleak, she got a call out of the blue from Herbert Spiegel, to whom she hadn’t spoken in years. When she asked where he was working, and he replied that he was at Cheeca, she was stunned. He was back as GM and wanted to talk with her. Long story short, she was back at Cheeca a month later as the Director of Leisure Sales… And back on the road! She even got to attend the world’s largest travel show held in Berlin!
She also indulged her need to travel with some amazing personal excursions, including cruises in the Mediterranean, stopping in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia and the Vatican, the Baltic Sea; visiting Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. She has cruised in the eastern and western Caribbean and spent time in London, Rome, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
After four years, she decided that she really preferred working for herself and made the move back into real estate. Susan is now a full time Realtor with Moorings Realty in Islamorada. For the past 35 years, in her spare time, she has also performed wedding ceremonies throughout the upper and middle keys, and has met and married people from all over the world. She loves meeting new people and sharing her passion for the Keys with them. After 40 years of living, working and playing here in the Upper Keys, Susan knows our community like the back of her hand. She feels blessed to live in a small community with so many wonderful friends!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Rita Weinstein

From the Days of Florence Nightingale to Humans of the Keys
In June of 1938 Rita Weinstein was born, from Russian roots, and lived in Long Island City, Queens, New York. She lived the first decade of her life there. Her home was in the Queensbridge Housing Projects, the largest public housing project in the United States, a complex that comprises 29 six-story buildings and today houses nearly 7,000 people. The household income had to be $3,000 a year or below to live in “the projects”.
Anti-semitism was strong in the projects and being only 1 of 3 Jewish families amongst approximately 400 other families living there presented rough times. Bullying was nearly a daily occurrence and being tolerant wasn’t easy. Rita’s younger sister was smaller, and was not so tolerant so she spoke up on behalf of her big sister, and when she did, little sister took on a few bloody noses. She said, “Worth it every time, she’s my sister and I will always stick up for her”.
After graduating high school Rita went into nursing school. From her childhood home she moved into the dorms at the nursing school where she learned and lived for 2 years, receiving her Registered Nurse Degree. The same school was also the hospital she ended up working for the next 20 plus years.
The next part of the story is pretty boring and expectable. She met a boy, they dated, they got married (in 1960,) and they had 2 children. But, after 10 years they parted ways and she became a single mother. Instead of feeling bad about the situation and worrying about how to make it on her own, she decided to go back to school and got her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Master’s degree in counseling. She worked full time all day, went to school at night, studied on the weekends at the library and always made time for her children. She even found time to date. The ambition to strive, to be more independent, to be a loving mom and to make sure her children never went without, is inspiring.
She later remarried and moved out of Brooklyn, to Long Island where she bought her first house. During the course of the next decade she was convinced to leave Long Island and move to California, to a supposedly finer and richer life. What she found was her children no longer happy, continued financial struggles, and her own discovery of unhappiness and thoughts of how to turn it around to make it better. So, she took additional courses and certifications, and delved into becoming a psychiatric nurse; moving away from practical hands on nursing. She left the hospital atmosphere and traded in her white nursing shoes for plain clothes, supervising inpatient drug and alcohol recovery rehabilitation facilities. Off and on through the years she found it necessary to work a second job as well, but again always found time for her children.
Rita’s parents were aging, so she decided it was time to move back east to Florida to be closer to them. She moved her family to Key Largo and bought a home in 1989; her parents were living in Hollywood, FL. With her background in psychology, she began working in her field as a case manager for mental health divisions of insurance companies. Over the next 20 plus years her path through life didn’t change much. She was always a loving daughter and sister, a loving wife, mother of 2 children and grandmother of 6, and of course a dedicated employee.
When she isn’t watching out for her family you’ll find her helping someone else’s. When she met a woman whose family in another country was in need, she gave clothes and money to send them. To another woman she met, who was working 2 jobs to support her children, she offered help by giving her extra money, asking nothing in return. These are not personal friends but other local Keys people who needed a helping hand. This is paying it forward and this is what being a human of the Keys means. You don’t have to be born here or even grow up here to be a human of the Keys. For Rita, taking care of people is who she is and has always been, providing love and care to all who know her. She continues to take care of her family near and far, and continues to inspire.
Rita still works full time in Miami, awakens at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday and gets home around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. each night. Her husband is now stricken with Parkinson’s disease, and she tends to him when she gets home. On the weekends she loves to go out shopping, have lunch or go out to the movies with her daughter, son-in-law and grandkids. What makes this woman get up every day and drive 1 ½ hours to and from work? Number one is to enjoy living in the Keys and know that after a long day she can return to peace and quiet. Two, she has most of her family living here as well. Three, it keeps her young, vibrant, and her co-workers adore her just as much as her family.