Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

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."

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