Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Friday, July 29, 2016

Casey Dressler - The Wedding Warrior

Both of my parents grew up in North Miami Beach. My father and his twin brother fished the keys with their father almost every weekend when they were just boys. In the mid 1960’s my grandparents bought a couple of properties down here, one of which they sold to my father and mother in the early 80’s just after they were married. My parents then built a house on the land and moved to Islamorada to raise their family. It was really quite wonderful growing up as a Keys kid. My siblings and I all attended PKS and are graduates of Coral Shores High school.

My grandma Jean, my mother’s mom, was a film and television actress, based in Miami. I would often spend summers with her, tagging along on all of her castings. Her most notable credit was Miami Vice where she had reoccurring work. Family legend has it that she tried to give Don Johnson a few acting tips while on set. I would not have put it past her; she was a pistol that way. Another family legend has it that she was approached by Warner Bros in her 20s to be their next big film star. She looked a lot like Elizabeth Taylor; she was beautiful. But she wasn’t in a place to be able to do it at the time. My grandparents married in 1942, days before my grandfather was to leave for World War II. When he came home they started their family and had 7 children. It wasn’t until my grandmother was in her 50’s that she began to pursue her dream of acting, and she worked consistently until the day she died. She was a musician, an actress, a writer, and a feminist; she was ahead of her time, and a huge inspiration to me.

Upon graduating from high school I followed in my grandmother’s footsteps and went into art school as a theater major. Several years after completing the program, I moved back home to the keys and began working at the Islander Resort where I was the in-house event planner and sales manager. I booked all of the weddings and oversaw them from start to finish. It was such a fun and rewarding experience. I cried at every single wedding I did. A few years into the job, I received an offer from one of my former acting instructors to do a show up in Boca. She called me and said, “I have an opportunity for you.” And even though I loved doing the weddings, it wasn’t what I went to school for, and ultimately not where my heart fully was. The only way I could commit to the show in Boca was if I left my job in the keys altogether. It was a little scary at the time, but it was definitely the right decision for me.

Now I work full time as an actor throughout South Florida. I feel very fortunate to be staying so busy doing what I love the most. When I left the Islander and took the show in Boca, I was reunited with my old improv teacher. She had a one woman show that she was doing and I wanted to write one as well, so she began mentoring me through the process. One afternoon we got together for coffee and I was telling her some of my war stories from working weddings. She laughed and said to me “Casey, THIS is your show. Write these stories down. The characters are all there.”

I was not completely sold on the idea of writing my solo show about weddings, but the more and more I thought about it, I realized that I did have a lot of great stories to pull material from. At the time that I was working in the bridal business, I was single, approaching 30 and feeling the pressure and societal stigma of being unmarried. And although the job was very positive, it was magnifying the underlying sadness I was feeling about not being where I wanted to be in both my romantic and professional life. So, I thought what a wonderful way to address all of those feelings by turning them into a comedy that hopefully other people can relate to and enjoy. My one woman show is called “The Wedding Warrior” and I first premiered it in Scotland in 2014 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This summer I am embarking on a month and a half long tour to perform it at the 20th annual New York International Fringe Festival and the Chicago Fringe Festival.

Before I take off, I’m doing 3 shows here in Islamorada at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center, located at the Islander property, on July 29th, 30th and 31st at 7:00 PM. It feels good to bring my show back to the place that inspired it, my home, The Florida Keys!

You can buy tickets by calling 305-879-7282 or go to:

The overall take away from my show is to “just remain open”, “keep the faith” and “pursue your happiness”. The thing that makes me feel the most fulfilled about what I am doing now is the mere fact I am doing it. It took me awhile, but now I’m just barreling full speed ahead toward everything that makes me happy in this life. If ever I worry about being a late bloomer, I am reminded of my Grandma Jean and of my favorite line from my favorite movie, “Tootsie”. It’s the scene where Dustin Hoffman’s character is turning 40 and he says to Bill Murray, “I’m a character actor, age has no effect on me!” That’s what I like to think as well!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dillon Warnaar, Key Largo

“It really is simple; it wasn’t a big deal. My dad and I built a jet engine. It isn’t a talent, it is a trade skill.

My dad has watched about jet engines on the internet for years and he’s always wanted to do it, so I said ‘Ok, let’s do it!’

My dad works with his hands; mechanics, improvising, fabrication, all of it. He taught me. We watched random videos on the internet and used random parts we found lying around. I had to have 1 part made, that was it. He pretty much left it up to me to figure it out and put it together and he helped me cut and weld, do some of the work. We put in about 30 hours in a week and we had a jet engine!

It's simple, the internet explains it, but you really get how it works when you build it yourself.

It was an overwhelming task. My biggest fear was it wouldn’t work. I had to keep figuring out what was wrong with it and fixing it. Once we finished it, we fired it up and it worked perfectly! It was fun to build, it doesn’t make a lot of thrust because the bearings are worn out, but it works! We don’t need it for thrust anyway. It was really cool to build!! I like how loud it is, how much noise it makes.

I have to thank my dad for all the help and all the skills he has taught me.

I am leaving August 15th for the Marines. My reason? It has just always been my dream, I don’t know why, it is something I have always wanted to do. That’s it. I can’t wait.”

Friday, July 22, 2016


My grandfather had a house where the fire station is by the stretch, he owned that property. He was born in Key West. I came to the Keys permanently 15 years ago when a guy I know built a house in Lower Metecombe and I worked on it. I was already established in the Keys, spending a lot of time with my grandfather; I knew people and had friends here.

I love the Keys. I’d rather be here than anywhere.

I am 55 years old. I just really just came out 10 years ago. I knew I was supposed to be a girl when I was 8.

I get shit all the time for dressing this way. It might be ok in Key West, but it isn’t ok here. I should be a girl. I’m not comfortable dressing butch. I don’t do this to be a game changer or rub it in anyone’s face. I do it because this is who I am.

I have a hard time finding a job; I work construction and am a hard worker. I had a contractor tell me once he wouldn’t hire me after he saw I painted my nails. There was one spirt where I didn’t work for 3 years. That was tough. Now I am very blessed and work for some home owners.

My mother used to get mad at me; I would take her stuff and wear it. I could and can play sports and work like a man. I was thinking about Caitlyn Jenner; what I don’t like about her is, don’t flaunt it, just do it.

Your born knowing it. You know. I went 40 years being in the closet. I was in the Army and hid it. I would paint my toenails because I knew I would be wearing work boots. I tried to hide. You know this is who you are, but you try to hide it. I decided one day I wasn’t going to hide it anymore and I would take an ass beating if I had to. You better be pretty bad though!

It's really sad. When I was a kid, I was made to be ashamed of myself, I was a wierdo. If I had the money to get the whole operation stuff, I would. I hear all the laughing and smirking. Now I have a lot of people who support me.

I believe in God and Jesus. I think to myself ‘If this is bad in the eyes of the Lord, then why am I still here?’

I love to be a girl. I work to be a girl. This is who I am and I love it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Seychelle, Key Largo

I was born and raised in the Keys, and went to Plantation Key School and Coral Shores High School. I’ve always been active and played sports, and I thought when I was a kid that I would be a professional soccer player. I think I always wanted to be a professional athlete. I left the Keys when I was 18 and took off sailing for 8 years and working on yachts around the world. I came back to Key Largo a few years ago.

Stand Up Paddling is what brought me back full time. I had a Spring Break job at “PADDLE! The Florida Keys.” I would come down and teach paddle board lessons and do eco tours there. When I moved back to the Keys, I started working there full time. Scott, the owner, encouraged me to start training to race paddle boards. He was the one who initially showed me I had potential. I did my first race at the paddle shop there in Tavernier.

Currently I teach Standup Paddle (SUP) Yoga, SUP lessons and coaching, and SUP fitness classes in Islamorada and Key Largo, as well as a few studio Yoga classes. When I’m not teaching, I train and race competitively in the sport of SUP. I started racing a little over two years ago and I just took to the sport so quickly. Within one year I gained sponsorship. In two years, I am a fully sponsored professional athlete! It all happened really fast.

Last year I broke the Guinness World Record for longest distance paddled in 24 hours on SUP. I paddled 110 miles. The men’s record was 96 miles, and the women’s was 90, so I kind of blew that out of the water! Scott and I had done a 24 hour paddle just for fun, and I really broke the record then, “unofficially.” So, I decided to go ahead and make it official. We did it on a lake in Sarasota because it had to be in a contained water source. I spent almost a year planning and training for that. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get Guinness to recognize it as a record, but it was worth it. I’m incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing that.

This year I started training more for speed and less for distance. My goal for 2016 was to be in the top 10 ranked female athletes in the World. And in May I accomplished that! I am currently ranked 7th female in the world rankings.

I just got back from Europe. I did 3 races over there on what’s called the SUP Euro-Tour. I placed 2nd on the Euro Tour leader board which is pretty great for a rookie. I also came in 1st in the sprint competition in Germany called the ‘Fastest Paddler On Earth!’ I really didn't see that one coming! I was in Europe to do the long distance events, but I just entered the sprints for fun. And I ended up winning! It’s incredible because I had thought in my head when I was getting ready for it, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if I won the Fastest Paddler on Earth after just achieving the World Record for distance?!” And then I did it! To have both the endurance and the speed titles in less than a year is really amazing.

I’ve been very successful, but it’s all really a testament to having a dream and setting goals. I work really hard, and I train really hard, but I think it’s having those goals, having that direction to be moving towards, that really has helped me to be so successful. Something that I like to share with people is that if you set your mind to something you can do it. Dream big, set goals and work hard and anything can happen. I really feel I’ve gotten where I am now by being determined and focused. It just takes training and the right mindset… And support. This community has been so supportive.

That’s something that I also want to share. I had Scott Baste of “PADDLE! The Florida Keys,” of course, as my original sponsor, and coach; he got me going in this sport. I also owe huge “Thank you’s” to CrossFit Key Largo for getting me in to shape when I first started paddling, Keys Mobile Chiropractic for keeping all my training injuries at bay, and Remedy’s Nutrition in Key Largo who does all my nutrition planning, consultations, and supplements every month to keep me healthy and strong.

Being born and raised here, and my mom having been a school teacher at PKS for 33 years, we know a lot of people in the community and I have gotten so much support from so many people. Just to have the encouragement, even if it’s not direct financial or product support; just to feel that, and to know that there are people behind me who believe in me and are following my story is a big motivation to keep pushing my limits. I like to think that I can help to inspire and motivate people in our community.

I’m home for most of the summer. Right now I am in the middle of a series called the Fastest in Florida. It started in January and ends in September. Currently I’m number one; we’ll see in September if I end up winning that series. Right now I have a pretty good lead! I’m also teaching my classes and trying to develop awareness and get more people interested in the sport of SUP, and building a water sports community. Teaching yoga helps keep me balanced, I think; after all the high intensity work and training, yoga helps me relax and unwind.

In August I start traveling again. I’m going to do the SEA Paddle in New York City; it’s a 25 mile paddle around the island of Manhattan. After that I leave for Europe again. I do the 11 City Tour, which I won last year. It’s a 130 mile paddle around the country of Holland, through the canals. It’s a stage race, done in 5 days. Last year I won every single stage and was the grand champion for the females, so I’m hoping this year I can do that again. Then I go to southern California in October for the biggest race in the U.S.

For the next few years at least, I want to keep focusing on my athletic career and achieve number one in the world. I have one disadvantage being from Florida, especially the Keys, because we don’t have any waves. A lot of the most competitive races are ocean races with waves. I have a lot of catching up to do on that side of the sport, but I want to do it, so I’ll be working on that. Eventually I would like to develop the business side of the sport and concentrate more on teaching SUP, yoga and leading retreats. I think growing my athletic career right now will help me with my credibility and desirability as a teacher and adviser.

My motto is ‘breathe and smile.’ I think that having gratitude can get you very far. Be grateful, not just for what you have but for every day, every moment. One of the things I love about SUP is that it connects me to nature so much; every day I’m out there paddling. I’m paddling and I’m training and I’m sweating, but I’m still enjoying being out on the water and doing what I love. When you are doing what you love, how can you not be happy?


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Happy Birthday to Humans of the Keys!

Hi! We posted our first story on HOK 2 years ago today!! We thought it would be a good idea to share our story with all of you!
Karen Johnson first approached me (Rhonda) and introduced me to Humans of New York. My husband and I enjoyed that page. She was so excited “We have so many different people here in the Keys, unique and interesting people, what do you think about starting a page like this here in the Keys?” We loved the idea, so the adventure began.
We met a couple of times, decided on the name, made a logo, you know, all the stuff you have to do. We were so excited!! On July 16, 2014 our first story was posted! Not long after that Karen met Jack, the cat man. That turned into, and still is, our most popular story I think. That story brought an outpouring of positive comments, donations (both money and items) and open hearts, from all over the world!! ALL OVER THE WORLD! Who knew?? Unrealized by Jack, he brought out the best in people.
Karen and I were meeting and talking to so many people! Our stories covered the gamete. Everyone really does have a story; even what a person thinks is a boring story, it turns out to be interesting in some way to someone.
A year into HOK, Karen had to move out of the Keys. There was no way I could do this on my own. I called Suzi Youngberg and spoke with her. She was excited and ready to join me with HOK! For the second year Suzi and I have been talking to people and putting their stories out.
We try to tell a person’s story like they do. We don’t re-write them or change anything about their story, we just write it down for them, I mean, after all it is THEIR story!! Ok, sometimes we do have to organize them a little so they make sense, but that is what we are here for. We love it.
We have met so many people, helped so many people, reached so many people. In 2 years we have over 18,000 likes! Some of our posts have reached over 100,000 people, and these people are from all over the world. Who could, would, have guessed when we started how big we would grow, I mean, we are just 2 women who live in the Keys and love our community, love our “Keys” people!!
We find our stories many different ways. We meet people, we take their story over the phone, and sometimes a person will write their own and send it to us, with a picture of course! We approach and talk to people on the street, at the store, where ever there are people; sometimes it’s people we know, and sometimes people recommend others. Everyone has a story and we are always looking for them, so please let us know if you would like your story told or if you know someone who would be interested. You are also welcome to write an HOK story, and if it is posted we are happy to give author credit! You can PM us or email us.
A story can be anything you want it to be. How you got to the Keys and why or you can tell us about a unique experience or adventure you’ve had. You can just answer a question, like:
What are you most proud of and why?
Who influenced you the most and why?
What motivates you?
We have a bunch of them and we are ready to talk with you!!
Suzi and I will continue to tell HOK stories and hope you continue to enjoy them!! Thank you so much for all your support over the last 2 years. Cheers!!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sylvia Sadowski Puto, Marathon - **RIP**

Sylvia Sadowski Puto wasn’t a sailor, didn’t play golf, wasn’t a diver. What the Marathon resident was was deeply involved in her community but, more importantly, matriarch to one of Marathon’s pioneering families.
Mrs. Puto, 97, died Monday, June 27, peacefully in hospice care at her home in Marathon Shores, with her children Mike and Chris by her side. Her daughter Christine Puto-Murray and husband John Puto had preceded her in death.
“Mother was always proud of her children,” Mike said. “She also played a major role with grandpa Phil” Sadowski, one of the early developers of the Middle Keys and for whom the Sadowski Causeway in Key Colony Beach is named.
Mrs. Puto spent her time doing volunteer work, primarily with Fishermen’s Community Hospital and its auxiliary, and the San Pablo Catholic Church Parish Altar Society. She was the one who documented their activities through her camera lens, perhaps the reason Mike is attracted to photography.
“She was the picture lady,” Mike said. “Mother trained me well. She did all of that, got 3 by 5s made and distributed them. That was her fun time.”
It was her children, though, that she was most proud of. Chris is a Vietnam veteran and longtime college educator and now serves as president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., from where he graduated. Christine was an attorney and child advocate in the Guardian ad Litem Program. Mike is a former Marathon fire chief and city manager, former county commissioner and a volunteer on countless boards.
Mrs. Puto was born on June Feb. 2, 1919, in Detroit, Mich. At the University of Detroit, she met her future husband John. They moved to Marathon in 1949 and Mrs. Puto managed the dining room and coffee shop at the family-owned Key Motel.
They later owned Western Auto and, following Hurricane Donna in 1960, opened the Marathon Auto Supply Co. under the Big A Auto franchise.