MARCO ISLAND — You would have a hard time imagining a more inevitable combination of event and venue. Given that Herb Savage encapsulates and personifies Marco Island history, the Marco Island Historical Museum’s Rose History Auditorium seemed the perfect place to hold his 95th birthday celebration Monday night. A smaller room wouldn’t have worked, as approximately 150 paid $35 to mingle, laugh, eat a buffet supper and honor the architect literally of modern Marco Island.
A common refrain among attendees was the hope that, when they reach his age, they will have some fraction of the number of friends who showed up to fete Savage, and the vigor, keen faculties and sprightly good humor he displayed, ready with a one-liner and an opinion on everything.
Dick Shanahan, who came in for a little ribbing himself, with Savage saying the two are regularly mistaken for each other, served as master of ceremonies, as a parade of island luminaries came to the podium to laud, and perhaps roast a little, the guest of honor.
Attorney and unofficial Marco historian Craig Woodward struck a legalistic note, counting himself among the “birthers” and saying no way was he going to believe Savage is 95 years old without seeing a birth certificate.
“He’s about 75, max. Dick Shanahan has shoes older than Herb,” said Woodward.
Rick Medwedeff, general manager of the Marco Island Marriott, the design of which originally came from Deltona architect Herb Savage, spoke of some old hotel literature quoting a room rate of $14 “you can’t get a drink for that now” and presented a gift to Herb and his wife Emily a two-night stay in the Marriott’s Presidential Suite, which goes for $5,000, per night.
Longtime island realtor Jim Prange, who escorted Savage to Washington, D.C. for an “honor flight” to see the veterans’ memorials there, called Herb “the friendliest Savage I ever met” with apologies to the many other Savages, descendants of Herb and Emily, who had come in from all over the country for the clan patriarch’s big day.
Marco Island Sunrise Rotary Club President Kevin Sullivan presented Herb with a proclamation from United States President Barack Obama, marking one of the few times on Marco when the name Obama has been followed with a round of applause. The Marco Island City Council weighed in with their own proclamation, interrupting their meeting, taking place simultaneously and watched on a live television feed at the historical museum, although the malfunctioning sound system made it a silent movie.
When Herb Savage spoke, he reiterated his idea for a “timers’ club,” both old and new, with no chairs, so attendees would have no choice but to stand and mingle. And then the evening finished the only way it could, with Emily and Herb Savage (she took a solo on the introductory verse) leading the assemblage in a rousing chorus of Herb’s signature tune, “God Bless America.”