Saturday in the Park – Crowd throngs Veterans Park for new bandshell and tree-lighting

Lance Shearer

This year’s Marco Island Christmas tree-lighting ceremony was two celebrations in one.

To kick the evening off, the city’s government leaders celebrated the reopening of Veterans’ Community Park after a year-long remake, with thank-yous, speeches and a ribbon cutting at the new Unity bandshell under balmy skies. Then, the bandshell stage was turned over to the younger generation for what many attendees – and they numbered well into the thousands – felt was the main attraction, the gyrations of wave after wave of “tiny dancers” dressed in colorful holiday costumes.

The climax was reached around 7 p.m., when the skies darkened sufficiently to show off the festive Christmas Island Style tree, which was illuminated after a benediction and a NASA-style countdown. To complete the evening, Southwest Florida country artist Joel Fry and his band entertained with a concert of original and cover songs.

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City Manager Mike McNees ushered on the MIPD Honor Guard, and introduced City Council Chair Erik Brechnitz, who presided over the ceremonial cutting of the traditional red ribbon. They thanked those instrumental in getting the park remade, including the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, and its head, Dr. Carlos Portu, Lee Rubenstein of the American Legion, who was prominent in the fundraising efforts, and the contractors and landscape architects. Brechnitz pointed out the $11 million project was completed “on time, on budget, and with no tax increase.”

Jimmy Long emceed, exhorting rounds of applause for each of 10 cadres of young dancers from Mermaid Tails, under the direction of Kristin Croscenco – but first did a couple of numbers himself, leading off with what is apparently the unofficial anthem of Marco Island, “Sweet Caroline.” Troupes included the “Tiny Tails,” dancing to “A Bug’s Life” complete with antennae, winged ballerinas in white performing to “Candy Girl,” and hip-hop dancers shaking to “Can’t Touch This,” plus the Marco Island Dance Academy competition team.

Martie Miller of MICMS directed both the school’s choir and the Jazz Band, who set up in record time, as they took their turns playing Christmas melodies, followed by the Marco Island Academy cheerleaders.  

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Amanda Nelson, head of Our Daily Bread Food Pantry, came onstage to receive a check from Christmas Island Style, although no one would divulge the amount of the gift. Rev. Tom Boeck of Marco Lutheran Church blessed the tree, with Wanda Burson of Christmas Island Style plus Santa and Mrs. Claus standing beside him.

The park’s reopening had been scheduled for Veterans’ Day but had to be postponed when the threat of inclement weather moved that observation indoors. This marked the first time in three years the celebration was held at Veterans’ Park, with the 2020 event cancelled due to the pandemic, and last year’s tree lighting at Mackle Park while Veterans’ underwent its transformation.