Year in review, Part 1: High tide on Marco Island
There is an ebb and flow to the year on Marco Island. As we are surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, the rhythm of the tides mirrors the slower rhythm of the seasons, as the island flows through the annual cycle of events.
There are political upheavals, breaking news stories, and occasional momentous events, but underneath, Marco Island and its residents have a series of regular happenings wash over them, giving each year a structure that repeats again and again.
In terms of the seasons, winter with its influx of returning “snowbirds” and visitors is definitely high tide on Marco. One notable new arrival was Sharon Lockwood, who took over as the new general manager at the JW Marriott, Marco Island’s largest hotel and employer, replacing longtime manager Rick Medwedeff, just when we had finally gotten the spelling of his name down.
In January, the Mullet Festival returned to Stan’s Idle Hour on Goodland. While no one knew it at the time, this would be the last Mullet Fest for “Queen Mary” Martin, the beloved local character who enlivened the proceedings with her Buzzard Lope dancing, and kept alive the flame of Stan Gober. Martin died in May at age 79.
On Feb. 4, the day before the football game with the similar name, the “Souper Bowl” returned to Mackle Park, with area restaurants offering up kettles of their finest bisques and chowders to raise money for the Chamber of Commerce’s scholarship fund. Also in February, the Kiwanis held their massive annual car show, and artists fanned out all over the island to create an “en plein air” painting in one day, with proceeds shared among three local charities, once the artists received their portion.
In the real world, Marco was rocked by assault and abuse allegations against Lee Niblock, just three months into his brief tenure, that led to his arrest and termination, throwing the island back into the revolving door nightmare of the City Council’s attempts to have any stability in this crucial position.
Of course, one of the events that did a great deal to shape Marco Island’s 2018 took place in 2017, when category-3 Hurricane Irma made a direct hit, coming in off the Gulf to make landfall on the island. While the island, with the exception of Goodland, was spared the worst scenarios of massive storm surge – as we saw when Maria leveled areas of the Florida Panhandle this year – there was significant damage, and the effects continued to be felt in the new year.
One effect hit the Marco Eagle directly, when the paper’s longtime headquarters had its roof peeled off by the storm. The Eagle relocated to new offices above Mutual of Omaha Bank, but Island Montessori School, which shared the building and also found new quarters after Irma, has now been told they must vacate those premises and is once again looking for a more permanent home.
Collier Creek, which provides boating access for about one third of all boats on the island, was also hit hard by Irma, and quick work by county government was required to get a dredging rig on site by February, bringing the always-turbulent inlet to a safer condition. In March, the cross atop Marco Lutheran Church, which plummeted straight into the sanctuary during Irma, was replaced with a new, reinforced gold leaf-covered version.
Also in March, Marco got a jump on the rest of the world, holding their annual St. Patrick’s Day parade six days early, marching down Bald Eagle Drive to “hooley” including beer at Veterans’ Community Park on the same day that clocks were set ahead an hour for Daylight Saving Time.
After Paleo, the male eagle at the Marco Island Bird Sanctuary’s nest, was electrocuted by a power line, a new male moving in shoved the previous dad’s offspring out of the nest, to be cared for by the animal hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
On March 14, Mutts and Martinis filled the Esplanade courtyard with people enjoying cocktails and dogs (and dog owners) decked out in silly attire, all to benefit the Greater Marco Family YMCA and their expansion needs. The following Saturday, 400 fitness enthusiasts got up early to run in the “Bridge Run,” the Marco Island Half Marathon and 5K.
Many thousands were up early again on April Fools’ Day, heading to the beach in predawn darkness, for Marco’s Easter Dawn Service, reputedly one of the largest in the nation. Worshippers heard from three preachers and got to witness the full moon dropping into the Gulf of Mexico as the sun rose, as the event celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Also tops in the state, Marco Island’s Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society fundraiser on April 7, showed that Marco is serious about fighting cancer, but also serious about bedtime. Unlike other cancer relays, the Marco event runs from 3 to 9 p.m., not all night long, allowing participants to honor “Marco midnight” and still be the number one walk in Florida, and number eight in the nation, in terms of funds raised, around $260,000.
Marco Island Academy graduated its senior class of 55 students on May 25, including Olivia Watt, daughter of school founder and board chair Jane Watt, who sat on the dais but scooted over to envelop her daughter in a bear hug once she picked up her diploma.
On May 25, the island held its traditional Memorial Day remembrance at Veterans’ Community Park, with the only discordant note coming when VFW Post 6370 Commander Don Mills announced at the end of the ceremony their group would be disbanding, unable to come to an agreement with higher ups in the VFW about how they should conduct their business.
Closing out the first half of the year, there was a mini-tempest in another longstanding island organization, when a proposal to merge the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors with NABOR, the Naples Area Board of Realtors, stirred up strong passions among island real estate professionals. A vote on the issue, scheduled for May, was pushed back to September, then nixed altogether along with the merger proposal, as strong anti-merger sentiment surged among the MIAAOR members.