Herb Savage dies after a fall; Marco Island icon was five days short of his 100th birthday

Lance Shearer

A towering figure of Marco Island history has died.

Herb Savage, longtime island architect and a man who personified Marco Island modern development, died Tuesday evening, five days short of his 100th birthday.

Hearty and vigorous to the end, Savage fell on Dec. 13 after attending a meeting of the Reserve Officers’ Association, breaking his arm in four places.

After a second fall, going to two hospitals and the Arlington of Naples, Savage died around 9 p.m. Tuesday, with his wife, Emily, and his daughter Charlene by his side.

Herb Savage, longtime island architect and a man who personified Marco Island history, died Tuesday evening, Jan. 1, 2018, five days short of his 100th birthday.

“At least it was peaceful,” Emily Savage said Wednesday morning. “We were there with him, and I gave him a kiss.”

Herb Savage was a beloved figure on Marco Island, who was honored by having a bridge and a street on the island named after him, as well as the “Modern Marco” wing of the Marco Island Historical Museum in a dedication ceremony held tin October.

Along with Emily, his wife of 68 years, he was known for leading rousing community sings of “God Bless America” at public gatherings, conducting vigorously, singing in a booming voice, and often resplendent in his full-dress uniform as a U.S. Army colonel, from his service in the Corps of Engineers during World War II.

The formal dedication and official opening of what later became the JW Marriott Marco Island Resort was on Dec. 18, 1971. The new 400-room hotel, built adjacent to the original 50- (and later 100-) room Marco Beach Hotel, cost $18 million to build. The governor of Florida, Reubin Askew, was in attendance, as were the Mackle Brothers and Deltona's top executives. It was a crowning achievement for the Mackle Brothers, who "opened" Marco Island to the public just seven years earlier (Jan. 31, 1965). It was designed by architect Herb Savage. Purchased by Marriott in 1979.

A community-wide celebration of Savage’s 100th birthday was planned for Saturday at the Marco Island Hilton, although his actual birthday was the next day. That luncheon will proceed as planned, said Debra Shanahan of the Rotary Club of Marco Island Sunrise, who is coordinating the event. Over 30 members of Herb and Emily’s family are expected to attend from around the country and the world, including seven coming from Sweden.

More:Herb Savage works have new life at Marco Island Historical Museum

Emily and Herb Savage on Memorial Day in 2016

A young Herb Savage came to Marco Island in the 1960s as part of the Mackle Brothers' development team that transformed the island from a marshy, lightly inhabited barrier island to the miles of canal-front homes and beachside condos that characterize it today.

As the company’s principal architect, he designed the Marco Island Yacht Club, the Island Country Club, the bank that was transformed to City Hall, and the hotel that eventually became today’s JW Marriott, as well as scores of homes.

Many of his designs incorporated a Polynesian theme, after his employers sent Herb and Emily on a research trip to Hawaii.

Marco Island architect and icon Herb Savage always wears a necktie. Savage is closing his business and retiring at age 97. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Herb Savage closed his architecture practice just two years ago, around the time Emily shuttered “Shells by Emily,” her shell shop across the hall in a building along Collier Boulevard on Marco.

Herb Savage was an outsize personality, opinionated, endlessly interested in people and full of enthusiasm. If he was part of an event, he could always be counted to take the front of the room and lead “God Bless America.”

Longtime Marco Island realtor Jim Prange, whom Herb called “son,” said that when he escorted Savage on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to tour the war monuments there, Savage even did that at D.C.’s National Airport, getting the entire terminal singing along with him.

“He commanded that moment,” Prange said. “He was so full of life.”

Herb and Emily Savage: His name on the bridge, she closes shell store

Herb Savage sings "God Bless America." The VFW hosted the Memorial Day observances 11 a.m. Monday, May 28, 2018, at Veterans Community Park on a windblown Marco Island.

Even in nursing home at the Arlington of Naples in his last days, Prange said, “he didn’t lose his sense of humor. He said, ‘Jimmy, let’s get out of here.’ He didn’t have family on the island, so he sort of adopted us.”

“There wouldn’t be history on this island if it wasn’t for Herb,” said Shanahan from the Rotary Club, who said Savage and his work touched everyone on Marco.

“That booming voice of his, I will miss forever,” she said. “You will never hear it from anyone else.”

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Hard of hearing in his last years, Savage made sure everyone could hear him.

“Herb Savage was the last link to the Mackle brothers we had on the island,” said Marco attorney Craig Woodward, who shared with Savage the mantle of unofficial Marco Island historian. “It’s the closing of an era. He was part of the fabric of our community.”

Emily and Herb Savage lead the crowd in "God Bless America" as the Smokehouse Bay Bridge officially became the Herbert R. Savage Bridge in a ceremony in 2016.

Woodward was instrumental in arranging to name the span over Smokehouse Bay the Herbert R. Savage Bridge, and a back street Herb Savage Way.

Herb and Emily had three children — Charlene, Sharon and Herb Jr. — six grandchildren, including Herb III, and two great-grandchildren.

No funeral arrangements have been set, Emily Savage said Wednesday, with her loss still fresh.

Daughter Charlene said her father had not wanted a church service, so they were considering using Saturday’s event at the Hilton, originally a 100th birthday party but already a celebration of his life, as his memorial service.

“He wanted to get to be 100,” she said. “I’m sad he didn’t make it. He was just so stubborn — he wouldn’t use his walker.”

The luncheon Saturday was planned as a benefit for the Savages and their causes, said Shanahan. To make reservations for the celebration of Herb Savage’s life at the Hilton, call Shanahan at 239-248-7419.

2015: Marco DAR welcomes Herb Savage, island's architect

2016: ‘Savage’ Bridge officially named

Herb and Emily Savage led the singing of "God Bless America" for the second time in one morning for Memorial Day 2016. Marco Island marked Memorial Day on Monday with music, speeches and flag displays, in the annual celebration at 11 a.m. in Veterans Community Park.