HOLMES BEACH – Jean Peelen arrived on Anna Maria Island from the Washington D.C. area 10 years ago. Her sister had died from cancer and friends told her to visit Anna Maria Island.
“They told me I should walk the beach,” she said.
She rented a place, saw what life was like with the beaches – the slow pace, and the friendly people, and she never looked back.
“The people were warm and welcoming, and the people I met then are still friends,” she said. “It was a lovely place to live.”
Unfortunately, as things progressed and so many homes were razed to make way for vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, she became alarmed.
“That’s when I decided to run for office,” she said. “I have been active all my life in trying to help people and I saw so many residents decide they couldn’t live with all the disturbances.”
Peelen said a lot of those residents were retirees who had saved their money and bought a place to live out their lives. She said the majority of them lived here fulltime, enjoying and contributing to the lifestyle. Then there were the part-time residents, the snowbirds who came down in the fall and left in the spring.
“Those people are almost all gone,” she said.
Peelen said when she got elected, one project was the dog park.
Then she joined two other elected officials, Carol Carter of Anna Maria and Janie Robertson of Bradenton Beach, to form Home Sweet Home.
The group’s mission is to convince people to move and live fulltime on the Island. The group acquired non-profit accreditation and it is looking for properties that would make good, affordable homes that could benefit the donors with tax breaks as well.
It sponsored a gathering of residents at the Anna Maria City Park that was well attended. She said she thought it was a success as far as spreading the small town feeling that the Island was known for.
Peelen has mixed feelings about leaving, but she doesn’t stay in one place for too long.
“Every 10 years I reinvent myself,” she said. “I’m moving to Flat Rock in the North Carolina mountains and it will be a good experience, living in the mountains.”
She’s living in a small house.
“I think I’ll like that where everything is close at hand,” she said. “I won’t have room for clutter.”
She’ll miss the lifestyle here too.
“I loved island living with the beaches nearby,” she said. “I will miss the friends that I have made. I’ll always remember them.”