Vol 7 No. 15 - January 3, 2007


Persons of the Year: Suzi Fox, AMI Turtle Watch

Center fund raising down to the wire

Mike Miller helps residents 'go native'

Lori Kee captures old Florida in pen and ink

Librarian takes post at Island facility

Quilt ready for tour; needs a name

Keep Manatee Beautiful honored

Letter to mother led to bank robbery investigation




Persons of the Year: Suzi Fox, AMI Turtle Watch

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

As dawn breaks each morning from early May through the summer months, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers are out on our beaches patrolling for signs of sea turtle nesting.

The Island Sun has named AMITW Director Suzi Fox and her cadre of volunteers as the Island Sun's people of the year.

It's a varied group. They are teachers, working and retired. They are attorneys; they are office people, retail people, executives and janitors.

They are all ages, from elementary school students like Jerry Mayer, who has volunteered for three years now, to people in their 70s and even 80s. Educational levels vary from high school graduates to people with Ph.D.s and other advanced degrees.

What all these people share is a commitment to be a part of preserving the threatened and endangered sea turtles that nest on the Island.

"The scientific community could not do its work to learn about and then protect sea turtles without the help of these volunteers," said Mote Marine Laboratory Veterinarian Dr. Charlie Manire.

"Volunteers are what makes it all possible. There is a critical shortage of money and manpower in the entire conservation movement. These volunteers who want to work to help save the animals play a vital part in the survival of sea turtles.”

Organizing all these volunteers, training them to spot the signs of a green turtle nest or a loggerhead nest, teaching them about the sea turtles and their struggle to survive falls to Suzi Fox.

"What Suzi does and what others like her do around the state and around the country is of incredible value to FWC (Florida Wildlife Commission) and the federal government," said Dr. Robbin Trindell of FWC. "Their work is critical to the documentation of what's going on with our sea turtles in the state of Florida, where the highest nesting count in the U.S. takes place."

Trindell said the data Fox and her volunteers collect is analyzed by scientists at FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Suzi herself represents the diversity of the individuals who volunteer their time," Trindell said. "Her dedication and that of her volunteers always amazes me. You get someone like Suzi who's in charge of a program like this, someone who's getting calls in the middle of the night and who is coordinating the walkers out at dawn and you get a wonderful resource."

FWC is responsible for issuing permits to the people in the state who coordinate the sea turtle programs. Fox holds the permit for Anna Maria Island.

The work has to be done precisely and to the dictates of FWC and other scientists.

"What you have on the beaches are essentially citizen scientists," Manire said.

Fox is responsible for filing detailed reports on each nest and on the overall nesting picture with the state and county. It's from those reports that the data about the health of the species as a whole is generated.

None of the volunteers are paid. Fox herself is paid $25,000 during renourishment years and for three years after. The county and the company doing the renourishment must generate extensive reports, since they are working in an area that could and sometimes does impact threatened and endangered species.

For that work, Fox is on call 24/7 for the entire nesting season. That works out to $51.65 a day, or $2.15 an hour.

During years when there is no renourishment followup, there is no income.

Fox has been director of the program for nine seasons now. In addition to training the volunteers, she works with the code enforcement officers of each Island city to make sure lighting regulations are in followed.

She works with Realtors and motels to make sure information gets to tourists and Island property owners about turtle nesting - especially the harm that lights shining on the beach can cause nesting mothers and hatchlings.

Fox said she began walking the beach as a volunteer for AMITW when the hatchlings were still collected and raised for a couple of months in a hatchery on Pine Avenue - something that scientists have now determined is harmful to the reptiles.

"It was a hard time for me," Fox said. "My mom had just died, and I was really depressed. A friend signed me up to help walk the beach for AMITW, and gradually the beach and the sunrise and the turtles brought me back to life."

When the program needed a new leader, the volunteers urged Fox to apply for the permit, which she ultimately did.

"Those were the days when I cried over each dead hatchling, each stranded adult," she said. "Now they all still break my heart, but I don't get paralyzed."

Since then, there has been no looking back. The program has grown to more than 100 volunteers. The group is allied with other volunteer groups under the umbrella of FWC from all over the state. They are allied with scientists and volunteers from all over the world through international conservation organizations.

Fox's job and that of her volunteers is not all about beautiful sunrises on the beach and darling baby turtles. It's also about educating Island residents and business owners about the turtles and what we can do to help preserve the species.

Not everyone is amenable to the idea that they have to modify their beach lighting, but the organization presses on, like other such groups around the state and around the country.

Fox and her dedicated group of AMITW work hard, walking at dawn, excavating nests in the heat of summer with sweat dripping from their faces and monitoring nests ready to hatch with sand fleas biting every part of them that isn't covered.

And they celebrate the birth and survival of each hatchling - only one out of a thousand will make it to adulthood. Each one matters desperately. Each volunteer and each hatchling.

Center fund raising down to the wire

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

In less than a week, Community Center officials must have $1.1 million in cash and pledges to meet the terms of a contract with Northern Trust Bank.

The good news is that a Dec. 13 article in The Sun put them $246,000 closer to that goal. They have $501,180.85 of the $1.1 million, leaving $589,819.15 to be raised by the close of business Jan. 8. Now, officials hope that this plea will put them over the top.

"The article generated $246,000 in new pledges," Pierrette Kelly, Community Center executive director said. "The power of the pen truly is amazing. I hope people will read this. It made a huge difference last time."

The total cost of the building is $4.8 million and Center officials have raised $2.5 million of that. If they meet the terms of the contract with Northern Trust Bank by the deadline, the bank will loan them $1.2 million to complete building plus additional money for furnishings.

"I know that there are people who want to open up their checkbooks or make a pledge," Kelly said. "Pledges can be made over three to five years and we can fax or e-mail pledge forms to people. We want to make it easy."

Kelly said she also is hoping some people will take advantage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006. According to the act, anyone 70 1/2 years old or older can make an asset distribution of up to $100,000 from an IRA or Roth IRA without penalty. New programs

Over the next six months, Center officials will be working on developing programs and seeking instructors for the new Center.

"It gets so exciting thinking about what can and will be," Kelly said. "I can't wait to have everything better in the new facility."

Kelly said the new culinary arts center has been generating buzz in the community.

"So many people say they can't wait to take classes there," she said. "We will have guest chefs from local restaurants.

"We also will be able to provide meals on wheels to the shut-ins in our community. It will mean so much to so many who can't get out and will ease their loneliness."

The Center's sports banquets will be served from the new kitchen and teens can learn to cook for their families and themselves.

"We have talked to USF and MTI about working with them on culinary arts," Kelly revealed. "We can prepare kids for college with our programs."

The performing arts center is another new area that is generating excitement. It will include classes in art, music, drama and dance.

"If there's a class that you always wanted to take, contact us because we will be pulling together all the essentials and seeking instructors in the next six months," Kelly pointed out.

For information or to request a pledge form or a class, call the Center at 778-1908

Mike Miller helps residents �go native�

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - Mike Miller wants to help Island property owners go native - with plants that is, and Miller's Web site, www.perfectisland.us offers all the information they need to do so.

"This is something that's the next logical step after 16 years of planting," Miller explained.

Miller became involved in city beautification in 1990 when Commissioner Mary Ross, under the direction of Mayor Ray Simches, asked him to embark on a project to beautify the area surrounding city hall and the Island Players' Theater.

"People donated plants from their yards, and we sold bricks for a sidewalk around the theater to raise money to buy more plants," Miller recalled.

Then Miller had an epiphany that led him to begin his focus on native plants and away from what he calls "exotic entertainment plants." About the same time, he discovered a book called "Xeric Landscaping with Florida Native Plants," that categorized plants by locations where they were native.

"It was a Bible for me," he said. "We would get the plants and plant them at city hall just to see what they looked like. We kept replacing the exotics with natives. They were specific plants for barrier islands."

Over the years, Miller began to direct plantings in the Historical Park, which was begun by a group of volunteers led by Doug Copeland in the late 1980s. He works closely with the Environmental Education and Enhancement Committee and has added the bay shoreline at the city pier and Gulffront Park to his growing list.

In 1998, Miller began learning how to build a Web site, and debuted it two years ago. In addition, he noted that the landscapes at city hall and the Historical Park were mature enough to be used as examples.

Both parks are now 90 percent native and Miller pointed out, "The first thing you see when you get into the heart of Anna Maria is all native plants. Then comes the Historical Park and then the pier. We're starting to connect things with an image that's quire different from Longboat Key."

Web site offerings

At the top of the home page, Miller states, "It's not about a place; it's about an idea. It is about the task of perfecting the everyday experience of our own habitat."

The home page includes a listing of all the site's offerings including Miller's essay, "Idea," a listing of plants native to barrier islands with links to photos, photos of the Island's native trees and plants, models of Anna Maria plant communities, action ideas, links to nurseries and other information on Florida native plants, sources for gardening materials and laws involving beaches and plants.

"The essay is the story of how I came here and did what everybody else did - plant pretty things, and how I came to realize that was conflicting with the beach," Miller explained. "In order to capture the tropical dream, we've planted an amusement park of plants around our homes.

"There's nothing wrong with planting exotics but there's a price that goes along with it. If everybody does it, there's no sense of place. If people planted indigenous plants with exotics as accents, then the Island would look like where it is. It would be itself."

Miller likens this to our national parks that have been preserved in their natural state.

In the models section of the Web site, Miller offers aerial photos of Anna Maria's four public parks, each representing a specific plant community of the barrier islands. The city hall is the maritime forest, the Historical Park is the mangrove shore combined with the maritime forest, Gulffront Park is the beaches and dunes and the bay shoreline is similar to beaches and dunes.

By clicking on to each park, you will get an introduction, the history and an aerial map of all the plants in the park with links to photos of the individual plants. There is a Web link to the USF plant atlas that includes maps of Florida counties showing species that will grow there.

Miller offers his expertise to anyone who wants to ask questions. Contact him by phone at 778-1200 or via the Web site. He will also make a photo of your house showing how it would look planted with natives.

"Advice is free," he said. "That's what this is all about."

Lori Kee captures old Florida in pen and ink

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

Lori Kee's pen and ink drawings feature the essence of Florida, whether it is a historic building in a small town, a flock of birds scurrying across the sand or funky fishing pier jutting out into the bay.

"I want to capture the old Florida before it disappears," Kee explained. "I go places on weekends - day jaunts to little towns and take photos and work from them. I also like to work locally. Cortez is one of my favorite locations."

Kee, who has been drawing with pen and ink since the early 1980s, grew up in Ft. Lauderdale. However, she was a frequent visitor to the Island during her middle and high school years because he father lived here.

After high school, Kee gravitated to what she calls her "other favorite island," Mackinac Island in Michigan's upper peninsula, spending summers there.

"There are no cars on the island, but there is a paved road," she said. "People ride horses and bicycles. I was working there when they filmed the movie ‘Somewhere in Time' with Christopher Reeves."

Kee then settled in Sebring and went to work in an art gallery.

"I sold art supplies and did custom framing," she recalled. "That's where I picked up pen and ink. I was looking through a book and decided I'd like to try it."

Kee eventually returned to the Island to care for her ailing father and ended up staying.

"I didn't think I'd ever live here," she confessed. "I got a job in the administrative office of the West Manatee Fire District and stayed there for two years. Then I went city of Holmes Beach, where I've worked as assistant deputy clerk for 3 1/2 years."

If you frequent city hall, you will often find Kee sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the lobby working on a piece of art during hr lunch hour. Currently, she is drawing the Roser Memorial Community Church Chapel using a technique called pointillism, in which she applies dots of ink that blend together to form the picture.

"I like pointillism better, but it takes so much time," she explained. "It really depends on the subject."

Kee said her best sellers include Captain Dan, an old fishing boat in Cortez; the house, which locals call "the "stick-out house," on the beach south of the Sandbar restaurant in Anna Maria; a group of sandpipers on the beach and mermaids.

"I want to do a series of old cottages and a mermaid series," she said. "If I'm disciplined, I try to work three to four days a week, and if I'm really disciplined, I work during lunch and in the evening."

You can find Kee's art in shops and galleries such as Ginny's Antiques and Art in Holmes Beach and Urban Way Gallery in the Village of the Arts in Bradenton. She was also the featured artist at the French Market in the Village of the Arts in October.



Librarian takes post at Island facility

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - She played on the beach when she was younger and now she works at the beach.

Danielle Battaglia is the new supervisory assistant and the second certified librarian at the Island Branch Library.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., she has lived in Manatee County for 15 years.

"I officially consider myself home grown," she said. "I grew up here and went to school here."

A graduate of the University of South Florida in Sarasota, Battaglia earned a master's degree in library information science with an undergraduate degree in history. She worked at the Kaiser College library part-time after graduating, and her last two years were at the Manatee County Central Library in Bradenton, where she worked in the children's department.

When Marian Humphreys retired late last year, she applied for her position on the Island.

"I heard about the opening and I had heard about what a great community it is out here," she said. "The support the people give to the Island Branch Library is well-known around the county."

Battaglia still lives in Bradenton, and she finds the commute invigorating.

"It's a nice drive, and I get a special feeling when I cross that bridge," she said. "I used to come here as a teenager and it's really nice to see that there is still plenty of access to the beaches."

She also finds the businesses here enticing.

"I walk through the small shops on my lunch break," she said. "They have unique items, and the people who own the shops work there and take a special interest in you."

One reason head librarian Ava Ehde, the other certified librarian at the facility, might have chosen her was because of her work in the children's department in the downtown library. Ehde has been responsible for several programs to get children and teens to think of the library as more than just a place to get material for book reports and other class assignments.

"I think it's important to reach out to teens so they will want to use the library when they become adults," Battaglia said. "I hope to get involved with the children's and teen programs here in the future."

Battaglia said she is excited to be able to do what she loves professionally at the Island Branch Library.

"I think the library is the last of the social equalizers," she said. "Because of that, I am proud to be a librarian."

Quilt ready for tour; needs a name

The public is invited to view and name this year's piece of art and admire all the detail work the Eyeland Needlers put into this year's quilt at the Island Library from Jan. 2-31.

The "Name the Quilt" contest began Jan. 2 and runs through Jan 24. Judging will be done by the The Eyeland Needlers. The winner will receive 50 quilt chance tickets.

As always, tickets to win the quilt are $1 per ticket, or six for $5, and will be on sale at the Anna Maria Island Community Center's administrative offices temporarily located in a trailer at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 South Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach. Tickets will also be sold on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Island Publix starting in February. Tickets may also be purchased at Green Real Estate, the sponsor of the quilt.

The drawing for the quilt will be March 17, the day of the tour. The winner does not need to be present to win.

All proceeds benefit the Island Community Center, which services over 5,000 children, families and seniors of this community with programs and services that otherwise would not be available.


Keep Manatee Beautiful honored

Keep Manatee Beautiful was honored as a President's Circle Award winner at Keep America Beautiful's 53rd National Conference in Orlando this December. A three-time winner since the President's Circle Award inception in 2003, Keep Manatee Beautiful was recognized for its high performance achieved in 2006 against Keep America Beautiful's standards of excellence in litter prevention, waste reduction, beautification and community improvement.

Manatee County received a 2006 overall score of 1.46 on Keep America Beautiful's Litter Index, a tool to measure if roadsides and shorelines are more or less littered during a drive-by examination of the same areas at the same time of the year using a four-point scale ranging from 1-no litter to 4-extremely littered. For every $1 of government funds invested in Keep Manatee Beautiful during 2006, $5.06 was returned to the community in measurable benefits.

Keep Manatee Beautiful leveraged $83,987 of government cash and in-kind contributions which directly funded administration expenses to obtain $425,320, which included $37,121 in private/non-government cash and special project grants, $69,554 in private foundation grants and state/federal "special project" grants, $199,069 in donated goods/services, $2,100 in cost avoidance and $117,476 in donated time from 4,838 volunteers. These volunteers improved public properties by removing 169,707 pounds of litter and illegal dumping, planting 153 trees and 3,896 flowering shrubs, marking 1,166 storm drains with stormwater pollution prevention messages, monitoring 75 fishing monofilament recycling bins, and tracking 146 motorists that tossed litter out the window.



Letter to mother led to bank robbery investigation

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - A letter to his mother confessing that he had robbed a bank led to an investigation against a man being held on charges of robbing a Holmes Beach drug store on Christmas day, according to Holmes Beach Police Lieutenant Dale Stephenson.

John Butler was arrested on Christmas day and charged with armed robbery, grand theft auto, fleeing to elude law enforcement officers and resisting arrest after he robbed patrons of the CVS Pharmacy in Holmes Beach.

When Butler saw police respond to the robbery, he ran to a nearby condominium project and took a car from its owner at gunpoint. He then headed off the Island on Manatee Avenue, followed by police officers from Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

He crashed into the Palma Sola Bridge, got out of the car and attempted to jump into the water before police caught up with him and arrested him.

Stephenson said they found the note to his mother in Butler's pocket and when they matched it with bank robbery reports, they found a match with the holdup of a Sarasota Bank.

Sarasota officials are investigating and may file charges against him.

During the chase, the three squad cars used by the officers were wrecked and had to be towed. According to Stephenson, who made the report on the incident, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office sedan ran into the Bradenton Beach sedan, which was pushed into the Holmes Beach pickup.

Stephenson said the sedans were total losses and the pickup suffered a couple of thousand dollars worth of damage.

No law enforcement officer was injured in the crash.


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