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
takes post at Island facility
ready for tour; needs a name
Manatee Beautiful honored
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
No law enforcement officer was injured in the crash.