The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 27 - April 7, 2010


Author writes books for grandchildren

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Children’s author Kathleen Geist and her husband,
Mick, enjoy a cup of tea as they discuss her book,
“Grandma Coo Coo Nutts Goes to Boston.”

Kathleen Geist-Eskew is the KJ Wihelm who is writing the Grandma Coo Coo Nutts series.

“I have eight grandchildren, so I want to do a book for each child,” Kathleen said. “The first is dedicated to Max Geist, my oldest grandchild who’s now in college.

The stories began when Max was a little boy.

“I wanted to build a relationship with Max, but we lived so far apart, I was worried that we wouldn’t be close,” Geist-Eskew said.

Geist said she missed Max and each of her subsequent grandchildren so much that she began telling Max stories over the phone as a way to stay in touch.

As Max grew up, they each told a part of the story. From that beginning, the Grandma Coo Coo Nutts series was begun.

For Max, now away at college, the special stories he shared with his grandmother meant a lot.

“I’ve always loved how close I’ve been with my grandmother,” Max said in an e-mail. Growing up, a lot of my friend’s grandmothers had either passed away, or were just old and boring, and they didn’t always enjoy spending time with them.”

Max said he thinks it’s really cool having a story about his younger self.

“I laugh whenever I see a picture of me in the book,” he said. “It’s funny to me, because I remember my grandma used to make up these stories to me over the phone when I was about six. I never would’ve guessed that they would end up getting published.”

He said he also feels honored that his grandma chose to write a book that’s basically about him.

The story features a nutty grandmother with spiked hair who’s going on a visit to her see Max. The two discuss which of her many pets she should bring for the visit.

They finally settle on three – Harry, the hamster; Sissy, the baby snake and Pappy, the pot-bellied piglet.

Harry and Pappy have little spiked heads, and a wisp or two tops even Sissy’s head.

After some deliberation about the best means of travel, plane, train or automobile, Grandma Coo Coo Nutts chooses a choo choo.

All those long “o” sounds are just the sort of thing a child in the target audience of four to about nine or 10 would enjoy.

The journey itself is an adventure with Sissy going alliteratively missing somewhere on the train.

Fortunately, the drama in the journey ends well and Grandma Coo Coo Nutts and Max have a fine visit.

Geist-Eskew, an energetic, bubbly grandmother herself, comes alive as she discusses her book, the others to follow and her grandchildren for whom the stories are named.

Though for the author, each book is a love note to a specific grandchild, they are books that all children will enjoy.

“I want so much to teach children to tell their own story,” Geist-Eskew said. “Kids are very smart, very sharp today.”

Any kids that want to start to tell their stories can e-mail Geist-Eskew at

Mick Geist points out that kids can log onto the Grandma Coo Coo Nutts Web site at and print out a little booklet to color and go with the story.

You can also order books from that Web site.

Geist-Eskew has the next two books ready to go to the printer, and she plans to keep on writing until she has a story for each of her eight grandchildren.

And now some great-grandchildren are arriving, so it looks like this wonderful new series of children’s books will be growing for a while.

Three friends reunite on Island

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Eileen Suhre, Jean Rowe and
Heather Hazelton, are three women whose friendship
has bridged several decades and two continents.

BRADENTON BEACH – Three women whose lives have spanned two continents gathered together on Anna Maria Island recently to reminisce about where they were and where their paths have taken them.

Born in Ipswich, England, about 70 miles northeast of London, Jean Rowe, Heather Hazelton and Eileen Suhre remember living in the route German bombers and rockets took to London in World War II. It was a time when the reminders of war were everywhere.

“We used to carry gas masks to school,” Suhre said. “There was a podium every block with a light and when it turned a special color, that meant it was time to put on your mask.”

She said that they always knew where the bomb shelters were, and when they heard the sirens, it meant the German planes were on their way. When they heard what she called a cuckoo noise, it meant they were about to fly overhead.

The war was a big part in their lives at that time as Nazi Germany tried to break the spirit of the British in what Sir Winston Churchill said was England’s “finest hour.”

“We had lots of damage, but they really devastated London,” Hazelton said.

“The government offered the children an opportunity to live in Australia during the war, but nobody wanted to leave their families,” Rowe said.

Living with all that action sometimes had tragic consequences, especially for children in grade school.

“When we got to school in the morning and they took attendance, we worried for those children who were not present,” Rowe said. “After school, we would visit their neighborhoods to see if they had been destroyed,” she said. “If so, it meant those kids might not have made it.”

As in America, the war meant rationing on the home front. In Britain, food was rationed.

“We got one egg per day and a pat of butter,” Suhre said. “When people ask me why I left England, I tell them it was because of the memories I have of those times.”

During the war, Eileen met a young America G.I. named Richard. They dated when she was 17 and got married and moved to America when she was 19. They eventually found themselves living in Bradenton Beach where Richard served on a Bradenton Beach city board before being elected as a city councilman, as they were known in the mid 1990s. He passed away about 12 years ago and Eileen sold their big home on the bay, bought one in Colorado Springs, where she summers, and bought a home at the Pines Mobile Home Park, where she spends her winters.

Jean Rowe also met and married an American serving in England and they eventually moved to Iowa, where she lives now.

“I have the best of both worlds,” she said. “I was born in England, but I’m an American citizen.”

Heather Hazelton continues to live in Ipswich.

The bonds they formed in their youth have kept them united mentally all these years, if not physically.

“It says a lot about our friendship,” Suhre said.

Island Gallery West celebrates 20 years

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED Island Gallery West artists celebrating
20 years in business in Holmes Beach are, seated from
the left: Shirley Dean, Linda Schmid, Nancy Law,
Gloria Cropper, Lee Mears, Jean Ehlis, Terry Denson,
Standing from left, Richard Stewart, Caroline Whitmore,
Kathy Storm, Norma Lienhard, Debra Ridgdill, Marlane Wurzbach,
Pam McMillen, Susan Oberender, Cecy Richardson,
Carole Dougherty, Joe Fletcher, Mike Balas and Maitte Van Arsdel.
Absent are Anne Abgott, Paul Achre, Linda Balas, Nancy Faris,
Jane Keeling, Barbara Orear, Dee Pastorius and Tom Robinson.

HOLMES BEACH - Island Gallery West is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month with a free, public party on Saturday, April 17 from 2 to 6 p.m., featuring complimentary refreshments, live music by the SR 64 band, and a 20 percent gallery-wide discount.

The first 20 party attendees to purchase more than $20 of Island Gallery West art will receive $20 worth of Beach Bistro Bucks coupons from Beach Bistro, the renowned Zagat-rated and award-winning Holmes Beach restaurant.

The gallery, which boasts 28 artist-members, features affordable, locally-produced art, including original paintings, fiber-art purses, pottery and sculpture, intricate handmade baskets, stained glass, handmade jewelry, photography, fine art greeting cards and commissioned art.

Each week during the winter season, free art demonstrations are offered, and each month, a free, public reception features a member artist.

Artist James Pay conceived of and planned Island Gallery West in April 1990 with other local artists including Sidney McKenna, Mary Worobec, Helen DeForge, Thelma Weeks, Irene Murphy, Judy Adams, Bren Jackson and Jane Fitzgerald.

The gallery opened at the current location, 5368 Gulf Drive in the S & S Shopping Plaza in Holmes Beach, with the Anna Maria Island Art League using the back room for its headquarters and classroom for the first three years.

A fire at an adjacent restaurant, Augie’s, damaged the gallery in April 2003, but the artist co-op worked together to clean and repair the gallery, re-opening it little more than a month later.

The gallery remains a vibrant co-operative of diverse local artists. New applicants are juried by current members to be accepted into the group. There are no paid employees, and each member staffs the gallery once a month. Gallery visitors can always count on meeting with a professional artist knowledgeable in his or her fellow artists’ medium.

A series of photo scrapbooks documenting the history of the gallery will be on display all month.

Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit or Facebook.

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