Civic & Community Corner: Welcome to the new board, and a sad farewell to a community icon
The North Fort Myers Civic Association met on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. at its usual location, Rooms 102A and B at the North Fort Myers Recreation Center. At that meeting, which is also its Annual Membership Meeting, elections were held to fill five positions for Director on our 12-member Board of Directors. Elected for three-year terms were Rudy Berndlmaier Deb Ballard, and new members Mark Lipton. Terri Halm and Matthew Malcolm. Immediately thereafter, elections were held to elect a slate of officers by the new Board, with the following results: President, Doug Dailey; First V. President, Dan Ballard; 2d Vice President, Rudy Berndlmaier; Secretary, Laura Malcolm Lewis; and Treasurer, Kim Tester. The Nominations and Elections Committee, consisting of 10-year member Ron Wilder, new member Ron Levy and chaired by former Director Wendy Fahl performed admirably.
The unsung hero and “king-maker” behind the election was Secretary Laura Malcolm Lewis who quietly recruited a co-worker, Kim Tester to be a director and our Treasurer; another co-worker, new member Terri Halm, who was elected a director; her son, Matthew Malcolm, who was elected as a new director; and her stepson, Brandon Lewis, as a new member, all of whom made the election results a foregone conclusion. A great example of the leadership training that this organization teaches.
Doug Dailey is only the fourth president in the 18-year history of this organization, and I am certain that he will do an outstanding job. He has some creative ideas and will lead this association to even greater accomplishments. I wish him well.
Retiring directors Brenda Sizemore, Larry Murphy and Yours Truly were thanked for their services over the last three years. Brenda and Larry were an integral part of almost every significant project and event and they worked tirelessly for the residents of North Fort Myers.
By now most of my readers have heard of the untimely demise of Tom Cronin, owner and business genius of The Shell Factory, which he guided from a few old dilapidated buildings to the largest-grossing entertainment attraction in Southwest Florida. I met Tom about three years ago. After the public-spirited heads of Carter-Pritchett Outdoor Advertising agreed to donate four billboards to the promotion of NFM and the Civic Association, (which they are still donating to the residents of NFM) they indicated that the spokesperson for two of those billboards was going to be Tom and wife Pam. I asked manager Charles Cockrill to set up a meeting between me and Tom and we clicked instantly. I spoke to him about my idea for a promotional brochure for NFM touting its advantages and distributing it throughout the state and he immediately donated the first $500 towards the cost of printing, suggested a printer and a distributor and got two of his friends to each contribute the remaining $1,000 and the brochure was born. We discussed a few other ideas and he promptly agreed to host a luncheon for the Civic Association, subsidizing much of the cost himself, at his Capt’n Fishbones Dolphin Room attended by all five county commissioners and 120 other county and local leaders, at which event Commissioner Brian Hamman announced that the Commission had authorized an expenditure of $50,000 for a study of how to improve NFM. This has led to several other initiatives, including the recently-announced $2 million-dollar development incentive program for NFM.
This past June he volunteered to host and underwrote the entire cost of a membership social for the Civic Association including free drinks, food and entertainment, at which event the nugget for a NFM Arts Center was created, which has led to the formation of a group of dedicated individuals I write about elsewhere in this column. It is not coincidental that in this same three years the membership in the NFM Civic Association has risen from 30 members to over 150! Tom was a long-time member and supporter of the Civic Association and his acts of philanthropy, civic involvement and humanitarianism are well known. He was an inspiration to me and a giant among men and our heart and prayers go out to his lovely wife Pam and the cast of his employees who all loved and admired him including Ric Tupper, CFO, who always made sure the Civic Association had a free table at their events and helped us create that NFM promotional brochure; Richard Dunmire who headed up the Flea market where the Civic Association was allowed to set up a Welcome and Information Tent each week; his executive secretary, Jessica Read, who assisted the Civic Association on numerous occasions by creating attractive flyers for some of our events and helping with various secretarial assignments; and Anne Sheridan his general manager, who made several signs and expedited matters for us, all of whom we thank for their help.
I have suggested to President Doug that the NFM Civic Association create an annual Tom Cronin Civic Accomplishment Award to be presented annually to that NFM resident who has best exemplified Tom’s qualities of public concern, superior effort and civic accomplishments. He has agreed to place it on the agenda for our next monthly meeting on March 13 at 7 p.m. at the NFM Recreation Center. Why not come attend that meeting and please join this very worthwhile organization to help turn Our Town around? Dues are only ten smackers a year, $15 for a family of up to 3 and $35 for businesses, which includes posting your business card on our website for the year. You’ll meet new people, stimulate your brain, get some leadership training and get involved in helping to make NFM a better place in which to live, work and play!
The Civic Association also recently did the following:
A. Held a “social” on Friday, Jan.19, consisting of going as a group on the free trolley to attend “Music walk”, always the third Friday of the month, along First Street in the River District of Fort Myers. We assembled in a trolley at 6 p.m. at the corner of N. Key Drive and Rt. 41 at Che Tito’s Argentinian Steakhouse, took the trolley over the bridge to First Street, walked up and down six or so blocks where music acts of all genres- pop, jazz, blues, rock and roll, folk, rap, Dixieland, country, whatever- played on street corners, in or at the entranceways of numerous restaurants, bars and galleries as well as at Plaza DeLeon, all free of charge to the public. We watched the revelry, saw downtown at night, heard some great music, participated in this “happening” and had some laughs, fun and camaraderie. Our chairperson, new member Michelle Ayers, who is also a professional clown, “Mitchie the Clown,” dressed in her distinct makeup and getup, led our delegation, small because of the freezing weather, but enthusiastic!
B. Participated in “Gumbofest” at Shell Factory, where our good friends and members, Tom Cronin, Ric Tupper and Richard Dunmire, allowed us to have a table gratis, so we could meet new friends, distribute our pamphlets, answer questions and distribute materials on NFM. Representing the Civic Association were Dora Miller, Larry Murphy, Rudy Berndlmaier, Yours Truly, Danny and Debra Ballard, Doug Dailey and Mark Lipton.
C. I sent a letter to our County Commissioners protesting and asking a reconsideration of the decision to allow a central sewer exemption for Realmark Storage warehouse on Rt. 41 south of Del Prado across from Shoppes of Del Prado. Mark Lipton composed the letter and I touched it up and sent it.
D.I sent an email to the five county commissioners praising them for their efforts in passing the enabling legislation for the $2 million incentive reimbursement for the mixed-use overlay area of NFM.
The NFM Community Planning Panel and NFM Design Review Panel met jointly on Feb. 6 and considered two applications to continue existing uses for: 1.) Applebee’s Restaurant at Merchants Crossing to continue the weekly classic auto shows which required an Amendment to include a deviation to Section 34-43-24-03-0000A.0000 of the NFM Land Development Code; and 2.) Royal Palm Sailing Club at Moody River, seeking an Administrative Zoning Amendment to continue functioning at its nice facility. The first application was approved and the second was adjourned to March 6 at 6 p.m.
I would be remiss if I closed without acknowledging the stellar work being done by Maryanne Howard as president of the fledgling Lee County Arts Center in North Fort Myers. She and her group of about 20 enthusiasts have designed a logo, are setting up a website, applying for tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service thanks to the gratis legal work of Mark Lipton and seeking a temporary rented or donated headquarters. They have enlisted the assistance of Rachel Busch, Strategic Projects, Lee County Economic Development Office, the woman I call “Mrs. North Fort Myers” because of her inspired leadership at the helm of all of Lee County’s efforts on behalf of our fair town.
And speaking of Rachel Busch, I am pleased to announce that the Annual Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the NFM Community Planning Panel will take place on Wednesday evening, March 7, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Rooms 102 A and B, NFM Rec Center and will feature Commissioner Brian Hamman, the aforesaid Rachel Bush, a presentation by Dennis J. Fullenkamp, local Realtor and developer and Attorney Chuck Bassinait on behalf of “Paradise Isles,” the largest and most expensive development in the history of NFM. They are using the same architects from Sarasota that designed Tarpon Point in Cape Coral and are developing what used to be Lochmoor Estates and Marina at the western edge of NFM and their plans are to widen Orange Grove Boulevard with two rotaries to handle the traffic. Their grandiose vision is to create a “destination” with a first-class hotel, high rises, condos, restaurants, shops, and single-family residences, while improving the marina and refurbishing the golf course. We sure hope they succeed and we wish them well. The program will end with an open meeting of the “Communities” of NFM featuring leaders of some of the 55 communities and neighborhoods that we have identified in NFM discussing some common problems, solutions and ideas. In all, it should be an interesting and informative evening and we hope to see you there.
And it is with heavy heart that I announce that I will be moving back to my old stomping grounds in Atlantic City, New Jersey by the end of March. Yes, I know that it is cold and bleak there, and I will miss the beautiful climate and foliage that you enjoy here, and the many friends and contacts with whom I have associated over these past 17 years in North Fort Myers, but my wife’s health makes it imperative that I utilize the support network waiting for me there consisting of my three wonderful and caring kids and my four grown grandchildren. I wish this town well it has a tremendous potential and many wonderful attributes and is truly “the opportunity side of the river.”
And finally, I thank Valarie Harring, editor of The Neighbor, for giving me the opportunity to write this column for the last four years and its ace reporter, Chuck Ballaro, for steadfastly covering the major civic happenings in town, and quoting me on those rare occasions when I said anything worth repeating. Each of them has contributed in a major way towards the development of NFM and I will miss them both.
Farewell, bon chance, best of health to all of you, and please do as much as you can to make North Fort Myers a better place in which to live, work and play. My heart and my mind remain here, it is just my body that is leaving.
PUBLIC APATHY IS THE PLAGUE OF THE 21ST CENTURY! VOLUNTEER – IT’S GOOD FOR THE MIND AND THE HEART.” – MIKE LAND