Islanders honored, remembered

The Islander takes pride in recognizing members of the Anna Maria Island community for their unselfish contributions and genuine concern for making this slice of paradise an even better place to live.

Since the newspaper started up in 1992, a reincarnation of a former publication that sadly sold to a national media group and eventually failed, The Islander has sought to make its path by partnering with community organizations and making its goals one and the same, by reporting the news of record, and by telling the tales of people who live and work on AMI.

At the end of the first and second year of publishing, we hadn’t yet found a way to say thank you to the people we thought worked tirelessly for a better Island. But in 1993 we found a worthy champion and launched an Islander of the year award to publish recognition for deserving people who bettered our world, much like the effort of Time magazine, although in our own small way.

Katie Pierola, 1995 Islander of the Year
She was the third recipient of The Islander’s annual award, which was presented posthumously to the late Ernie Cagnina in 1993 and to Ray Simches in 1994. Both served as mayors in Anna Maria.

Pierola had served six years as mayor of Bradenton Beach, her last term just ended, and she proved to be a bull dog in getting grants and bringing about positive change while in office. The city underwent a renaissance under her command.

She embodied the definition of a public servant in her caring, tireless efforts to improve both her city and Anna Maria Island.

Pierola played an instrumental role in the beach renourishment program and the prevention of a proposed Cortez megabridge.

Willis Howard “Snooks” Adams, 1996 Islander of the Year
Adams was born April 24, 1917, in Cortez, but spent much of his life on Anna Maria Island as a police chief who used common sense as his guide.

He was a friend to Island children, having started in 1954 an end-of-school party just for kids with hot dogs, sodas and games at the beach, celebrated now as Snooks Adams Kid’s Day. The Anna Maria Island Privateers are now host to the party annually for hundreds of children at Bayfront Park at the beginning of summer.

In 1952, Bradenton Beach incorporated and Adams became first assistant chief, then chief of police.

He is credited with helping set up the first Veterans of Foreign Wars post just after World War II and was commander three times during the 1950s.

In 1956, Adams went to work for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. “My job was to take care of the Island,” he said.

From 1962-78, Adams was chief of police in Holmes Beach.

Charles and Jo Ann Lester, 1997 Islanders of the Year
Charles Lester and Jo Ann Lester fell in love with Anna Maria Island and along with it, the Anna Maria Island Community Center. They put their money where their hearts are, both here and in the small towns in Wisconsin where they also reside half the year.

For this, and for the foresight to establish a permanent endowment fund for the Anna Maria Island Community Center, for their altruistic, unselfish willingness to put themselves at the foreground of a major fundraising campaign, we honored them as 1997 Islanders of the year.

Jim Kronus, 1998 Islander of the Year
Jim Kronus, retiring in January 1999 after 25 years as Anna Maria Island Elementary School principal, was the 1998 Islander of the Year.

He was later honored with his name on the school auditorium. Twenty-five years worth of admiring students, their parents, family and former and current staff honored him at that event.

Suzi Fox, 1999 Islander of the Year
As a volunteer, with little compensation and no funding to support the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, The Islander recognized Suzi Fox for her efforts in organizing a group of volunteers to protect sea turtles.

She took over a few years earlier the state permit for protecting nesting mother sea turtles, mostly loggerheads on Anna Maria Island, and protecting the hatchlings.

Beach renourishment brought funding and necessary monitoring of protected sea turtles to AMITW, and Fox continues as the group’s executive director, overseeing teams of volunteers and coordinators who track and monitor turtle activities on the beach and bay shores.

Nancy Ambrose, 2000 Islander of the year
She was a relative newcomer to Anna Maria Island, having moved here three years earlier from Atlanta, when she earned the honor.

Ambrose brought with her a passion for butterflies and butterfly gardening, but discovered things were different here.

She then found others who shared her butterfly interests and the Manasota Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association was quickly formed.

Mostly they met to share information, but they also had goals. One was to start a public butterfly garden, which Ambrose spearheaded in Holmes Beach.

Ambrose’s impact on Anna Maria Island can be seen — and visited and enjoyed — between Holmes Beach City Hall and the Island Branch Library.

It’s there you can see the results of her hundreds of volunteer hours — blooming and fluttering — although presently it is undergoing a makeover.

It’s a peaceful refuge that adds to the ambience of Anna Maria Island. And, that’s no small feat. While over the years we’ve heard numerous cries for “change,” seldom is it so benign — and so welcome.

So, for Ambrose, who also faced the greater challenge of breast cancer that year, we say thank you for making Anna Maria Island a more lovely, gracious and colorful place to live.

Carolyne Norwood, 2001 Islander of the Year
One of the greatest challenges facing Floridians is the development of a sense of community, a sense of place.

With hundreds of people moving to our area daily from everywhere on the planet, the history of our region is often lost in the avalanche of new faces, new homes, new businesses, new things to do and see.

Where we have been, what we have done, who helped shape and form the place we now call home is often forgotten.

History is important — if only so it does not have to be relived.

The keeper of the Island’s history is Carolyne Norwood. She set out on a quest to preserve our history and we think she’s been a champion at it, so much so that we selected her the Islander of the Year for 2001.

Anna Maria Island Historical Society, its museum and the preserved old jail, Belle Haven Cottage all are thanks to the vision of Carolyne Norwood.

Billie Martini, 2002 Islander of the Year
Billie Martini is just our cup of tea. She exemplifies the charm and character of Anna Maria Island, the place that we’ve all come to love.

Martini came to the Island in 1944 and resided in Bradenton Beach for 16 years. After college, she married and, with her husband, opened the first motor court on the Island.

She has had various jobs, including clerk in charge of the city’s post office, bookkeeper of the Island water company, and billing clerk and teacher’s aide at Anna Maria Elementary School. She is retired and president of Save Anna Maria Inc.

Bunny Garst, who led the crusade with members of SAM against the 1990’s Anna Maria “megabridge” plan, said Martini was “in it from the beginning. She went to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — it’s really how we got them on our side.”

She was elected to the Holmes Beach City Commission in 1993 for a two-year term. At that time, she said she would be a voice for the people on the commission.

She sought numerous recreational opportunities for city and Island residents, including an offer to fund a community pool, a fountain at Holmes Beach City Hall and, at one time, offered a park plan for the Holmes Beach city property that included trees and shaded areas with park benches for relaxation along Flotilla Drive, a playground, and a public swimming pool.

Although those pursuits did not see reality — don’t count them out, she’ll tell you — her finest achievement may be the realization of the Grassy Point Preserve. Located on the bayfront on Anna Maria Sound in the 3600 block of East Bay Drive (opposite Walgreens), the undeveloped area was eyed first by Martini for preservation.

It is a pristine mangrove area with a small canal that can handle canoes from the bay, said Martini at the time. The project became her “baby.”

Martini enlisted help from the Manatee County Trails Committee and the city — and anyone who would listen to her pleas to preserve the property.

Another achievement to her credit is the play pavilion at the Anna Maria Elementary School. Martini envisioned the sheltered play area and donated the funding to make that a reality as well.

Martini was recognized in 1997 with a “Pride in Community” award from the Holmes Beach Civic Association.

Thanks, Billie Martini. Thanks for your love of Anna Maria Island. It wouldn’t be the same without you.

Ilona and Jeff Kenrick, 2003 Islanders of the Year
Ilona and Jeff Kenrick were The Islander newspaper’s Islanders of the year for 2003.

The Holmes Beach couple then were facilitators for an anonymous foundation, based in the city, whose international aide amounted to about $1 million a year. The foundation’s mission statement called for it to “make contributions for religious, educational, charitable and scientific purposes.”

The Kenricks carried out that mission and created a local event that combined much needed donations for a local blood bank with a reward for successful blood donors, a cash payout to the blood donor’s choice of four Island charities.

It was a win-win for everyone and we thank them for their positive impact here and beyond.

Jeff Croley, 2004 Islander of the Year
Jeff Croley of Holmes Beach symbolized all the good qualities we could ask for in a volunteer — and he symbolized for Anna Maria Island all the good folks who quietly went about doing anything and everything they could to aid those in need after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

Croley then worked a condo maintenance/management job on Longboat Key and took vacation days to drive with a cooler, cold drinks and a chain saw to the hurricane devastated areas in East Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties looking for folks who needed aid.

He came upon The Islander office early the first morning of his good Samaritan journey looking for a big cooler and some ice … and we were pleased to oblige.

It was rewarding for us to know Jeff, a truly selfless human being.

Anna Maria Island Privateers, 2005 Islanders of the year
If there is a symbol for Anna Maria Island, it is the sword-wielding, cannon-firing, ship-riding crew of the Anna Maria Island Privateers.

For all the good they do year after year, but this year stood out for their extra efforts on behalf of one unfortunate little boy.

It only took a phone call to bring the Privateers and their ship to greet a young boy with a failing heart on a “wish” trip to Anna Maria Island. And it wasn’t just a greeting for little Tyler and his siblings and parents. They were treated to an Island tour aboard ship, escorted to dinner, and made honorary Privateers — and “Captain” Tyler was invited to return and again take over the ship.

It was a selfless and remarkable gesture that symbolized hope for Tyler and filled his little heart with love for our Island paradise. They helped give him so many reasons to return — and hope.

The Privateers also came to the rescue with Hurricane Katrina relief, collecting needed items and transporting them to Tampa.

Next, the Privateers agreed to manage a memorial scholarship fund for an Island teen who was tragically killed in a car crash. The fund for Bridget Miller is a great addition to the many youth scholarships the Privateers award every year in July.

Their annual Snooks Adams Kids Day event at the end of the school year; monthly “thieves markets” in season; the Islandwide Blood Drive; the Fourth of July parade and picnic; the Christmas parade and Santa visits; and the many, many “captures” and visits to almost every event where their presence is requested throughout the year.

They did all this and more —despite the sudden illness and death of their president, Greg “Shiprek” Davidson.

Dick Cline, who also died in 2005, aided him. Cline’s battle with cancer didn’t stop him from working tirelessly behind the scenes.

In spite of their losses, the Privateers continued to do great things.
The stated mission of the Anna Maria Island Privateers is “Pirates for children and community.”

They fulfill their mission and more, and we are all better for it.

They were our 2005 choice for Islanders of the year — this year and every year.

Pete Lannon, 2006 Islander of the Year
If there was one person who touched the fabric of life that brings out the best in the Anna Maria Island community in 2006, it was Pete Lannon.

He was more than a Holmes Beach community resource officer, he was a mentor for our children, a confidant for those in need and a friendly face that even Island visitors looked for as they passed Anna Maria Elementary School, where Lannon was a fixture as the school’s crossing guard for more than five years.

He was on leave in the fall, fighting a battle with cancer that he later lost.

And he is still missed by many, but the anti-drug program he taught at the school and his ideals live on. His character traits are heralded at the entry to Lannon Way at the school.

Christine Olson, 2007 Islander of the Year
Christine Olson’s 22-year-old daughter Tiffiany was riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend, Dustin Wilder, on Dec. 7, 2005, when the worst happened. A crash. Tiffiany’s injuries were immediately fatal. Dustin was rushed by helicopter to the hospital and died hours later — before his family could be reached.

She began to seek a way to connect people in emergency situations with the loved ones and family members who “need to know.”

A crusade to allow emergency contact information to be available to law enforcement began with Olson.
The quest led her to us in search of Islanders to sign a petition to enact some sort of “notice” for families and, subsequently, to state Rep. Bill Galvano (R-68).

There were many tearful exchanges along the way. But Galvano led Olson to an almost immediate solution at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Neither a law nor the Legislature’s or a governor’s decree was needed to make Olson’s goal a reality.

The DHSMV already possessed the means to resolve the problem of finding loved ones in dire emergencies — they just needed the urging of Olson and Galvano.

The contact information would be included in the existing Driver And Vehicle Information Database, a secure system that Florida law enforcement agencies use to access information from their patrol-car computers simply by “swiping” a driver’s license.

The opportunity to register was added to the DHSMV Web site in October 2006 and … just like that, Tiffiany’s Initiative became reality.

There are now well more than a million registered Florida emergency contact participants. “Everyone has embraced it,” Galvano said. “It’s impacted almost a million people and it’s all thanks to Olson. She turned tragedy into a positive for the entire United States.”

We thank Olson for making a difference in the lives of many, and for taking her quest to other states and the federal government. For information or to register, visit her Web site:

FISH, 2008 Islander of the Year
Last year we named the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage to our list of honorees. With three cheers to the organization that runs the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, and dedicates the proceeds to preserving Cortez, including preservation of the Burton store, the old schoolhouse, and the 90-plus acres that create the Preserve and buffers the village from encroaching development, we add another nod for this year’s purchase of the church property across from the aging former firehouse, where parking and facilities will be greatly enhanced.

Ed and Rhea Chiles, 2009 Islanders of the Year
It was an idea of great joy to Rhea Chiles, and as it formed, evolved, mired and progressed, the idea became big.

It meant something big for Anna Maria Island to be host to the first lady of Florida, to have her return here to live after a time in the governor’s mansion, after the death of Lawton Chiles very near the end of his last term.

Of course, AMI embraced Rhea.
But little did we know she had such a big idea for us, one that would bring us culture, education, arts and artists, and a sense of place in tune with nature and the beauty around us.

It came to be the Studio at Gulf and Pine, but it is a mirror of Rhea Chiles, a woman generous of her great intellectual gifts.

But take her gift and combine it with the generosity and vision of son Ed Chiles, who has developed his trio of restaurants into landmarks on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, and we have a legacy for the future.

Ed knows the value of investing in the community, of giving back to the organizations that help support youth sports, the elementary school and other worthwhile causes. Few, if any, who ask for help are turned away.

While some have doubted his vision for Pine Avenue, we see a change for the better. The new Pine Avenue vision overflows with a passion for old Florida, but with the wink of an eye, brings us into focus for the future.
Rhea and Ed Chiles.

Formidable. Enlightening. Generous. Passionate.

And they’re our Islanders of the year 2009.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *