Story Tools

Date of Issue: January 10, 2008

Island writer Bob Ardren dies

Bob Ardren
Bob Ardren was a writer for The Islander newspaper, starting shortly after it started up in 1992 through most of 1997. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The world is a bit smaller with the death of Bob Ardren early on New Year’s Day.

Robert Lyman “Bob” Ardren, 67, of Sarasota, died Jan. 1. He wrote for five years for The Islander newspaper, covering the “waters” beat: fishing, boating, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, mangroves, seagrasses, birds, bait and tackle and Cortez.

Bob was born in Wyeville, Wis. The family eventually moved to Denver, Iowa, where Bob graduated from Denver High School before attending the University of Iowa. He began his career in journalism as a reporter for United Press International in Indianapolis and Detroit. He later worked in public relations for General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., and Louisville, Ky., then relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, as an editor for the Meredith Publishing Co. After moving to Sarasota in 1976, Bob briefly worked for Walt’s Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant before becoming director of public affairs at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, where he was also curator of the Ringling Circus Museum for a time. He was a museum employee for 16 years. For 20 years, Bob wrote a weekly column for the  Tampa Tribune called “Suncoast Shelter” about the Southwest Florida housing industry.

He was also a contributing writer for Sarasota magazine and for TheIslander (known then as the Islander Bystander) newspaper on Anna Maria Island. In 1994, he joined the Pelican Press, a weekly newspaper based on Siesta Key, as a reporter and columnist; he was employed by the Pelican at the time of his death. Bob wrote extensively about the city of Sarasota in news articles and his twice-monthly column, “Main Street Beat,” covering life and events in downtown  Sarasota. He expressed his longtime interest in local waters, boating and the environment in another twice-monthly Pelican column, “Sarasota Waters.”

He was the recipient of multiple writing awards from the Florida Press Association. He was a former president of the Florida Attractions Association and a founding member of the Sarasota-Manatee Press Club. At various times he was a member of the Showfolks of Sarasota, Sarasota Sailing Squadron, Selby Gardens, the Sports Car Club of America and, more recently, the Sarasota Kiwanis Club. He was also a former Hospice volunteer in Sarasota.

 “Just look at what he’s done,” one friend said. “United Press International to Walt’s Fish Market. Florida Attractions Association president to a member of Showfolks, the circus in Sarasota. Head of public relations at the Florida official museum, John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, to being a Hospice volunteer. We’re talking Renaissance man when it comes to Bob Ardren.”

Bob held court every Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Downtown Sarasota with his posse of city officials, community leaders and just hangers-on. It was a diverse group, to say the least, all drawn by his big laugh and voluminous expertise of downtown Sarasota, where he lived for more than 25 years.

But he also had a draw to the water. He was one of the few writers in Florida who took a stance against the 1995 constitutional amendment which eventually stifled gill netting of mullet in near-shore water of the state and severely impacted the village of Cortez. He recognized that the problem with gill nets and Florida fisheries wasn’t in the nets, but in the overdevelopment of the coastal waters and the demise of habitat.

“Bob was a friend of Cortez,” said Blue Fulford, a patriarch of the village. “He used to eat with us on the dock - he was a good eater - and he always had favorable columns about us.”

“He always seemed surprised that I’d recognize him,” said Alcee Taylor, another Cortezian and friend of Bob’s. It was to Bob’s credit that Alcee would say such a thing, considering Bob’s girth and walrus-like mustache.

“I appreciate all he did,” Taylor said. “He always wrote the good parts, the right parts. He wrote good articles.”

No formal funeral service is planned, but a celebration of Bob’s life will be held locally at a date and place to be announced. Memorial contributions may be made to the Pines of Sarasota, Sarasota FL 34236, or TideWell Hospice and Palliative Care, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota FL 34238.

Survivors include his companion of 24 years, Cathy Ciccolella of Sarasota; daughter Traci and husband Michael Owens of Miami Springs; son “Joe” Eugene and companion Bobbi Summerall of Sarasota; sister Betty Hille of Norfolk, Neb.; brother William and wife Joan of Treasure Island and Rossport, Ont., Canada; former wife Martha “Marty;” and grandchildren Morgan Storm Owens, Cyrus Flint Owens, Kenneth Robert Ardren and Courtney “Blue” Jarrett