Islanders honored, remembered

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

Since the newspaper started in 1992, its path was to partner with community organizations, report the news of record and tell the tales of people who live and work on AMI.

We launched the Islander of the Year award to recognize deserving people. It was presented posthumously to the late Anna Maria Mayor Ernie Cagnina in 1993 and Anna Maria Mayor Ray Simches in 1994.

Katie Pierola was the 1995 recipient of The Islander’s annual award. During her six years as mayor of Bradenton Beach, the city underwent a renaissance.

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

W.H. “Snooks” Adams was 1996 Islander of the year. He was born in Cortez, and spent much of his life on Anna Maria Island as a law enforcement officer who used common sense as his guide.

Charles Lester and Jo Ann Lester came to the island from Wisconsin and for their generosity to the community center, we honored them as 1997 Islanders of the year.

Jim Kronus, retired after 25 years as Anna Maria Elementary School principal, and was named 1998 Islander of the Year.

Suzi Fox was recognized for her efforts in organizing volunteers to protect sea turtles in 1999.

Nancy Ambrose was named 2000 Islander of the year for initiating the Holmes Beach Butterfly Park.

The original keeper of the island’s history, Carolyne Norwood, was Islander of the Year in 2001.

Billie Martini, 2002. Her finest achievement while a commissioner for Holmes Beach is the realization of the Grassy Point Preserve.

Ilona and Jeff Kenrick were newspaper’s Islanders of the Year for 2003 for the creation of a successful islandwide blood drive.

Jeff Croley, 2004 Islander of the Year, represented all the good qualities we could ask for in a volunteer — he quietly went on his own, delivering aid to those in need in remote areas immediately after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. And he took vacation time from work to do his good deeds.

If there ever was a symbol for Anna Maria Island, it is the sword-wielding, cannon-firing, benevolent crew of the Anna Maria Island Privateers.

They were our 2005 choice for Islanders of the Year.

Pete Lannon, 2006 Islander of the Year. He lost a tough battle with cancer that year and he is still missed. The skate park in Holmes Beach is named for him. As a Holmes Beach police officer, he lovingly mentored our children at Anna Maria Elementary School.

Following the death of Christine Olson’s 22-year-old daughter, Tiffiany, in a motorcycle crash, Olson found a way to include emergency contact information with driver’s licenses. Olson was named 2007 Islander of the Year.

Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, 2008 Islander of the Year. Cheers to the organization that runs the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival and dedicates the proceeds to preserving Cortez.

It was an honor for Anna Maria Island to be home to the first lady of Florida, Rhea Chiles. She brought culture and the arts to the Studio at Gulf and Pine and, with the generosity and vision of son Ed Chiles, they were our honorees in 2009.

The Geyer family was named our 2010 Islander of the Year. For many years, islanders grew to love Pat Geyer as Miss Duffy. She was known for her quiet humor, as well as her fierce loyalty to family, work, causes, politics and principle.

The family was our choice to carry on her legacy as Islander of the year 2010.

The Privateers, Islanders of the Year for 2011, are our only repeat winner in 25 years of news-making.

They brought revelry and excitement to all three cities in 2011, their 40th anniversary year.

Arrrrrgh! Here’s to many more years of Privateers.

On to 2012, and we came to recognize a crusade of sorts by one woman to stock the island pantry.

The Roser Church Food Pantry and its chair Pam Leckie — who literally brought the pantry out of a closet to a place of its own — provide significant aid to islanders in need.

2013: Former Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry — a renaissance man. His music, art and architectural talents reach far beyond Anna Maria Island.

And for 2014, we honored the effort of one woman — Jeannie Bystrom to save seabirds and push for better education and protection for wildlife.

As we searched for the person who made a difference in our lives in 2015, we came to realize the value of lessons learned from the loss of Sabine Musil-Buehler. Her killer was finally brought to justice and she was put to rest with dignity.

We pledged to honor her memory and the plight of abused women with the final sunset of the year this year and every year after.

In 2016, we recognized a grand figure in Moose International and at our local lodge in Bradenton Beach. Ernie Casali makes a daily difference for the 4,000-plus members he serves. His big, soft heart and his generosity also quietly make a difference in the lives of islanders — although unseen and unheralded.

For 2017, we recognized the people who made a safe return to Anna Maria Island possible after the evacuation for Hurricane Irma — our local law enforcement.

Our “hurricane heroes” in all three cities went far beyond their call to duty to protect us and our properties on Anna Maria Island.

And this year, serving among the heroes with grace and a firm love for his job, embracing our children in his duties at Anna Maria

Elementary and with compassion for families and his fellow public servants, always putting a thoughtful, caring manner behind the badge, there is HBPD Sgt. Vern McGowin.

He’s off to relish a much-deserved retirement and an adventure that puts family first.

Bon voyage, Vern. We miss you.