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Date of Issue: April 15, 2009

Easter hops on AMI

The Rev. Rosemary Backer of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Holmes Beach delivers the sermon "Sunday's Coming" to the "larger-than-ever crowd" of worshippers, according to Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger of the sponsoring Anna Maria Island Kiwanis Club, attending Sunday's 45th annual Easter Sunrise Service at the Manatee Public Beach. There appeared to be more than 1,500 early-risers in attendance, and the collection plate is shared among the six participating Island houses of worship.
Steve Wicker performs at the 45th annual Kiwanis Easter Sunrise Islander Photos: Bonner Joy

Hippity, hoppity. Easter was on its way last week, bringing people in droves to Anna Maria Island beaches, restaurants, stores and piers.

“It’s a tradition for my family,” said Giovanna Rivera of Bradenton, who left the Publix Super Market with a fried-chicken feast for 20 people last Friday afternoon.

The grocery store saw a run on chicken, bread, soda pop, beer and wine — the staples of an Island vacation. And, in the check-out lanes, customers also paid the tabs for jelly beans, malted milk eggs, Peeps and orchids — the staples of an Island Easter.

“Darn, if it isn’t the busiest I’ve ever seen,” Joyce Marten of Bradenton Beach said as she left the store with a ham and other ingredients for an Easter Sunday dinner. “But I guess I say that year after year.”

Island restaurant managers throughout the week reported lines for tables, and wait staff reported good tips.

Reps for accommodations reported few vacancies and trolley after trolley traversed the length of the Island with standing-room only.

The same slow-to-gridlock traffic was observed at the west end of Cortez Road in Bradenton Beach with long lines of autos traveling over the bridge en route to Gulf Drive and then on to Coquina and Cortez beaches.

At the beaches, and on roads throughout the Island, law enforcement personnel could be seen on the watch and at the ready.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach police departments increased their staffing levels for Easter week, which coincided with many spring break vacations, including Manatee public schools.

“It’s what you have to do,” said HBPD Chief Jay Romine, who said the agencies anticipated an increase in routine calls for service, especially through the weekend.

Sirens occasionally could be heard as emergency personnel raced to calls, most of them minor traffic incidents or medical matters.

Easter week on the Island concluded with traditional church services, including the 45th annual Sunrise Service hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island at Manatee Public Beach.

The week’s activities also included several egg hunts — formal events at St. Bernard Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation and the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge, and informal hunts staged by families in parks and backyards.

But most of the Easter Week action took place on the coastline, where in the middle of the week surfers rode waves and all week the sun-starved bathed in rays and the swimmers bathed in warming Gulf waters.

“This is heaven,” said Island vacationer Mary Pagano of Des Moines. “You can’t believe the winter we’ve had. Can’t believe it. It’s still snowing back home, you know.”

Pagano and her kids were visiting relatives in Lakewood Ranch last week and spent Good Friday on Coquina Beach playing volleyball, building sandcastles, sleeping on sandy towels and splashing in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We saw two dolphins and got lots of shells,” said Pete Pagano, 7. “That was like pretty cool. I’m having fun.”

Macy Pagano, 14, added, “If vacation could last like nine months and school could be like a week, that would be cool.”

Above the Pagano base camp at Coquina, Manatee County lifeguards with the marine rescue division watched for problems, occasionally whistling for the attention of a swimmer or racing off on an ATV to the water’s edge.

“We’ve had some rescues,” said Capt. Joe Westerman of the marine rescue team. “Some swimmers in distress.”

Westerman said swimmers were rescued from currents and none required transport to the hospital.

“Our goal is to get to them so that’s not necessary,” Westerman said.

Marine rescue guards raised yellow caution flags at some of beach locations last week and red “no swimming” flags in other areas.

“We’re taking preventative measures,” Westerman said.

The county’s full complement of Gulf coast lifeguards was on duty for the weekend.

“More guards, more eyes,” said Westerman.

At both Coquina and Manatee Public beaches, the crowds occasionally grew so large that the guards found the ATVs difficult to navigate and foot patrols became the better option.

But crowd-members didn’t mind the crowds.

“I think it’s more fun when it’s more crowded,” Danielle Ruehlmann of Lansing, Mich., said as she sunned at Manatee Public Beach. “It means this is the place to be.”