Keys Profiles

Mel Fisher, a ‘Treasured’ Senior

Katharine Roach | May 2013

“Today’s the day!” That was the cry of Mel Fisher every day as he and his dedicated crew searched for the shipwreck of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, sunk in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in 1622.

Adventurer Mel Fisher, discoverer of the shipwrecked Spanish galleon Atocha, proved that the American dream is thriving -- at least in the Keys. (Photo provided by Mel Fisher's Treasures)

Key West has become known as a locale where age discrimination is non-existent. And well it might — what with residents of all ages owning businesses, chartering fishing boats, and taking part in virtually all the activities of the island. One of the most adventurous seniors ever to live and work in Key West was Mel Fisher.

Mel and his crew had been searching in Keys waters for the Atocha without success until, in 1971 they found a Spanish anchor. The search continued with limited but encouraging results — until 1975, when Mel’s son Kane found a silver bar whose numbers identified it with the manifest of the Spanish galleon. They knew they were on the right track to discover the fabled shipwreck and the treasures and artifacts it held.

And discover it they did, after ten more years of searching. On July 20, 1985, when Mel Fisher was 63 years old, his crew uncovered a reef of silver bars. They had found the Atocha at last!

Recovering the treasures and artifacts, and performing painstaking underwater archaeology on the site, went on for many years. In fact, Mel himself continued diving until the age of 76. Riches beyond anyone’s expectations, and historic artifacts that were equally important, were discovered at the wrecksite of the Spanish galleon.

Mel and Deo Fisher were early SCUBA pioneers before they became shipwreck seekers. (Photo provided by Mel Fisher's Treasures)

Mel Fisher was born in Hobart, Indiana — an unlikely place to spawn an expert deep-sea diver. Some claim he was influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” In any event, he was fascinated by the brand-new sport of diving and became one of its pioneers.

After a stint as a chicken farmer in California, Mel became enamored with diving rivers and turned his focus to the dive business. He and wife Deo opened a dive shop, and Mel expanded his efforts to dive on shipwrecks.

He developed a fascination with shipwreck salvage, which eventually led him to Florida and the Keys. The rest is history.

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West is the resting place for many of the priceless objects Mel found. There visitors can learn more about the discovery of the Atocha and the Santa Margarita, another galleon from Spain’s 1622 fleet, and view treasure ranging from gold bars to contraband emeralds. Located at 200 Greene St., the museum is open 365 days a year.

A diver examines gold bars and chains on the site of the Nuestra Se–nora de Atocha shipwreck about 35 miles off Key West. (Photo by Pat Clyne/Mel Fisher Maritime Museum)

In honor of the illustrious Mel Fisher, who died in 1998, a festival called Mel Fisher Days is held each year to celebrate his historic discovery. This year’s celebration is scheduled for July 11-14 with events including a costume contest, block party, “treasure brunch” and a meet-and-greet with crewmembers who helped salvage the legendary shipwreck.

Ever the dreamer, the optimist, and a model of perseverance, the late Mel Fisher is an inspiration to seniors. His motto of “Today’s the Day!” is a valuable reminder that each day can bring excitement, promise, and treasure — as long as you have the vision to look for it.  

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Rick Hederstrom Tells the ‘Plant’ Truth

Julie Botteri | May 2013

Career paths are rarely preordained. Instead, they might develop around hobbies, interests and learned skills until an opportunity appears that’s a perfect fit. That’s what happened for Rick Hederstrom.

Rick Hederstrom has found a fulfilling career as the ethnobotanist at Key Largo's beautiful Kona Kai Resort, Gallery and Botanic Gardens. (Photos courtesy of Rick Hederstrom)

Rick started out as a young golf-pro-hopeful and detoured into drafting car designs.

But his life changed completely when he came across the owners of Key Largo’s Kona Kai Resort, Gallery and Botanic Gardens — and he became their first-ever resident ethnobotanist.

Rick had actually gotten his degree in ethnobotany, the study of the relationships that exist between plants and people, at prestigious Connecticut College. Through what he called divine intervention, he received enough financial grants to fully cover the staggering $43,000 yearly tuition.

Grounded in a strong Catholic faith and kinship with the outdoors and nature, Rick is fascinated with the healing qualities of plants. That led him to pursue ethnobotany, figuring it had more long-term career potential than practicing on golf greens or drawing concept cars indoors at a drafting table.

“I was initially most interested in plants’ usefulness as medicine and perhaps playing a role in developing new treatments and cures from plants,” he said.

During garden tours, Rick explains the origins and uses for many tropical plants -- including the unusual pitcher plant that's considered a carnivore.

When the chance came to study abroad in his junior year, he wound up in the Peruvian Andes and rainforest for three months — immersed in fieldwork with the people of Cuzco and the outlying lowlands, learning how they used plants in everyday life.

“For [Peruvians], the use of plants is a very serious ritual experience and forms the basis of their world view,” Rick explained. “Ayahuasca, a mixture of certain plants, is intensely spiritual, hallucinogenic and is conducive to a positive healing or state of peace.” 

The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai strive to blend enrichment, enlightenment, education and enjoyment. Today, as the facility’s associate director, Rick offers insights to visitors into the crucial roles plants play in our survival.

Guests touring the gardens learn that each living, breathing organism has a name, a story to tell and a complexity and beauty beyond being just a lovely green object. They also can sample delicious fruits he selects from the tropical fruit garden.

“Coconut water from the coconut palms’ fruit provides a valuable source of fresh water, and can substitute as intravenous fluid for hydration,” Rick said, “because it is sterile and has the right balance of minerals and electrolytes.”

Rick skilfully mixes electronic music when he indulges his "hidden passion" for deejaying.

As well as sharing his knowledge, his job includes inventorying the gardens’ plant collections, photographing and noting their condition as well as their flowering and fruiting, and choosing new plants to be added to the collections as planning continues for the facility’s future. He also pens a blog titled “The Diary of the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai.”

Rick spends much of his free time at home in spiritual or religious reading, prayer and meditation, or attending Mass and participating in activities at the Upper Keys’ San Pedro Catholic Church.

On another note, he admits to a whimsical desire to deejay in the Keys, mixing a variety of electronic music. But for now, he’s satisfied with motorcycle rides, exercising and spending time around the water.

“I feel great when I am outdoors, in communion with nature — God’s manifestation in its purest form,” he said.

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Michelle Nicole Lowe: Balancing Island Art and Life

Julie Botteri | April 2013

She maintains a busy seasonal weekend schedule of art shows intermixed with creating new paintings. Even so, Islamorada artist Michelle Nicole Lowe still manages to remain grounded.

Michelle displays some of her work at the annual Islamorada Fine Art Expo. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

At the same time, the 28-year-old is deeply passionate about the ocean and about sharing her boldly original art with fellow sea lovers.

Michelle’s watercolors, oils and colored pencil renderings seemingly pop off the canvas. Each scene is a snapshot of lively-eyed creatures like hogfish, angelfish, large-scaled tarpon, tangs and turtles — or the unmistakeable contours of native seagrape trees, palm fronds and plumage of island birds.

“As much as I love to paint, I have a passion for the ocean and the underwater creatures,” she explained.

Michelle also loves traveling to art shows, accompanied by her mother/assistant, because she meets other people who’ve been around the world and who love to dive or snorkel just as she does.

“The majority of people buy my art because they are ocean lovers,” she reported. “They have a memory of whatever I’ve painted and want it on their wall just for the pleasure of it.”

Even at five years old, Michelle loved the water. Here she plays captain for the day with her family.

Michelle spent her childhood fishing, snorkeling and diving in the clear waters off the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, Marquesas and Bahamian Out Islands with her parents and younger brother.

Actually, her family tree is solidly rooted in the Keys. Her great-grandfather Archie Lowe was born on the Bahamas’ Green Turtle Cay, emigrated to Key West and traded as a local turtle retailer. The Keys’ turtle fishing trade, which flourished in the mid to late 1800s, essentially ended decades ago with the passage of the Endangerd Species Act. Today, Michelle expresses her fascination with turtles and other underwater creatures through her paintings.

A graduate of the University of Florida and a die-hard fan of its Gators football team, Michelle was always talented in art. Nevertheless she pursued a degree in finance, figuring it would provide independence and stability.

After two post-graduate (and freezing!) years in the corporate finance arena of Washington, D.C., she began a yearlong painting program in Florence, Italy, to return to her heart’s passion.

Michelle's stunning images reflect her love of the Keys ocean environment. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Nicole Lowe)

Afterward in 2010, she took a leap of faith and came home to the Florida Keys, using her in-home studio in Islamorada to cultivate creativity and solace.

Michelle’s knack for finance comes in handy as she manages her own entrepreneurial business — spearheading everything from booking shows months in advance to overseeing reproductions and giclee prints. Yet even while juggling show setups in major South Florida cities and price points per square inch, she finds her age presents a surprising challenge.

“As a young artist at shows, I do get doubted a lot and people don’t want to buy from me,” she said.

She’s often mistakenly judged to be as young as 20 — an age that implies having so many original pieces of art would be impossible. In fact, one show patron, who was convinced art only became valuable after the artist was dead, was reluctant to make a purchase because Michelle wouldn’t be “gone” any time soon!

Michelle (right) shares her giclee prints with a fan at the Pigeon Key Art Festival, held each February in Marathon.

That’s good news for the Upper Keys arts community. Islamorada and the Keys are where Michelle feels most grounded, and she participates enthusiastically in the monthly art walk sponsored by Islamorada’s Morada Way Arts District.

To balance her intense work schedule, she spends Wednesdays on peaceful pursuits that clear her mind — without the distractions of other people or her cell phone. Her mid-week activities might include being on the water or fishing the backcountry.

“Being in the Keys is a good thing,” Michelle enthused. “There are a lot of artists around to talk to and learn from, but not so many that they’re competitive and don’t want to be friendly and share their advice with you.

“I love it here,” she summed up. “I hope I’ll be here for a long time.”

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Andrea Paulson: Exploring the Unspoiled Lower Keys

Christina Baez | March 2013

More than 13 years ago, Captain Andrea Paulson began exploring the Lower Keys backcountry as a weekend alternative to Key West shopping for herself and other fishermen’s wives.

Andrea Paulson's easygoing attitude and love of the Keys' ocean realm make her the perfect guide for backcountry kayak trips. (Photos courtesy of Andrea Paulson)

She discovered she loved the experience so much that it seemed only natural for her to share it with others — which led to a career and a richly rewarding life.

Today, Andrea entertains hundreds of Florida Keys visitors annually with her Reelax Charters Lower Keys backcountry kayak excursions.

A 20-year Keys resident and lifetime outdoor enthusiast, Andrea named her business Reelax Charters for her nickname “Ree” and the relaxing experience participants enjoy.

Originally from Rochester, N.Y., she grew up boating and canoeing on Lake Ontario. A true water lover, she even worked as a lifeguard on the beach.

Andrea met her husband, Bobby Paulson, while visiting a friend who owned the house he was renting.

“I came down and was expecting to meet some old salty captain,” she recalled. “We met and that was it; it was kind of love at first sight.”

Adventures in the Keys' shallows and uncharted islets await Reelax Charters' guests.

After a long-distance romance that often involved commutes back and forth from Palm Beach, she moved to the Keys permanently in 1993.

While her husband is out guiding flats-fishing trips, Andrea guides her clients on a journey by motorboat seven to nine miles off the Lower Keys. There they begin their kayak adventure in a realm of crystal clear waters, remote islands, pristine beaches, shallow flats, mangroves and more.

While exploring, kayakers enjoy an “off-the-beaten paddle experience,” discovering islands and areas unreachable by kayak alone. They might spot native Keys wildlife like great white herons, ibis, starfish, stingrays, colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and even a dolphin or two.

Offered daily by appointment from Sugarloaf Marina on Sugarloaf Key, Reelax Charters’ fully customized kayak excursions are an escape in time. Participants begin at their leisure — and Andrea doesn’t watch the clock while guests are having fun. Most tours last four to five hours and accommodate up to six people.

A few couples, clearly romanced by the natural beauty of the Florida Keys, have even gotten engaged or tied the knot on one of Andrea’s private kayak excursions.

Bobby, Andrea and puppy Clark share a moment of "reelaxation" on the water.

Families too find themselves captivated by Reelax Charters’ adventures, and the captain keeps books and literature on hand for kids to use in identifying Keys wildlife.

“I love my job, and when I’m not working I’m out exploring new areas by kayak,” Andrea admitted. “The best part (of my job) is ending the day with a hug from a customer because we’ve had so much fun together it’s almost like we’ve become best friends.”

During her free time, Andrea often finds herself kayaking, fishing with her husband and entertaining other fishermen’s wives. She also enjoys “downtime” with her husband and their yellow Labrador puppy, Clark.

Like a true Paulson, Clark loves the water. In fact, most likely he’ll be spotted exploring the Lower Keys backcountry by kayak sometime soon!

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Kelly Grinter: Wild Birds’ Best Friend

Julie Botteri | January 2013

Originally, she was more interested in working with porcupines and skunks than birds. Yet Kelly Grinter has spent 18 years at the helm of the Marathon Wild Bird Center — and now she’s one of the Florida Keys’ best-known wildlife rehabilitators.

Kelly Grinter is renowned for her passion for helping the Keys' avian residents and visitors.

Kelly came to the Keys in 1995 to intern at the Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, in part to escape a cold Massachusetts January and an unsatisfying career in graphic design.

A friend of hers was an ornithologist — and that friend’s passion and knowledge about birds convinced her to relocate and learn.

“I discovered that birds were light for flight and had high metabolisms, and thought, ‘Okay, they’re interesting,’” she said.

In addition, she was intrigued by the Florida Keys’ location within a migratory flyway, where 10,000 or more birds pass the same travel paths each year. Winged travelers ranging from small songbirds or warblers to birds as big as bald eagles — white ibis, brown pelicans, red-shouldered hawks, ospreys, double-crested cormorants, raptors and peregrine falcons — take a migratory break in the fall before they head farther south to Cuba.

Within a year, Kelly was offered the top spot at the Marathon Wild Bird Center at the Museums of Crane Point, tucked inside a 64-acre hardwood hammock at mile marker 50 on Florida Bay.

The center’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured birds. Each year, it treats 500 or more migratory and native birds.

The Marathon Wild Bird Center rescues and rehabilitates wild birds in need and releases recovered "patients" back into the wild.

“The coolest thing about coming to the Marathon Wild Bird Center,” Kelly said, “is you get to see these birds up close and personal.”

People might glimpse a red-tailed hawk, pelican or osprey in flight or in their nests, but sightings in the wild rarely offer the chance for a close-up examination of the bird.

“Here, visitors can see their plumage, interact with them and discover they each have their own personality,” Kelly advised. “Families learn together.”

During the past 18 years, she has performed thousands of avian rescues. Few, however, were as harrowing as helping a young female pelican that had swiped and swallowed the 8-inch filet knife a fisherman was using to cut mackerel at his cleaning table.

Kelly was afraid she would lose precious time transporting the bird to the center’s hospital to anesthetize it and surgically remove the knife. So she attempted to extract it right then.

Each year, the Marathon center provides help and a safe haven for around 500 native and wild birds.

“The blade was pointing straight up, so I figured all I had to do was pull it up and out,” she recalled. “After a few unsuccessful attempts at grabbing the slimy blade, I put on latex gloves and on the count of one-two-three, up and out came the knife, without a drop of blood.”

The crowd gathered around erupted in cheers.

“I told the pelican not to do that again and released her back into the water,” Kelly quipped.

At 42, she remains enthusiastic and committed to her chosen path. In 2006, she was named a finalist for the Animal Planet network’s Hero of the Year award.

She’s fueled by life-affirming events such as the birth of baby cormorants at the center and the release of the young birds into the wild. Her toddler son, Noah, accompanied her on the release so he could watch and learn.

“I love what I do, caring for these innocent creatures. Honestly I can’t see myself doing anything else or living anywhere else,” Kelly said. “I want to help others learn how to care for birds, and I want my son to be an advocate for the birds of the Keys.”

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Captain Finbar, Key West’s Colorful Seafaring Senior

Katharine Roach | January 2013

Captain Finbar and the Schooner Wolf. Think of one, and the other immediately comes to mind.

Finbar Gittelman, a master seafarer with a roguish sense of humor, is the builder and skipper of the Schooner Wolf. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

Captain Finbar Gittelman, one of the Florida Keys’ most illustrious senior citizens, has lived and sailed in and around Key West since the early 1970s.

When you look at his weathered face and neatly trimmed grey beard, you’ll quite likely be reminded of artists’ renditions of salty sailors. A twinkle in his eye and an offbeat sense of humor only add to the resemblance.

In fact, Captain Finbar looks unnervingly like the wicked Barbossa in “Pirates of the Caribbean” (though a good bit more cheerful!). Barbossa, however, probably couldn’t tell as many tales of rogues and renegades as Finbar can — or tell them so entertainingly.

In the early 1980s, along with master builder Willis Ray, Finbar built the 74-foot topsail schooner Wolf, which he still owns and operates. The Wolf, incidentally, is the flagship of the Conch Republic, the Keys’ offbeat alter ego, and Finbar is the Conch Republic Navy’s Admiral and First Sea Lord.

Finbar is the Admiral and First Sea Lord of the Keys' spirited Conch Republic Navy. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

It’s far more than a ceremonial title. He directs operations including an annual sea battle, which has received national and international acclaim, commemorating the birth of the republic.

In addition, Finbar and the Wolf have taken Key West visitors on day trips and sunset cruises for many years, been the location for weddings at sea, and have sailed over many parts of the world representing the Florida Keys.

The majestic Wolf is reminiscent of the blockade runners of the 19th century that sailed the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Finbar takes his schooner to seaport festivals in the U.S. and Caribbean islands and the ship has appeared in several films. It was also the lead vessel in Key West’s late lamented Pirates in Paradise festival, offering buccaneer excursions complete with an appropriately scurvy crew.

But there’s also a more serious side to Finbar Gittelman. In 1980, along with three others, he survived Hurricane Allen in the Caribbean. After the boat Finbar was piloting sank during the storm, he and his crew endured three terrifying days in a life raft, not knowing whether rescue or death awaited them.

Aspiring seafarers can experience sunset cruises on Captain Finbar's magnificent Schooner Wolf. (Photo courtesy of the Schooner Wolf)

Perhaps as a result of that experience, over the years Finbar and first mate (and wife) Julie McEnroe have taken the Wolf on many humanitarian journeys into the Caribbean, delivering food and other relief supplies to area devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.

“We’re islanders,” explains Finbar simply, “and we need to take care of our fellow islanders.”

These days the Wolf is docked at Safe Harbor Marina, located at 6810 Front St. on Stock Island (the island next to Key West). She is available to take passengers on Saturday and Sunday afternoon and sunset cruises, piloted by Key West’s colorful seafaring senior … the one and only Captain Finbar.

For information and tickets, call (305) 294-9694 or click here.

 

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Dick Hagood: Accounting for Art in an Angling Paradise

Christina Baez | November 2012

Dick Hagood seems to live a double life between the disciplined and the unpredictable. A regimented former Marine and accountant, he chucked it all at the ripe old age of 38, escaped the fast-paced city life and shortly afterward married his former co-worker Laurie Wickham.

The way Dick Hagood tells it, he's been smiling ever since he relocated to the Florida Keys.

The Miami Sport Fishing Club brought Dick down to Islamorada to fish competitively in the region called the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. So far, the native South Floridian and art enthusiast has remained for just under 30 years.

Dick and his wife, hired by one of his fishing club buddies in 1983 for $1,000 a month, made their break from the city to manage El Capitan Resort, a small oceanside property in Islamorada that is now part of the Postcard Inn Resort.

They managed El Capitan until it was sold in 1990, completely revamping the small 10-unit property during their tenure. In addition, Dick began working as a fishing guide.

Today, his “double life” flourishes. He splits his time working as a full-time guide and a virtually full-time volunteer as the executive director of Islamorada’s Morada Way Arts & Cultural District.

“I have no artistic talent and neither does my wife,” Dick admitted. “But we love art, so we thought the next best thing would be to represent artists.”

These days, Dick leads an intriguing "double life" as an arts organizer and fishing guide.

Following the sale of the resort, the couple had the opportunity to pursue their true passions. Dick worked as a fishing guide and Laurie opened Gallery Morada in 1996. Two years ago, the gallery was named one of the top 10 in the country for craft art.

Laurie’s longtime love of art rubbed off on her husband when she opened her gallery, and the couple began attending art shows and building relationships with artists.

“I just become enthralled with how these people can create things,” Dick explained. “Since I’m not an artist myself, I’ve always really admired people who have those talents. Laurie and I consider ourselves advocates and supporters of art.”

The couple and local artist Pasta Pantaleo were instrumental in establishing the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District — and organizing its first Third Thursday Walkabout in January 2011. The district was officially founded the following month with the goal of bringing nightlife to the Islamorada area.

Upper Keys visitors and residents celebrate the arts at Morada Way cultural events. (Photo courtesy of the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District)

The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District has significantly enhanced the Islamorada community by giving the area’s creative talent a wide audience, providing exposure for and economically stimulating local businesses, and working with local schools to create opportunities for students to develop and express their interest in the arts.

Now 65 years old and a grandfather, Dick Hagood remains passionate about his duties with the district and oversees all its business and organizational aspects. With the Third Thursday Walkabouts securely established, he continues to seek new opportunities to benefit the community and support the arts.

In addition, he’s frequently busy guiding. When he’s not working, however, Dick can be found enjoying the arts or spending time with his family — especially his granddaughter Windley, who was named for Windley Key where her mother and father met.

“We always say we love the Keys so much that we named our granddaughter after them,” he quipped.

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Nick Stanczyk: A Fish and Smile Away From Childhood

Christina Baez | September 2012

Despite a resume that includes helping pioneer daytime swordfishing (probably one of the greatest discoveries in the recreational fishing industry in the last decade), Nick Stanczyk is just 27 years old — and sometimes feels like a child during his day’s work.

Nick Stanczyk, who helped pioneer daytime swordfishing in the Florida Keys, guides anglers from the U.S. and many other locales in Upper Keys waters. (All photos courtesy of Nick Stanczyk and Bud N' Mary's Marina)

“Every time I see the smile that comes to a kid’s face when he catches a fish, it brings me back to the days when I was a young kid fishing off the dock of the marina,” Nick said. “I feel like I was one of those kids just the other day, and it’s a good feeling.”

As the son of fishing legend Richard Stanczyk, who has owned Islamorada’s landmark Bud N’ Mary’s Marina since 1978 (which, FYI, is seven years before Nick was born), Nick Stanczyk is a true “Conch” or Florida Keys native.

Raised in the Keys and an angler all his life to date, he spent most of his childhood hanging around Bud N’ Mary’s, fishing after school and on days off. Later, after high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps by attending the University of Miami.

“For as long as I can remember I’ve been catching and eating fish,” Nick said, “but I still can’t cook or clean them.”

A second-generation captain, Nick skippers the B n' M out of Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada.

Led by his father, Nick and the team at Bud N’ Mary’s are perhaps best known for discovering a large body of broadbill swordfish off the coast of Islamorada.

Before the amazing 2002 discovery, few broadbill swordfish had ever been caught — and typically they were targeted only at night. The Stanczyks and their crew discovered how to fish for them during the day, and have turned Islamorada into a top destination for catching the species.

“We spent a few years trying to figure out how to target these swordfish, and some days we still scratch our heads,” Nick said. “If you look at fishing in the United States in the last decade, I can’t think of another fishery that’s been newly developed like this daytime swordfishing.”

In the last few years, Nick has captained swordfishing charters for visitors from around the world. Hailing from places like Australia, Germany, England and other distant locales, they all came to Islamorada just to fish for swordfish.

A seasoned captain despite his youth, Nick has led his anglers to some remarkable catches of swordfish and other notable gamefish.

Nick has led his anglers to remarkable catches of swordfish and other prized gamefish.

These days, the young captain can be found fishing for anything on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys aboard his 34-foot Crusader — appropriately named the B n’ M.

A true family affair, Bud N’ Mary’s Marina is home to 40 different fishing captains. As well as Nick’s father, it’s run by Nick himself, his brother Rick and his Uncle Scott.

“I love that fishing is a family atmosphere,” Nick enthused. “It’s something a family can all do together.”

He hopes to carry on the Stanczyk family tradition, keeping the name of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina alive, living and raising a family in Islamorada — and spending time on the water fishing with kids of his own one day.

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“There’s Still So Much to be Done”

Katharine Roach | August 2012

Key West is known for its legendary residents. Over the years, they have included literary geniuses Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, Tony Award-winning Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, “A Chorus Line” writer James Kirkwood, and even singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett — who not only lived on the island, but immortalized it in such enduring hits as “Margaritaville.”

Captain Tony's renegade spirit is captured here in this portrait by Keys photographer Rob O'Neal.

And then there are the political legends. Sonny McCoy was Key West’s mayor when he water-skied from the island city to Cuba (more than 90 miles!) on a single slalom ski. Wilhelmina Harvey served as county mayor well into her 80s, as well as being Admiral of the Keys’ irreverent Conch Republic Navy.

You may recall reading in my previous columns that ageism really doesn’t exist in the Florida Keys — and Wilhelmina, an energetic and beloved “senior grande dame” was a shining example of that truth.

No Key West resident is more legendary, however, than the late Captain Tony Tarracino. Today it would be hard to do everything the outspoken, larger-than-life captain is reputed to have done in his extraordinary lifetime. (Let’s just say that his “professions” supposedly included gambler and gunrunner during the Bay of Pigs invasion.)

Captain Tony landed in Key West in 1948 after departing (some say fleeing) New Jersey. In 1958 he bought a bar on Greene Street that he aptly named Captain Tony’s Saloon. In one of its earlier incarnations, the saloon had been a favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway and his cronies.

Tony's saloon remains a local landmark -- just as it was when he held court at its weathered bar.

Tony served as mayor of Key West from 1989 to 1991. At that time he was in his late 70s, but senior status didn’t mean he’d lost any of his characteristic vigor or irreverence — either in his professional or personal life. (Speaking of his personal life, Tony was married four times and was the father of 13 children.)

But it wasn’t just in Key West that the colorful captain was a legend. The film “The Cuba Crossing,” starring Stuart Whitman, was inspired by his life. Jimmy Buffett immortalized him in his song, “Last Mango in Paris.”

As well as referring to some of the captain’s reputed escapades, the song captured Tony’s exuberant attitude in a line he supposedly spoke: “And Jimmy, there’s still so much to be done.”

From Aug. 8-11 Key West honors this extraordinary legend, who died in 2008 at age 92, with a festival:  Captain Tony Days. Produced by his family members and friends, it includes a celebration of his Aug. 10 birthday at — where else? — Captain Tony’s Saloon on Greene Street.

Crowds gather outside Captain Tony's Saloon to celebrate the life of a legend.

As a fitting part of the festival remembering the individualistic captain, one of this year’s Key West High School graduates will receive a $1,025 “life scholarship” in his honor. The recipient must NOT be college bound, but instead plan to learn from life.

Even after his passing, Captain Tony Tarracino is remembered for his nonconformist viewpoint.

When I knew Tony is the 1980s, I found myself captivated by the stories he could tell. Now, as an older senior citizen myself, I look back on his zest for life with awe. To him there was always “still so much to be done.”

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‘Old Guys Rule’ at Hemingway Look-Alike Contest

Katharine Roach | July 2012

July in Key West means Hemingway Days, the island’s annual celebration of Ernest Hemingway’s birthday, and one of the festival’s most popular events is Sloppy Joe’s “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. Large men sporting beards, some wearing khaki pants held up with rope belts, wander the streets and occupy the barstools of Key West’s watering holes, each hoping to be named the year’s look-alike winner.

The late Tom Chadwick is fondly remembered by his fellow Hemingway look-alikes and fans. (Photo courtesy of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society)

The Look-Alike Contest is unlike most other contests in that rotund seniors can enter repeatedly, and most don’t win on their first try. One of the most persevering contestants was Tom Chadwick, who passed away last August. He’s probably best described in the tribute here, written by his and his wife’s good friend, Bunny Carey.

“He was in last year’s contest, and this year would have been 29 years in a row he participated. Tom was known as the ‘Horny Papa,’ since he always wore a Viking hat with horns in the contest. Last year he donated this hat to be auctioned off for the Hemingway scholarship drive, fetching $400. It is now on a plaque, with his name, at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West.

“Tom was an annual favorite when he went onstage and announced, ‘Well, how do you like me so far?’ We not only liked him, but loved his enthusiasm and zest for life. Although he never won, he was always a winner, and all who knew him loved him.

“I like to recall Tom sitting at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, as he did many times, saying, ‘I’ll have another!’ Of course, he always bought drinks for everyone else, as he was also a great ‘Papa.’ I’d like to think he’s on a cloud with other lost look-alikes, along with the original, one-and-only Ernest Hemingway — with drinks on the house for all.

Shown here participating in Sloppy Joe's "Running of the Bulls," Tom (center) loved camaraderie and cocktails -- and that's no bull! (Photo courtesy of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society)

“Tom was the true reflection of ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ He was attracted to the sea as a young man and served in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. He passed away as a sailor at sea while on a Caribbean cruise with his wife at the young age of 84.

“I met Tom on a cruise over 20 years ago. He was at the bar, and his (first) words were, ‘Hi, I’m Tom. Can I buy you a drink?’

“His memory is one that makes my heart smile, and I’ll drink to that.”

I never knew Tom Chadwick, but I have had the privilege of knowing many other participants in the Look-Alike Contest — some winners, some perennial hopefuls.

Among them are previous winners Jack Waterbury, a former airline pilot who still has a roguish twinkle in his eye; Bill Young, a gentle man and a gentleman who actually met Hemingway in Spain; and Fred Johnson, longtime guiding spirit behind the look-alikes’ fraternal society.

Each year "old guys rule" in the "Papa" Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

I also recall some who have competed for many years, returning annually to enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow contestants, and to try once again to be known as an Ernest Hemingway look-alike winner.

This year’s Look-Alike Contest will be held, as always, at Sloppy Joe’s, beginning July 19. The finals are scheduled for July 21, when yet another stocky, bearded senior citizen will be named the winner. So if you’re in town during the Hemingway Days festival, join the crowd at this unusual competition — a big-as-life example of the popular contemporary catchphrase “Old Guys Rule.”

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