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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 6 months ago

Welcome Back: Here are 10 more stories that we liked from last summer

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News from the lighter side.
by: Nat Kaemmerer and Mark Bergin

Sure, there was big news, what we in the biz call "broccoli.'' Here's some ice cream, stories we were amused by but didn't quite rise to the level of the Welcome Back Top 10.

Freedom Fest rides again

July 4 marked the return of Freedom Fest, a beloved Longboat Key tradition dubbed as the “world's smallest parade.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancellation of last year’s event.

It’s safe to say people missed Freedom Fest, especially considering this year’s event had four grand marshals:  Sarasota Memorial Health Care System’s Chief Nursing Officer Jean Lucas, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, cardiologist Dr. Colleen Hardy and Publix store manager Willie McLaughlin.

Hundreds of Longboaters flooded Bay Isles Road to watch the short parade and subsequent festival on the morning of Fourth of July. The Hot Diggity Dog! parade and contest, hosted as always by the Rotary Club of Longboat Key, had 33 patriotic pups walking Bay Isles Road — a parade record.

Tony, Nancy and Biscuit Roberts won Most Patriotic in the Hot Diggity Dog! contest.

Lark and Heather Rippy pose for a picture inside the family's store. Driftwood Beach Home and Garden is located at 6838 Gulf of Mexico Drive. File photo
A girl and her chickens

Longbeach Village resident Lark Rippy has many talents.

The 11-year-old girl operates the pet section of her mom’s shop, Driftwood Beach Home and Garden at 6838 Gulf of Mexico Drive. She also walks neighbors’ dogs in the Village neighborhood and some residents who live near Whitney Plaza.

Rippy’s love of animals prompted her to write to District 5 Longboat Key Town Commissioner Maureen Merrigan in June to ask about the possibility of raising chickens in her backyard.

If Rippy decides to continue to advocate for the change, she would have a lengthy process to make her dream a reality. However, she did look up the specific ordinance about the town’s rules about livestock when writing to Merrigan.

Not bad for an 11-year-old. 

Observer Media Group President Emily Walsh has spent nearly two decades with the company, working in roles including publisher, chief digital officer, editor and advertising sales executive. File photo
Emily Walsh is now our president

In July, Observer Media Group CEO Matt Walsh officially announced he would step down as the company’s president.

While Walsh is retaining his position as CEO, he announced the promotion of his daughter Emily Walsh as president.

The elder Walsh is the founder and CEO of Observer Media Group for the last 26 years.

Emily Walsh is no stranger to Observer Media Group, where she has served as publisher of the company’s Sarasota-based newspapers, magazines and websites since 2016. She joined the company 20 years ago as a photographer for the Black Tie section of the Longboat Observer, later serving as editor of the Black Tie and Arts & Entertainment sections, an advertising sales executive and chief digital officer.

Out with the old, in with the interim

The Longboat Key Police Department thought it had its chief for years to come with the October 2020 hiring of Kelli Smith.

Smith brought nearly three decades of police experience with her to the town. She had held leadership positions at Northern Arizona University and the University of Central Florida.

At the end of April, Smith resigned to become police chief at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

To replace Smith, the town hired former Longboat Key police captain and former Brooksville Police Chief George Turner in late April on an interim basis.

Turner told the Observer in September he hopes to be named the permanent police chief as he helps guide the Longboat Key Police Department through the state accreditation process.

The town has not advertised a job opening for the permanent police chief role since Turner started.

Sarah Bauer and Greer Mackebee. Courtesy photo.
A true daily double

What is “I do?” 

Sarah Bauer and Greer Mackebee may have started as fierce trivia rivals when they faced off on the 2012 Jeopardy! College Tournament, but now they'll go forward in life as unstoppable trivia night partners.

And their married days began on the beach in Longboat Key.

Mackebee recently proposed to Bauer in front of the Beachcomber. Neither lives on the Key, but Bauer has been coming here since she was a kid. Mackebee's first trip was when he proposed, but said it is now special for both of them.

The pair met in 2012 when they both made it to the quarterfinals of the college tournament. Mackebee represented Duke University and Bauer represented Indiana University. 

Tina Panagiotopolous and Manny Ninos. File photo by Mark Bergin.
Tina's final cut

After 34 years, Tina’s Beauty Salon closed its doors, much to the chagrin of its loyal customers. Owner Tina Panagiotopolous said the customers had become like a family, one that was brought together by mutual kindness, an interest in each other’s lives and an appreciation for the hairdressers’ and barbers’ skill with scissors. 

The salon crew was a cut above the rest. Manny Ninos and Panagiotopolous came down from Massachusetts together and built a devoted customer base over the years by way of friendly chatter and damn good haircuts. Longtime customer Bob Gault said the departure was like a gut punch.

Now they’re dispersing; Ninos will finally retire for good after cutting the hair of three generations of Longboaters, while Panagiotopoulos and Liz Reed will go to Design 2000. The space will eventually become a restaurant.

The circle of life 

Nature took its course over the year. Unfortunately, though hopes had been high for a successful nesting season for Longboat Key’s swans, the final nesting female died after abandoning the last six eggs left on the island. 

The Key’s swan expert and caretaker, David Novak, hopes to rearrange nesting pairs and sites for this year, as well as potentially bring in another female. There are viable options for cygnets to come about, but the death of the nesting swan was a shock to Novak. 

Another sweet animal soul that left Longboat Key this year was Coco, a tiny Yorkie-poodle who St. Armands Circle regulars might have recognized. She was the unofficial mascot of the Circle and was well-known for her nightly walks with dog dad Joseph Bertucci. The pair would stroll the Circle as Bertucci let Coco sniff out anything she found interesting and collect all the pets she could, but they would usually end up at Settimi’s Gelato with the “kennel club” of other dog walkers. 

After cancer and an infection, she died at 13.

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