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The best thing about the holidays on Longboat Key

Longboat Key residents tell the Observer about the best part of the holidays on the island — or wherever they celebrate.

Lights and ornaments decorate the Longboat Island Chapel's garden.
Lights and ornaments decorate the Longboat Island Chapel's garden.
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Beach walks, ocean breezes and palm trees are key to the holidays on Longboat Key and the rest of coastal Florida. 

As snowbirds trickle back to the island, some stay on the barrier island for the holidays while others fly elsewhere to be with their loved ones. 

The Observer asked a handful of residents on Longboat Key about the best thing about their holiday traditions on or off the island. 

Susan DiNatale is grateful for friends and family this Christmas.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
Susan DiNatale 

DiNatale will always miss her son, regardless of the season. She lost Danny to Ewing sarcoma in 2016 when he was only 25 years old. The family was new to Longboat Key when tragedy struck. The people they’ve met since, they’re DiNatale’s favorite part of celebrating the holidays here.  

“I’m just very grateful for the friends and family and our church community. It’s just such a blessing to live here,” she said. “The outpouring of support from this church and this community has been something that means so much to us. We raised about a half a million dollars through a gala and support, and that money has turned into $10 million of research money for the University of Florida. We couldn’t have done it without this beautiful community of Longboat.”

Longtime partners Ramona Glanz and Andrew Vac networking at a Chamber of Commerce event.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
Andrew Vac

Vac never misses an event and is typically the best dressed—sorry, ladies. It’s rumored he wears shorts to Freedom Fest, but it’s a fact that a tailored suit and huge smile are his signatures, and maybe a microphone too. Vac emcees everything from Chamber of Commerce networking events to the Kiwanis Lawn Party each year. This island Realtor is constantly on the go, and his favorite holiday activity is Light Up Longboat.

“The Christmas tree lighting at the Town Center reminds me of the old-fashioned way it should be where everybody gathers for Christmas just to have the spirit and joy,” Vac said.  

Commissioner Penny Gold with husband Paul Gold in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and ice skating rink in New York City, where they traditionally spend the holidays.
Courtesy photo
Commissioner Penny Gold

Holidays for the Golds are most often spent in New York, where extended family members from different parts of the country come together at Gold’s sister’s home. 

“We are a diverse bunch. Our crowd includes people of Irish, English, German, Hungarian, Romanian and Italian descent,” she wrote in an email. “They bring with them a variety of holiday traditions blending Catholic, Jewish and Southern Baptist religions into a noisy, joyous time. On Christmas Eve, we are honored to dine with the Italian wing of the family as they spend days preparing the Feast of the Seven Fishes. On Christmas Day, there are presents in the morning, football in the afternoon and Asian food at dinner, in keeping with my husband’s Jewish tradition. It's always a joy to spend this time with our creative, fun and funny family.”

Vice Mayor Maureen Merrigan grew up in the area and continues to spend her holidays on the barrier island.
Courtesy photo
Vice Mayor Maureen Merrigan

Merrigan has always spent the holidays on the island as she grew up in the area. 

“Even when work took me to the Northeast or Midwest to live, when it came to December, I was always on a flight south,” she wrote in an email. 

On the afternoon of Christmas Day it is tradition in her family after a big brunch for her and her family to take a walk on the beach and kayak around Greer Island. 

“We are lucky to have a home at the beach because it brings family in from all over the country for the holidays,” she wrote.

To her, the best part of spending the holidays on the island is time spent with loved ones. She loves the local boat parades, putting up decorations in 70 degree weather and enjoying a holiday meal at Harry’s or the Shore. 

“The sunsets can be great in the winter and I get a kick out of the kids making Christmas trees and snowmen in the sand at the beach,” she wrote. 


Jack Rozance and Nancy "Santa" Rozance at Light up Longboat.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
Nancy Rozance

Rozance loves playing Santa at Light up Longboat each year. The rest of the year, she can be found chatting it up at a Rotary Club meeting or reading to kids at Tuttle Elementary School. But after a little girl questioned her high pitch, Rozance went silent. 

“Let’s face it, everybody thinks Santa is a guy,” she said, “So I don’t talk.”  

According to her, Light up Longboat is the only time to see so many children in one place on Longboat Key, and Santa would know. She spoke about her treasured role saying, “My work as Santa on Longboat Key is so joyful thanks to the generosity of this town’s elves!”

BJ and Dave Bishop enjoy cycling on Christmas.
Commissioner BJ Bishop 

“We normally spend Christmas (on the island),” she wrote in an email. Her husband, Dave, was born on Christmas, so to celebrate his birthday the couple takes a long bike ride. Traditionally, they always spend Christmas Eve at church. 

Rev. David Marshall is originally from Washington state. Now, he leads the congregation at All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
Rev. David Marshall 

Marshall didn’t grow up in an endless summer, but he’s embraced the island life since leading the congregation at All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church. 

“I’m from Washington state, so Christmas is always an indoor event. One thing I love about Christmas here is that it’s always an outdoor event. The weather’s perfect and we get to enjoy decorating outside. It’s one of my favorite things,” Marshall said. “The other thing I enjoy about this time is that it’s when people I haven’t seen for a while start to return. It’s like homecoming.” 

A second later, the reverend added one more thought in his naturally warm-hearted and jovial spirit saying, “I probably should’ve mentioned something about the birth of Jesus, but this is all part of the celebration.” 

Gary Coffin's grandchild Jak is a staple in the holidays at the Coffin home.
Courtesy photo
Commissioner-elect Gary Coffin 

Coffin spends his entire year on the barrier island, even as the majority of residents only spend a few months out of the year in the area. 

“The weather is always nice here and bad everywhere else this time of year,” he said of the best part of staying on the island. 

He likes that he and his family are still able to enjoy the outdoors taking walks or spending time on his boat. 

“We are still able to enjoy things down here that people up North wouldn’t want to do right now.

Commissioner Mike Haycock spends holidays on the barrier island where they enjoy time on the beach as a family.
Courtesy photo
Commissioner Mike Haycock

Haycock and family take turns each holiday season visiting one another's homes on Longboat Key, in Chicago or in Seattle. 

"The best part of spending time at the holidays on LBK is the weather and being surrounded with family and friends," he wrote in an email. "Of course being minutes from the beach, bay, parks and golf is always special."

Susan Goldfarb at the Education Center at Temple Beth Israel. She celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
Susan Goldfarb

Goldfarb celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah. She doesn’t live on Longboat Key, but she’s worked on the island for 36 years running an adult education center, which is now located at Temple Beth Israel on Bay Isles Road. 

“I love driving through St. Armands going home and seeing the merry-go-round. It just warms my heart. I love the feeling of holiday cheer. Everywhere you go, everybody’s happy that the holidays are here,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the Hanukkah dinner at the temple and being with friends and family members, who are not Jewish and celebrate Christmas.”

Joe Deugenio ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
Joe D'eugenio 

D'eugenio has been married to Patty Buck for 14 years. The two are members of Christ Church. Buck has grandchildren in Connecticut that they used to visit every Christmas. After returning home sick one too many times, the family’s holiday plans were revised.   

“My favorite part of holidays on Longboat is that all the kids come down for Christmas to get some warmth and see their grandparents,” D'eugenio said. “We’d come down with a nasty cold from the airplane, so we talked them into coming down here, and they made it a tradition. They love it.” 

Deborah Williams recalls her employees as the closest thing to family for the holidays.
Courtesy photo
Commissioner-elect Deborah Murphy

Murphy's employees were the equivalent of her family as she does not have children or grandchildren of her own. Christmas is not about family tradition for her. 

"As an employer, I tried to focus on what our company could do to make the holidays special for our employees, their families and those less fortunate," she wrote in an email. "As a tradition, our company awarded each employee the equivalent of two weeks pay at Thanksgiving in gratitude for their service.  We adopted many charity drives over the years to help with presents, food and clothing during a stressful time for many underserved in our community." 

Mayor Ken Schneier typically spends the Christmas season in Colorado.
File photo
Mayor Ken Schneier

In more recent years, Schneier has spent the holidays with his two sons and their families in Colorado. However, due to the family dog sitter retiring last month, the couple is spending this year’s holidays on Longboat Key. “The good news is that both families were able to join us here for Thanksgiving for Jungle Gardens, the LBK tree lighting, the Mote boat trip and the Bishop Museum and the beach,” he wrote in an email.


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