- November 16, 2022
Can we talk for a moment?
We’ve been through a lot, huh?
There we were, tooling along just fine a couple years ago. A round of golf here, a bike ride there, a little ceviche and a nice cigar.
Then, whammo, we’re all wearing masks and checking drive times on Google maps to find some place called Micco where a Publix store had a single COVID-19 shot appointment open at 8:30 tomorrow morning.
Since then, we’ve dodged hurricanes, survived elections and worked like heck to get back to where we were when all this craziness started.
It wasn’t easy, but we’re here to tell you, we seem to have made it. In looking back through the thousands of photos our reporters made in 2022, we were hard-pressed to notice much of a difference as compared to normal. No masks, no clear plastic barriers and, with the exception of a photo we shot in the first days of January, no signs of social distancing or anything.
Just Longboaters doing Longboat things.
So, as 2022 fades into a typically glorious Longboat Key sunset, we look ahead to even more normality in 2023.
Back to the masks
COVID-19 restrictions made a brief return to Town Hall and other municipal buildings when test positivity rates climbed above 10% in Sarasota and Manatee counties following Christmas.
Court was in session
Tennis players were back for more in 2022 when the Observer Challenge returned to the Public Tennis Center after COVID-19 prompted a hiatus in 2021. It was the 21st presentation of the tournament. Participants and guests enjoyed a pre-tournament get-together, then hit the courts for the actual competition.
To market, to market
Longboat Key residents and visitors didn’t have to even cross a bridge to enjoy the benefits of a farmers market when the Town Center Green played host to one of its first organized events. Hundreds of people turned out for the event, organized by the town and the same person who runs a nearby market on Coquina Beach. Initially, three monthly markets were held.
Walk this way
Al and Dottye Van Iten’s annual arrival in Twin Shores came with something of a shock when they first saw the sidewalk of their community torn up. “(Normally), we look at the Gulf of Mexico here at the dinner table and it’s a nice pleasant look,” Al Van Iten said. “Well, now what do you see? A derelict-looking (view).” So they reached out to the town, learned what the problem was, and then, contacted The Observer. A few calls later, the responsible communications company promised to fix it. And it did. “I just don’t like not getting answers,” Al Van Iten said.
Art in the open
Some of the art at the Longboat Key Festival of the Arts probably looked familiar to anyone who's driven down Gulf of Mexico Drive and noticed the multitude of Tube Dude mailboxes. The creator of those metal marvels, Scott Gerber, was just one of dozens of artists present at the first Festival of the Arts on the Key, which spanned Feb. 5 and 6.
A pickleball sensation
Pickleball has become that much of a draw in the two years since the town expanded public pickleball options at Longboat Key's mid-island park. In fact, the sport has gotten so popular that bicycles can often rival motor vehicles as the most convenient means of transportation to the park on a popular morning.
Cell poles cause a stir
Spotty cell service on the north end of the island has been a perennial issue among residents, but so did the possibility of cell poles on the island to rectify the issue. In February, residents near the proposed sites for the nine installations argued the black devices weren’t right for their neighborhoods and should move elsewhere. Engineers countered that the sites were chosen to optimize the system’s operation. In the end, they were approved and installed, with activation planned in late 2022.
Tommy and friends
Racket enthusiasts took the courts on a sunny and warm day at Cedars Tennis Resort and Club for a fundraising clinic with former No. 2 in the world tennis pro Tommy Haas and some of his friends. About $11,000 was raised to help Match Point Impact, an organization that trains youth through tennis with the goal of growing into leaders, athletes and entrepreneurs.
On top of their hat games
The hats at the Beth Israel Women luncheon on Feb. 21 just got curiouser and curiouser. The theme of the gathering was a Mad Hatter's tea party, and attendees came dressed to impress with towering hats sprouting feathers and springy coils. Barbara Rosenthal and Gale Frank came with their maddest hats for the occasion.
Let’s get ready to rrrrrrummmage
The line was more than 50 people deep to enter St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church’s Royal Rummage Sale. In case you wondered, the largest item that sold was a treadmill. The smallest? A corkscrew.
Welcome to learn
Kids and grownups alike perused the displays at the town’s annual open house gathering at Bayfront Park. Private organizations and non-profits joined town departments in educating visitors to the event on the work they do.
The 100-member The Longboat Key Bicycle Association has been working with the police department on keeping the cycling experience on the island as safe as possible.
Putting while pink
Golfers from the Key Niners and the Women’s Golf Association took part in the benefit for Breast Health Sarasota, a local nonprofit that offers support and breast cancer prevention.
Turning heads, electrically
We met Steve Penn and his Arcimoto electric runabout and instantly became intrigued by the him and his electric car in which he runs errands and generally enjoys himself. The vehicle is a three-wheel, American made machine is officially a Fun Utility Vehicle that sells for about $18,000. It's street legal, has a top speed of about 70 mph and a range of about 100 miles. There's a small compartment in the back with enough capacity to carry a few grocery bags, and when we met, Penn was expecting an attachment soon to carry a pair of golf bags.
Alas, no polkas
In March, it added up to the Longboat Key Garden Club's Dinner and a Movie event. About 140 people came out for dinner and to watch "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" on an inflatable screen at Bayfront Park.
Blessing of the fleet
Commodore Bill Coughlin organizes the Blessing of the Fleet every year. Father Robert Dziedziak from St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church said a blessing before boats began to come through. By the end of the day, 20 boats, including the Longboat Key Fire Department boat, and 23 stand-up-paddleboarders and kayakers came through.
Longboaters with ties to Ukraine did what they could to help their embattled nation with fundraisers and relief efforts while also educating others. Social media has helped the world tune in and realize what’s happening, and Anisa Mycak has seen friends and neighbors acting as a microcosm of the global desire to help as the reality of the situation sinks in. Ukrainians have been fighting for their independence for years and the world is now tuning in.
Turner takes charge
At his swearing in as Longboat Key's 13th police chief since 1956, George Turner said it was never his desire to leave the town's department in 2007 in the first place, but a career opportunity in Brooksville, about 50 miles north of Tampa just couldn't be overlooked.
Art of the deal
Art and government do mix when the town hosts the community alongside a slate of talented artists at the Town Hall Art Show.
A pirate’s life for her
Karen MacKay laid out a surprise for some of her tennis friends with a little philanthropy in mind. Karen, she’s on the left, engaged the services of the Anna Maria Privateers to help, taking Karen and 28 pals for an afternoon ride aboard the ship/truck.
Master class in serenity
Tai chi is a weekly thing at The Paradise Center on Longboat Key, but not so visits from Master Max Yan. As in past visits, The Paradise Center’s usual teacher, Reuben Fernandez, warmed up the students before handing them off to Yan during a class in the center's parking lot.
Tidying up an island
About 40 volunteers boated over from north Longboat Key to the nearby Sister Keys for a morning of trash cleanup and invasive-plant removal. Sponsored by Sarasota Bay Watch, the group ranged in age and experience but not in enthusiasm. Together, they waded ashore from several boats and collected trash and recyclables. Among the items found: a floodlight bulb, an unopened can of Coors Light beer, a tattered American flag and a couple resin patio chairs that had seen better days.
On a day perfectly suited for the beach, the Town Commission went to the seashore with some of the town's department heads. Well, maybe not all the way to the sea, but to Seaplace, anyway, for their annual off-site retreat, a day set aside at the condominium's beachfront clubhouse for freewheeling discussions about the year ahead, away from the confines of Town Hall and parliamentary procedure.
Checking out the options
Longboat Key residents took a test drive, but not of a snazzy, new roadster or a sensible, frugal hybrid. In fact, no one got behind the wheel or shifted into gear. But about 25 people, including a handful of elected officials, did indeed keep their eyes on the road — Gulf of Mexico Drive, specifically — in a Town Hall try-before-you-buy session highlighting the vision for the island’s largely two-lane thoroughfare.
So long, Officer Nagell
After 21 years in a Longboat Key Police uniform, Shawn Nagell eased his way into retirement with a ceremony at the police department. About 50 people came to the police station to celebrate with Nagell, including firefighters, paramedics and Public Works employees. His wife, Julia, was also there.
A new calling
Building off photography knowledge gleaned from You Tube, retired firefighter John Harkness now enjoys capturing quintessential Longboat Key images. Harkness is leery of photographing people because there’s too much pressure to get it right. He also prefers to socialize with friends and family in those special moments and says you miss too much when you’re always behind the camera.
Baby, it’s you
In early May, the arrival of Blair Sobotka deeply cut into the average age of Beach Harbor Club Residents. The daughter of David and Brianna Sobotka, Blair is the first baby to live in the formerly 55-and-older community, well, ever. Vanessa Ladzinski, the community association manager, said families live there now and have in the past, but no one has ever given birth to a child while living in the complex. Residents are excited to have a new addition. “It’s thrilling to have a new baby, and she’s just so cute,” Ladzinski said.
Learning about the ocean
Educational booths surrounded the courtyard of Mote Marine Aquarium & Laboratory on World Ocean Day. The educational purpose was to demonstrate the fragility of the world’s seas and how people can participate.
Mapping the future
Stephanie Troxler, a 33-year-old entrepreneurial mom and a lifelong artist, started painting maps when a client requested something cute to welcome her guest to a destination bachelorette party. Now her water-color map paintings of Longboat Key and its surrounding islands are popular items at Driftwood Beach Home & Garden.
Freedom at its most festive
It was as hot as a firecracker July Fourth morning, but that didn’t cool the fun for Longboat Key’s annual Freedom Fest, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Grand Marshal Lisa Walsh led the parade in a red Corvette convertible. In an Uncle Sam hat and beard, plus a red, white and blue tulle neck tutu, Tully the dog won the award for Most Patriotic Costume.
With hundreds of workers on site and nearly as many truckloads of concrete, buildings at the site of The Residences at the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort steadily have been rising from the land once occupied by the Colony Beach & Tennis Club. Opening is planned for 2024.
A day in the life
Have you ever heard of an executive director so hands-on they teach Zumba to their clients? Suzy Brenner, does. And if you’ve met Brenner at Longboat Key's The Paradise Center, you've met, Lahni, a 10-year-old pitbull mix, too. We saw a lot of them both when we spent a typical day with them.
On the run
The annual Siesta Key Triathlon has historically been held early in the morning on Siesta Key Beach — it's in the name, after all — but the event was relocated to City Island on Longboat Key this year. So event organizer Thierry Rouillard made the decision to eliminate the event's swimming portion and turn the race into a duathlon in which athletes ran and cycled a total of 15 miles.
A massive bee colony inside the walls of Tarawitt Drive home prompted the kind of action you probably can only get from a neighbor with some know-how. J.C. and Jennifer Dominquez recently bought the property essentially for their family to come and stay. But when the bees were discovered, they relied on neighbor Tony Woodward, an amateur beekeeper, to do the right thing.
Setting sail solo
Coco Claypoole was one of about 150 youth sailors to compete in the Sarasota Sailing Squadron’s 74th Annual Labor Day Regatta over the weekend. The 12-year-old Longboat Key resident has been sailing half her life, but this was Claypoole’s first time sailing in this regatta.
Getting ready for Ian
With a calm and orderly sense of purpose earned from multiple tangles with tropical weather over the years, Longboat Key residents went about their business preparing for Hurricane Ian, perhaps the most-threatening weather forecast to reach town in decades. Forecasters said Ian would blast up the coast with torrential rain, dangerous storm surge and damaging winds. All that took place, but farther south than originally seen, sparing the island much of the tragedy experienced in Lee, Charlotte and southern Sarasota counties. When it was all done, limbs fell and power failed, but Longboat Key generally did better that originally expected.
Dogs and their owners made a clean break from the sand and grit of the Bayfront Park dog enclosure when the new artificial turf was installed. The turf installation came after a donation from Longboat Key resident Irene Hess totaling about $123,000. The Longboat Key Town Commission accepted the donation from Hess and the Paul Klingenstein Family Foundation through the town’s Rotary Club Charitable fund.
Blessed be the pets
More than two dozen dogs and one cat attended the Longboat Island Chapel’s first Blessing of the Animals. The chapel is non-denominational, but October is a popular month for pet blessings because the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi is celebrated on Oct. 4.
Let there be light
As has become the custom, folks gathered at the Town Center Green on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a little municipal fellowship and the annual lighting of the tree. With attendees ranging from nine months to 99 years old, it’s an event for all ages. Toddlers and seniors donned Santa hats, antlers and anything else that could light up. The Town Center Green glowed with holiday glee.