Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

Last year, we recognized “you” — for your diligence in protecting your health, following safety guidelines and caring to protect others.

“You” wore the mask and respected social distance.

“You” rose to meet the COVID-19 challenge.

“You” were our Islander of the Year in 2020.

And now, as we still face challenges on AMI and across the globe, we’re counting on you — our Islander of the Year — to push through in 2022.

Since 1993, we’ve proudly recognized the AMI community for striving to make this slice of paradise an even better place to live.

Since its launch in 1992, The Islander has sought a path alongside community groups to help achieve their goals, to report the news of record and to tell tales of people who live and work on AMI.

In 1993, we sought a way to say thank you to the people who worked for a better island and named the Islander of the Year award.

The first award went posthumously to Ernie Cagnina, followed by a posthumous award to Ray Simches. Both served as Anna Maria mayors.

Our third Islander of the Year continues to strive for a better way, better beaches and bridges — especially a low, bascule bridge replacement for the Cortez-Bradenton Beach link for island-mainland traffic.

Katie Pierola, 1995: Pierola lives on the mainland but a big slice of her heart is with islanders in the effort to maintain paradise.

She served six years as Bradenton Beach mayor, with her last term ending in 1995. She proved to be a bulldog at grant-getting, enacting improvements and bringing about positive change in office. The city underwent a renaissance under her leadership.

Pierola also fought for the first beach renourishment program for the island and led a first round of the battles to prevent a megabridge replacement for the Cortez Bridge.

Willis Howard “Snooks” Adams, 1996: Adams was born April 24, 1917, to settlers of Cortez and spent much of his life on the island, including as a law enforcement officer who carried common sense as his tool.

He was a friend to local children, having started in 1954 an end-of-school party, celebrated now as Snooks Adams Kids Day and hosted by the Anna Maria Island Privateers.

In 1952, Bradenton Beach incorporated and Adams became first assistant chief, then police chief.

He is credited with helping set up the first Veterans of Foreign Wars post and was commander three times during the 1950s.

In 1956, Adams went to work for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. “My job was to take care of the island,” he said.

From 1962-78, he was Holmes Beach police chief.

Charles and Jo Ann Lester, 1997: Charles and Jo Ann Lester came from Wisconsin, fell in love with the island and, along with it, the Anna Maria Island Community Center — now the Center of Anna Maria Island.

They put their money where their hearts are — here and in Wisconsin. For this, and for the foresight to establish an endowment fund for the center, for their altruistic, unselfish willingness to put themselves at the foreground of a major fundraising campaign for the center, we honored them as 1997 Islanders of the year.

Jim Kronus, 1998: Jim Kronus, retiring in January 1999 after 25 years as Anna Maria Island Elementary principal, was 1998 Islander of the Year.

He also was honored with his name on the school auditorium. Twenty-five years worth of admiring former students, their parents, their children and former and current staff honored him at that event.

Suzi Fox, 1999: With little funding to support Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Suzi Fox organized a group of volunteers to protect sea turtles.

A few years earlier, she took over the state permit for protecting nesting sea turtles and also their hatchlings.

Beach renourishment brought government funding and necessary monitoring of turtles to AMITW and Fox, who continues as executive director, overseeing volunteers who track and monitor turtle activities on the shore.

Nancy Ambrose, 2000: Ambrose brought a passion for butterflies and butterfly gardening to Holmes Beach, where a peaceful retreat for butterflies and people was established at city hall.

Ambrose was later shamed with an arrest and plea agreement after she allegedly stole from the butterfly charity and the park. The park underwent a makeover as a Veterans Memorial.

Carolyne Norwood, 2001: With so many people moving to the area daily, island history was at risk of being lost in an avalanche of new, new, new.

The keeper of the island’s history became Carolyne Norwood, who died in 2020. She set out on a quest to preserve our history and for that we honored her as the Islander of the Year.

The Anna Maria Island Historical Society, its museum and the preservation of the old jail and Belle Haven Cottage resulted from her vision.

Billie Martini, 2002: Billie Martini was just our cup of tea. She exemplified the charm and character of the island.

Martini came to AMI in 1944, residing 16 years in Bradenton Beach before settling in Holmes Beach.

She held various jobs, including post office clerk, bookkeeper for the water company and teacher’s aide at AME. She retired and rose to president of the grass-roots effort that became Save Anna Maria Inc.

She was elected to the Holmes Beach City Commission in 1993 for a two-year term, on the promise to be a voice for the people.

She sought recreational opportunities for residents, including a public swimming pool. Although her pursuit did not see reality — there is now a skate park, children’s playground and other amenities at the site adjacent to city hall.

Her finest achievement was the realization of the Grassy Point Preserve, fronting on Anna Maria Sound.

Another achievement to her credit is the play pavilion at AME. Martini envisioned the sheltered area and donated the funding to make it a reality.

Ilona and Jeff Kenrick, 2003: The Holmes Beach couple led an anonymous foundation that gave aid amounting to about $1 million a year. The foundation’s mission was to “make contributions for religious, educational, charitable and scientific purposes.”

The Kenricks created a local event that combined donations for a blood bank with a reward for blood donors, a cash payout to the blood donor’s choice of four island charities.

It was a win-win for all and we thank them for their positive impact.

Jeff Croley, 2004: Jeff Croley of Holmes Beach symbolized all the good qualities we could ask for in a volunteer — and he symbolized for AMI all the good folks who quietly went about doing anything and everything they could to aid those in need after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne crisscrossed Florida.

Croley, who worked at a condo maintenance job on Longboat Key, took vacation days to drive with a cooler, cold drinks and a chain saw to the hurricane devastated areas in East Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties, looking for folks who needed aid.

He came upon The Islander office early the first morning of his good Samaritan journey looking for a big cooler and some ice — and we were pleased to oblige.

Anna Maria Island Privateers, 2005: If there is a symbol for Anna Maria Island, it is the sword-wielding, cannon-firing, ship-riding krewe, the Anna Maria Island Privateers.

They do good year after year, but 2005 stood out for the extra efforts on behalf of one unfortunate boy.

It only took a phone call to bring the Privateers and their ship to greet a boy with a failing heart on a “wish” trip to the island. And it wasn’t just a greeting for little Tyler. His family was treated to a tour aboard ship, escorted to dinner and made honorary Privateers.

It was a selfless and remarkable gesture that symbolized hope for Tyler and filled his heart with love for our island.

The Privateers also came to the rescue with Hurricane Katrina relief, collecting needed items and transporting them to Tampa.

Next, the Privateers managed a memorial scholarship fund for an island teen killed in a car crash. The fund for Bridget Miller was a great addition to the many youth scholarships the Privateers award every year.

They hosted the annual Snooks Adams Kids Day, “thieves markets” in season, blood drives, Fourth of July and Christmas parades and many “captures” and visits to almost every event where their presence is requested.

They did all this and more — despite the death of their president, Greg “Shiprek” Davidson.

Dick Cline, who also died in 2005, aided him, working behind the scenes.

Pete Lannon, 2006: If there was one person who touched the fabric of life that brought out the best in the island community in 2006, it was Pete Lannon.

He went beyond his calling as a Holmes Beach community resource officer to become a mentor for our children, a confidant to those in need and a friendly face to those who passed AME, where he was a fixture as a crossing guard.

He fought cancer and eventually lost.

He is still missed by many but the anti-drug program he taught at AME and his ideals live on. His character traits are heralded at the driveway to the school, Lannon Way.

Christine Olson, 2007: Christine Olson’s daughter Tiffiany died in 2005 in a motorcycle crash, after which Olson sought to connect people in emergency situations with loved ones and family members who “need to know.”

The quest led her to our office and then-state Rep. Bill Galvano.

Galvano led Olson to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which allowed contact information in the existing Driver And Vehicle Information Database and law enforcement agencies to access information by “swiping” a driver’s license.

Registration was added to the DMV website in October 2006 and, just like that, Tiff’s Initiative — To Inform Families First — became reality.

There are now millions of registered Florida participants and programs reaching across the United States.

We thank Olson for making a difference in the lives of many. To register, visit

      Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, 2008: Cheers to the organization that runs the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival and dedicates the proceeds to preserving the village, including the Burton store, the old schoolhouse and the 90-plus acre preserve that provides a buffer for the village from encroaching development.

Rhea and Ed Chiles, 2009: It was an honor for the island to be home to a first lady of Florida, Rhea Chiles, and to have her return here after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

AMI embraced Rhea, who brought a sense of culture, education, arts and artists, and examples of nature and the beauty around us — to the Studio at Gulf and Pine.

Combined with the generosity and vision of son Ed Chiles, owner of a trio of landmark restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, we have a legacy for the future.

The Geyers, 2010: The Geyer family was our 2010 Islanders of the Year. You may have known the late Pat Geyer as mayor or commissioner and, for many years, islanders loved her as Miss Duffy.

Patricia A. Geyer, proprietress of Duffy’s Tavern, died May 1, 2010, at age 79, but she is remembered.

She served 18 years on the city commission and was elected mayor from 1990-94.

Geyer gave the island a great gift of traditions.

Miss Duffy earned many accolades, but surely none pleased her more than the simple appreciation for her family, political service and burgers.

The Privateers, 2011: The Privateers are our only repeat winner.

They brought revelry and excitement during their 40th anniversary year under the leadership of Roger “Hoodat” Murphree. The captures at city halls were lifetime adventures for the city officials, some who found themselves shackled to the mast on the Skullywag with ransom to be paid.

It was a very good year for the Privateers, a crew that proved worth its weight in gold — raising more than $40,000 for college scholarships — and continuing service and entertainment on the island.

Pam Leckie, 2012: On to 2012, and recognition for a crusade to fill the Roser Food Pantry.

As chair at the time, Pam Leckie brought the pantry out of a church closet to a place of its own, where the effort grew in its assistance to islanders.

In 2012, Leckie and other volunteers distributed almost 1,500 bags of food and gift cards for fresh foods.

Leckie and her volunteers proved they are among the best of the best by coming to the aid with groceries for employees of the Rod & Reel Pier after a fire closed the Anna Maria restaurant.

Gene Aubry, 2013: Former Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry is a renaissance man, empowered with seemingly limitless knowledge, embracing a sort of great thinking.

He stepped up to serve the city — many times.

If you haven’t heard him play guitar, you may not recognize his range of talent. If you don’t know of his many architectural achievements, you might doubt this quiet man had reached such heights. If you don’t know of his art — the simple, fine lines and subtle colors that capture moments in time like no photograph could — you may not appreciate his refined taste.

He may no longer serve in city government, but he isn’t giving up. Surrender is not in his character.

Jeannie Bystrom, 2014: For 2014, we honored the effort of one woman — Jeannie Bystrom — to make a difference by not only saving seabirds day after day, freeing them from fishing line entanglement and other hazards encountered in their habitat, but more so for pushing for better education and regulations to protect wildlife and our valuable environmental assets.

Sabine Musil-Buehler, 2015: As we searched for the person who made a difference in our lives in 2015, we came to realize the value of lessons learned from the loss of Sabine Musil-Buehler and for the closure she provided from her final resting place on the beach.

We honored her memory with the final sunset of the year in 2015 and every year after.

Ernie Casali, 2016: In 2016, we recognized a grand figure in Moose International and at our local lodge in Bradenton Beach, Ernie Casali.

He made a difference for the lodge over the course of years as its manager and in the daily lives of people he helped — both through the Moose and through his own soft-hearted generosity.

You may never know who gave to a needy person or a cause, but it often was Ernie.

Hurricane Irma responders, 2017: For 2017, we recognized the people who made a safe return to the island possible after the evacuation for Hurricane Irma.

We saw damage but not devastation from the storm, and our “hurricane heroes” kept order, soothed and swayed our fears and led us back home.

Vern McGowin, 2018: And for 2018, serving among the heroes in law enforcement with grace, embracing our children in his duties at AME and wearing a caring heart behind the badge, there is Holmes Beach Police Sgt. Vern McGowin.

He was off to relish a much-deserved retirement and an adventure that put family first.

Wildlife Inc., Ed and Gail Straight, 2019: Who you gonna call with a wildlife emergency?

Ask an animal-, bird-, wildlife-lover and the answer comes readily: Wildlife Inc.

Gail and Ed Straight are founders and directors of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, based in their home in Bradenton Beach since 1987.

Ed Straight, president and former Bradenton Beach commissioner, a retired law enforcement officer, started rescuing needy animals as a hobby.

The Straights manage thousands of rescued birds and animals yearly, caring for their injuries or nursing them when they’re abandoned and returning them to the wild whenever possible.

Which brings us to 2020, when we recognized you.

And now the Islanders of the Year for 2021. They are the champions who harkened back to a fight for preservation that began in the 1980s — a fight that was won and done but a fight that returned.

They are the four crusaders who stepped up to battle the Florida Department of Transportation’s plans to build a new megabridge to replace the Cortez Bridge.

The Islanders of the Year are Joe McClash, Jane von Hahmann, Linda Molto and Joe Kane, who are fighting for the preservation of the ambiance and historic character of Cortez and AMI.

Molto, Kane and von Hahmann are Cortez residents. And Von Hahmann and McClash are both former county commissioners.

All share a passion for the village way of life, the island way of life and the environment. So they brought a lawsuit to defeat the decision by the DOT to build a 65-foot-clearance bridge and mediate the height of a new bascule bridge.

They wage a heroic battle. Here’s to a victory.

And here’s to a safe 2022 as The Islander thanks you all, our Islanders of the Year.

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