The Town of Fort Myers Beach annually presents the John J. Mulholland Stewardship Award to recognize individuals, businesses or organizations that promote awareness, education and preservation of the community’s natural resources. The Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) requests nominations and makes their recommendations for Mulholland Award nominees to Council, who make the final determination. At its May 20 meeting, council designated Tom Myers and the late Dr. Leroy Hommerding as the 2019 recipients.
At Council’s May 6 meeting, MRTF Chair Bill Veach brought forward the names of Myers and Hommerding for MSA consideration. Myers and his family are the decades-long owners of the Red Coconut RV Park. Dr. Hommerding served as Director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library for almost 20 years, from 2000 until his tragic death at the library in January.
When recommending Tom Myers, MRTF wrote that he “was President of ‘The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve’ for 40 years! Without Tom, there might not be a Matanzas Pass Preserve. Tom has created a legacy of environmental stewardship through his passion and leadership. Many ‘Beach Kids’ mention that Tom was the one who first piqued their interest in the island’s environment.”
In nominating Dr. Hommerding, MRTF noted that he “was the driving force behind the new Library and was particularly proud of its green features, including rainwater retention. Dr. Hommerding was eager to promote environmental stewardship through the Library’s resources and personal interactions.”
Vice Mayor Ray Murphy at the May 20 meeting, made the motion “that we approve both gentlemen.” Mayor Anita Cereceda stated that should the Motion pass, “this would be the first time we have two Mulholland Stewardship Award recipients in one year, but both are extraordinary and well-deserving,” with Council unanimously approving the two men. Council did not immediately set a date to present the 2019 Mulholland Awards to Myers and posthumously to Dr. Hommerding, as they hope that Dr. Hommerding’s family members from Minnesota may attend.
It is rare that an Annual Meeting elicits tears and a Standing Ovation, but both occurred at “The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve” event last February 12. After 40 years as its President, Myers stepped down, with the “Friends” naming him its first President Emeritus and honoring his invaluable contributions.
“With this transition, we witness history, as Tom, you are history,” exclaimed Terry Cane, with tears in her eyes like many others. “Those of you not here in the 1970s don’t know how close we came to losing the Preserve, and if it were not for Tom, his wife Fran, and a few other key people, we would not have Matanzas Pass Preserve today. As for Tom, who else attends an organization’s meetings for 40 years! You met so many challenges for us, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!” When Tom received his “Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve” Proclamation, the room stood in applause and gratitude.
Myers and his family have operated the iconic Red Coconut RV Park at 3001 Estero Boulevard for roughly 70 years, first leasing, then buying the land from the Catholic Church. He and his wife Fran will be married 62 years this August, with Tom reflecting that “marrying Fran is still the best decision I made in my life!”
The property that would one day become the Matanzas Pass Preserve backs up to the Red Coconut. “We helped cleaned it up, as it was overgrown with all kinds of plants that did not belong there, and we helped construct the very first boardwalk and create the trails,” Tom recalled. “Many people who lived on the island would assist us, and that became the start of what eventually became ‘The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve.’ The Catholic Church owned that property as well and offered to sell it to us, but I did not think that would be the right use for it, to just have it in private hands and maybe one day develop it.”
Tom hopes that all Fort Myers Beach residents appreciate what they have in the Preserve. “It is a 60-acre site, and for a small island like this, that is a huge parcel to preserve for posterity. If you look at it percentage-wise compared to the size of our island, it is actually one of the biggest preserved sites that any community can have to enjoy. Oh boy, the wildlife there is fantastic, as over the years, we have had just about everything in it at one time or another, including bears and deer.”
He was truly surprised to learn he would be a Mulholland Award nominee. “I was at a meeting when someone tipped me off,” he said with a big smile! “It means quite a bit because John Mulholland was a really good guy who was not only very involved with the beach community but an early supporter of ‘The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve.’ I am happy I could play a part in preserving Matanzas Pass Preserve, as I never thought that in my life, I would be part of something like this, and that makes me proud, knowing people yet to be born will enjoy the Preserve long after I am gone. While I am the one receiving the Mulholland Award, I accept it on behalf of everyone who played a part in saving Matanzas Pass Preserve for the Fort Myers Beach community; I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time to help with its preservation, as that property being open to everyone forever is how it should be, so I am very grateful for that.”
Today Tom unfortunately suffers from back issues, so he does not visit MPP much anymore, “but in my younger days, I can’t tell you how many times I walked through the Preserve, spending a good amount of time there and even leading tours. It has always been a great place to visit, especially to escape the hustle & bustle of the world. Of all of the things I have done in my life, helping to save the Preserve is one of the best!”
Matanzas Pass Preserve is home to a diverse collection of native plants and animals, including a maritime oak hammock, transitional wetland and mangrove forest full of raccoons, rabbits, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, herons, fish and songbirds. It has a 1.25-mile ADA-accessible boardwalk (soon to be renovated), bayside pavilion with a majestic view of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, and is on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail and Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail. In the mid-1970s, a Stewardship Committee of local residents spearheaded the grassroots effort to acquire the site through donations and a low-interest loan from The Nature Conservancy, eventually dedicating “The Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve” on January 20, 1979. The Preserve is at 199 Bay Road, down the street from the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, and is open daily from dawn to dusk with free but limited parking.
Dr. Leroy Hommerding
In April 2018, The Island Sand Paper attended one of Dr. Hommerding’s monthly “Behind-The-Scenes” tours of the FMB Public Library. Dr. Hommerding spent much of that program emphasizing the building’s alternative energy, sustainability and environmental features.
“The Library’s landscaping is all natural, salt tolerant and does not require much water during the winter,” he explained. “Driveway pavers let rain filter through 5 feet of different-size pebbles that move water into the drainage system, down Bay Road to Matanzas Pass Preserve. Our parking lot has a slight tilt that directs water to surrounding swales to increase drainage, with three reservoir boxes that are essential during hurricane storm surges to prevent flooding to the building and hopefully our neighbor’s yards. Prior to the 2012 Library expansion, our neighbors had constant flooding, but that is no longer an issue.”
Dr. Hommerding related, “We collect rain on the roof that flows to a 10,000-gallon underground storage tank for irrigation. Our outdoor benches are recycled plastic, with each one preventing as many as 540 milk jugs from sitting in a landfill. Outdoor lighting is LED and turtle friendly, and we have a tide clock on the building’s outside, so you will know the next high and low tide. There are solar blankets on the roof, rather than panels, because blankets withstand salt and wind, and you do not have to clean underneath them. We have an ongoing fund available, so when we find a technology that can help us reach our goal of energy independence, we can purchase that almost immediately. We concentrate on our environmental footprint and try to be as gentle with that as possible.”
At the 3rd Floor Art Gallery, “all lighting here is metered,” Dr. Hommerding offered, “because we have such large windows to bring in natural sunlight. On cloudy or rainy days, lights gradually brighten at 20% intervals, the further back into the Gallery you go.” As we walk to the 1st Floor, he pointed out that the main staircase has “LED lights that burn 24/7 at a cost of just 37 cents-a-year, and all of our carpeting comes from recycled materials. We chill water at night, to cool off the building all day, through zones. Since the air is always fresh, people with allergies have few issues, as it is germ-free, as warm stagnant air is unhealthy. When people first enter, they think the air is cold, but that is because the Library is a healthy place!”
John J. Mulholland
In Summer 1997, John J. Mulholland (1928 – 2000) formed the Marine Resources Task Force to advise the Town on issues relating to Fort Myers Beach’s bay and nearshore Gulf waters, serving as its first Chairman. Under his guidance, MRTF initiated a comprehensive beach and dune management plan as well as an AM radio broadcast with environmental information, among other accomplishments.
Fort Myers Beach voters elected Mulholland to the Town’s second Council in November 1997. His fellow Council members named Mulholland Vice Mayor in January 1999, then a year later Mayor, serving in that capacity until his passing four months later, in April 2000, at age 71. Mulholland’s Council Assignments were environmental, harbor, bay, coastal management, and parks & recreation. In tribute to his environmental leadership, Council at its May 1, 2000 meeting appointed local environmental advocate Terry Cain to fulfil his term. She won the seat on her own that November.
In fall 2001, MRTF advocated the creation of the Mulholland Stewardship Award to promote environmental recognition in the Fort Myers Beach community, and suggested Mulholland’s name due to his founding of MRTF and his strong environmental beliefs. “It would be nice to have something named after John now, and specifically an environmental recognition award for the community, to reward people who go the extra mile and set a positive example for others.”
Current Vice Mayor Murphy by coincidence was Vice Mayor then, and he made the motion at the October 22, 2001 Council meeting to authorize the award. Cain, in seconding Murphy’s motion, stated that “MRTF noted that John was active in every ‘Monofilament Madness,’ and the day he passed, he was to sign the ‘Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan’ of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program that he worked on for three years for this Town, to create a document that 8 counties are now using to protect over 4,400-square-miles of Southwest Florida’s watershed.”
Current Mayor Anita Cereceda was a private citizen in those days, and spoke during “Public Comment” in support of establishing the award. “When I first heard of this, I thought it great, though I would much rather have John Mulholland sitting here than naming something after him. Council would be wise to pick John Mulholland to honor and set up as an image and role model for the children of our community. I will always be grateful for his friendship and grateful that someone such as he existed in this Town for others to follow in his path. I applaud Council for setting up the Stewardship Award to continue the efforts of John Mulholland.”
Gary Gary Mooney