Don & Crystal Head to Wyoming
Every week since 2001, Don “Don Delivers” Block has made sure the Island Sand Paper was in ample supply in all of its proper boxes and outlets in the area. As in everything he does, he has taken pride in the quality of the service he has provided and the work he has done, and his colleagues have come to appreciate his devotion to delivery of the weekly paper.
So when Don announced this summer that he would be leaving the paper, the news was met with mixed feelings. Professionally, who would bring his level of professionalism to that job? Personally, a trusted and beloved friend was leaving.
True to his own sense of personal responsibility, Don knew of someone who was willing and able to do the work, introduced him to the publisher, and spent months showing him all aspects of what his job entails. As a matter of fact, this week’s paper was delivered by that new circulation manager, Mike Buster (known by most as just ‘Buster’). Don said his friend brings a lot of good things to the table. Since the Sand Paper office moved, things have had to shift a bit. “There have been some changes made which I think are for the good, and a lot of the new ideas came from Buster.”
When he talks about it, Don is clearly emotional about leaving the job and island behind. “I took this job very personally. Those were my boxes, my babies.” In spite of that, Don is eager to begin the next chapter of his life with his new wife Crystal (nee Johnston), beginning with their relocation to Laramie, Wyoming, where both were born and raised.
Don’s mom Arloa Harnden was part of a big ranching family that traces its roots back three generations. In the early days, they homesteaded different parts of Wyoming, and founded the first school in the Laramie area, in a town called Tie Siding. “They were a big ranch family, and all the ranchers had a lot of kids. So my grandpa drove the truck around and picked them all up for school everyday.” The Albany County Public Library has a collection of oral histories in which some of the Harnden’s history is recounted.
Crystal’s mom was a full-blooded Cherokee/Choctaw Native American. Crys explained that friendly neighboring tribes often marry into each other’s families. With her typical subtle humor, she adds, “You can’t keep marrying within the tribe…” Crys is very artistic, creative and, like her new husband, not afraid of work. “I can’t imagine not working,” she said over breakfast at the Lighthouse Tiki Bar Saturday morning. In fact, when she’s not working at her regular job, you will find her working in the house or yard or at her crafts. Those who have seen the Block’s former rental property on Fairweather know first-hand what her Native American roots and artistic flair can produce – kokopelli figures, traditional Native American symbols and beach icons grace the front wall and trim of the High Tides Getaway.
Various members of the two families had known each other for years, so it was inevitable that Don and Crys would meet at some point. “We were the Cowboys,” Don said with a laugh, “and they were the Indians.” Don, now and then, will ‘threaten’ to play Cowboys and Indians. Before he shaved his head, Crystal would counter-threaten to give him a scalping. “Now she said, ‘Okay, then – you’re George Custer!” Don laughs out loud. “Zing! She got me again!!”
Crys was only 17, and Don was 21, when they first met. Off and on throughout the ensuing years, their relationship grew. But if life occasionally intervened or there were bumps in the road, they always gravitated back to each other.
Don arrived on Fort Myers Beach in 1987, with nothing but a backpack and a heart full of determination and personal drive. Being entrepreneurial by nature, Don immediately put together a delivery business for several restaurants on the island, which expanded into delivering items up and down the boulevard, and occasionally taking folks to their appointments in town. And then the Island Sand Paper idea was hatched in 2000.
Don noticed some activity at Sea Grape Plaza, and talked his way into helping get things ready. “I helped build out the original office there.” When the first issue rolled out in 2001, Don delivered it. In the early days, the job entailed a weekly round trip to the printer located hours away. Maintenance and repair of the boxes (which includes anchoring them properly, cleaning them, storing them out of harm’s way in case of a flooding or hurricane event), helping co-workers with special projects, taking the van in for regular maintenance and acting as an ambassador for the paper have always been key components of the job Don created and took great pride in.
Crystal first joined Don on the island on the night Hurricane Wilma blew through in 2005. She really knows how to make an entrance for such a soft-spoken woman. “After I got here, I was resting and Donnie asked me if I wanted to come outside and see my first hurricane. I walked outside and I wasn’t impressed. You’ve got to remember, I come from Wyoming. We get 90 mile-an-hour winds all the time. Wilma was kind of blah.” She punctuated the tale with a giggle.
Top of the List
Although the subject of marriage had come up a time or two in the past, the couple had always put it off for one reason or another. But a series of events this year triggered a big shift in Don and Crystal’s priorities. When Don’s mother passed away in June, he said it was a very painful experience that made him look at his life differently. “You think about what is really important. We both realized that life was getting too short.” Marrying Crystal went right to the top of his list.
Once Crys said “yes” to his proposal, the industrious Block took his production level to an all-time high. In addition to helping turn over his position to Buster, Don had several properties to sell, a new truck to purchase, an RV to spruce up and register, a wedding to organize and a million other details to attend to every day for these past few weeks.
And then, finally, last Wednesday, surrounded by their beach ‘family’, after decades of lessons learned and shared, Don and Crystal exchanged heart-felt vows of love and commitment as the sun set over Bowditch Point. Afterwards, the bride and groom hosted a barbecue party in the magic garden at the Silver Sands Resort, where guests lifted their flutes of pink champagne in a toast to the newlyweds’ health and happiness.
Slowing down and relaxing are two things that have never come easily to Don. But that is exactly what he hopes to do when he and Crystal get settled back in Wyoming. “I think I’ll just be a househusband for a few months,” the groom mused over breakfast last Saturday. Although there is a spark of humor in his eyes, his voice betrays the depth of his emotions when he said, “I’ll make her dinner so that she doesn’t have to when she gets home from work. She deserves it. She is amazing. Crys has always carried her own weight – and mine,” Don added with a laugh.
Both Don and Crystal have deep ties to Fort Myers Beach and have already come to the conclusion that they will be back often. Snowbirds then? “Absolutely!” said Don with a smile.
Don and Crystal Block have overcome many obstacles and hardships along the way, but their mutual tenacity and love have brought them to a great new beginning. How great? Crystal acknowledged the rocky road they have traveled, and how it was worth it because one of her lifelong dreams has come true. She threw her arms up in the air and exclaimed with a glorious smile, “I win! I’m Mrs. Block!”
Congratulations to the new Mr. and Mrs. Don Block!