Citizens Win Mulholland Awards

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At its May 4th meeting, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council announced the 2020 John Mulholland Environmental Stewardship Awards honoring four Fort Myers Beach citizens: Anita Cereceda, Dawn & Joe Fleming and Shannon Mapes. Council plans to make personal presentations to the honorees when in-person meetings resume and will add their names to the mangrove tree plaque in Council Chambers.

Anita Cereceda

“Everything!” That was the reaction of what receiving a 2020 Mulholland Stewardship Award meant to former three-time Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda. “John was a good friend of mine, and in addition to being Fort Myers Beach Mayor at the time of his passing, he was an environmental ambassador for this Town and a true example of topnotch leadership, so I am really touched by this!”

Anita emphasized, “For those of us who live on an island, we especially know that the environment directly impacts every day of our life. All you need do is stand on the beach for five minutes, and you recognize that every single wave that comes onshore changes our island a little bit. The Town has done a good job in preserving and protecting the back bay and beachfront since Day One in 1995, and that is more important than ever, due to the environment’s importance to our health, economy and everything else. Without it, what do we have and why would anybody visit – we would just be another spot on the map, so it impacts every aspect of our lives!”

“Up until recently there was no human interaction on our beach for seven weeks due to the coronavirus,” she noted. “It is amazing how it refreshed itself without us, with cleaner water and a record-setting start to the sea turtle nesting season, so it just goes to show that if we give Mother Nature a little breathing room, she quickly rebounds. Thank you to Town Council and to Jane Plummer for nominating me, as knowing that my name will now grace that beautiful mangrove tree in Town Hall with the names of the previous recipients who I love and admire is an honor I will not soon forget!”

Dawn & Joe Fleming

“We are extremely humbled to receive a 2020 Mulholland Stewardship Award,” said Joe Fleming, with wife Dawn. “It means a lot to get this recognition, and not just to us but our entire Fairview Isles Neighborhood Association, as all our neighbors are good stewards of the environment.”

Joe stated that he and Dawn first purchased their Fairview Isles home in 2001 and moved here fulltime in 2004. “It is a beautiful neighborhood, and its environmental efforts are all volunteer, with no mandatory dues, to take care of the plants and bushes, so all those funds to do these things properly come from donations by our neighbors, so this is truly a community honor. In addition to that, it is amazing how large a percentage of our neighbors took part in initiatives like the filter reef and “Save the Manatee” programs.” “It is wonderful how the association comes together,” echoed Dawn. “We have 189 homeowners and roughly 85% contribute to the voluntary environmental aspects of what we do, so we commend them all.”

“Fairview Isles recently installed ‘Ocean Habitat’ mini-reefs,” added Joe. “I happened to be at Fish-Tale Marina when they went in and was amazed by them, as just one filters 30,000 gallons of water daily, so I got the information, then spread the word here, saying if we got 50 commitments, we would receive a discount. By the time we placed our order, 70 homeowners were on board! I am not a mathematician, but 30,000 gallons-a-day times 70 mini-reefs is a lot of clean water!”

Dawn and Joe are environmental advocates for several reasons. “First is financial,” Joe stated. “During our lives, we’ve lived around the nation, where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in Cleveland and the Chicago River leaves a lot to be desired, so if the environment can go bad there, it can be bad here too, and if we do not have a clean environment here, nothing else matters. The federal government sadly does not make a clean environment the priority we wish it would, so it is up to each of us to take on that responsibility ourselves.”

“What each of us does truly makes a difference,” stressed Dawn. “Even though we only recently installed the mini-reefs, I already see more fish in our canal. Then there is the domino effect: when the folks on Bay Beach Lane heard what we did, they contacted Joe for mini-reef information and are now installing them too, and that is a much bigger community. Everyone wants to be part of a success story!”

Shannon Mapes

“Being a 2020 Mulholland Stewardship Award winner is very humbling, actually,” Shannon said. “It was a major surprise, and it feels good to know the community appreciates my efforts to enhance our quality of life for all life.”

Shannon reflected on her recently-concluded service as Vice Chair of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF). “I am really proud of that! When I first joined, we began to seriously examine how we could improve our water quality, as that was right when the really bad Red Tide struck our area, and MRTF continues with that through today. We instituted the movement to provide glyphosate herbicide alternatives and tightened up the Town’s Fertilizer Ordinance, to match that of Naples and Collier County, that says you should never use fertilizer unless you can prove through testing that it is necessary. In my opinion, that should be the law everywhere, but especially on Fort Myers Beach, as it makes a big impact for us. We started the movement to get residents to use reusable bags rather than plastic ones, with the canvas bag program in partnership with the Town. Finally, Council passed the plastic straw ban, making us one of the first communities anywhere in the nation to do so.”

She advocated, “The environment should be at the top of everyone’s personal priority list! Here on our island, many residents relocated here because of our weather and environment, and that is why it is home to so many living things, like migrating shorebirds and nesting sea turtles, and if we don’t take care of it, there will be lasting health ramifications. That is why a major component of MRTF is communication and education, and why we have public meetings, environmental symposiums, booths at various events and provide information on things like rain gardens; to keep those at the forefront. When I hear that neighborhoods like Fairview Isles voluntarily installed 70 mini-reefs, that is what it is all about! My parting advice is don’t use glyphosate like Roundup, and that is straight from my heart!”

Remembering John Mulholland

When remembering the late John Mulholland, Cereceda began with a long “Ahhhhh! John was a Vice President with Chase Manhattan Bank who literally brought himself up by his bootstraps. He put himself through Rutgers University and made his name in the banking industry until he retired and he and his wife Nancy moved here. I got to know John during the first campaign for the initial Town Council in 1995, and though he did not win a seat, he became a Local Planning Agency (LPA) member, and when Rusty Isler chose not to seek reelection, John ran again and won, eventually becoming Mayor until his death. He was a strategic thinker who looked at all pieces of the puzzle before making a decision.”

When they first met, Anita was in her early 30’s and Mulholland already 70, “yet despite that, we became great friends and I learned so much from him, especially when it came to personal finances. Back then, if I made $100, I spent $100, but he more than anyone in my life showed me the value of protecting your assets, and that serves me well in my businesses to this day! He was funny, with a wry sense of humor, and when you got him together with Dan Hughes and Ray Murphy, who have big personalities as well, you laughed until you cried, and when he laughed, John’s whole body shook! He had an incredible handlebar mustache and I just loved him!”

Mulholland founded the Marine Resources Task Force, Anita recalled, “because he felt the Gulf and back bay were the Town’s two most important assets, and the MRTF, in my opinion is, next to the LPA, the most crucial citizen-volunteer committee in the Town’s history. When he passed away in 2000, that was a horrible day, but, oddly enough, just a day or so later, the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area received its official designation, and that was so appropriate, as he loved that area. While he was a dollars & cents guy professionally, environmental preservation was his passion, and he would be so proud that the Town Environmental Stewardship Award carries his name!”