It’s hard to believe, but this past Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic house fire that took the life of beloved local activist Jo Finney and left two other occupants – Paul Harmon and Carol Wilkins – hospitalized and homeless. It seems kind of fitting then that the first bench installed as part of the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB)’s Memorial Bench Program would be one that was dedicated in her honor.
On Monday afternoon, Public Works’ Mark LaFave and Jeff Kasper installed the beautiful sage green bench at Newton Park in front of a section of the boardwalk fence that had been cut away to allow those sitting on it a full, unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico. The bench, created from a composite of recycled materials, reads: ‘In Loving Memory, Activist JoAnne Finney, Volunteer – Keep Your Love Light Shining’ accompanied by two hearts.
Finney’s bench came about thanks to the effort of Beth Sadler, a friend of Jo’s for over 20 years who wanted to do something to honor her memory.
“I spoke to a couple of other people who knew Jo – who wish to remain anonymous – and they agreed to write a check for whatever I needed,” Sadler told us. “My original idea was to do some kind of plaque, so I went to Town Council and then-Mayor Anita Cereceda directed me to Miffie Greer, Chair of CRAB, and Miffie told me about the Memorial Bench Program.”
CRAB members began working on a way to provide benches for those seeking to honor a loved one after a woman asked if the could pay to put up something at the Canal Street beach access to honor her mother. After being told that – due to sea turtle regulations – the benches can only be placed at locations that already have an existing structure: Beach Accesses 17 (Strandview), 24 (Pompano) and 27 (Mango Street), along with Newton Park and Time Square, the committee decided to go ahead with the program and based the design on those installed in front of the Beach Library. The benches cost $500 plus $4 per letter of inscription, which is actually engraved into the bench itself so it cannot be rubbed or washed away.
Three benches have been ordered for the program, with Finney’s the first to be installed. Sadler says she couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
“I’m so pleased – the Town really took my dream and made it so much bigger,” she said. “And with it being installed at the same time as the anniversary – I’m so, so happy! Jo meant to so much to so many people, and now she will be memorialized forever on the island she loved so much.”
Anyone interested in donating a memorial bench can stop by Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard, for an application or email Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keri Hendry Weeg