This week, we continue our series introducing readers to the people they see every day, cleaning out storm drains, hauling away trash, riding around in their golf carts or collecting payment for water bills at Town Hall – our hardworking Public Works employees. We see them all the time but who are they? As it turns out, the 31 staff members of the Town of Fort Myers Beach Public Works Department, which now includes Beach Water and the Beach & Street Enforcement staff, are some pretty interesting folks, with backgrounds as varied as the sands on our beach. The following is the 2nd or 3 parts of this series introducing these friendly faces to our readers.
Austin Gilchrist – Beach Division Leader
Austin was working as a bartender on the island when one day he’d had enough of all the trash he saw on the beach.
“I’ve lived on Fort Myers Beach for a long time, and I’ve always worked as a bartender,” Austin told us. “I worked with Ryan Bellows, and I knew that Ryan had left to go work for the Town, so one day I asked him what I could do to help fix all of this trash. He told me the Town was hiring, so I sat down with (Public Works Director) Scott Baker and (Administrative Services Director) Maureen Rischitelli and though I originally applied to work for Beach and Street Enforcement (B.A.S.E.), they put me out on the beach.”
That was 2 years ago, and now Austin has a crew of three, who spend their days removing trash and taking care of the Town’s beach accesses.
“This job is the perfect fit for me,” he told us. “Plus I finally get to make a real difference – most of our day is spent doing upkeep on the beach. We also do all the trimming of the accesses and haul away the trash and recycling. Right now we’re going through all of the accesses – making them newer and improving handicap access.”
When not hard at work, Austin is likely to still be outside – fishing or target shooting with his two sons. “I love to learn,” he said. “I’m always looking for something new to figure out.”
Jim Demilia – Grounds Leader
Smiling and friendly Jim Demilia is no stranger to anyone on the island whose kids have ever been involved in Youth Soccer – where he was a coach for many years at Bay Oaks Recreational Campus and even won the Youth Award of Merit 2010. These days, Jim’s kids are in college but he still works at Bay Oaks – keeping the grounds mowed and clean for the current generation of Little Leaguer’s and soccer players to enjoy.
“I’ve been working for the Town since 2007 and I’ve been on Fort Myers Beach since 1987 when I moved here from Rockport, Massachusetts,” Jim told us. “I originally came down for ‘only 2 weeks’ and while I was here I was offered a bartending gig at the Lani Kai. I ended up turning down the job waiting for me back in Massachusetts and moved here, where I bartended at either the Lani Kai, the Cottage or the Beached Whale for the next 20 years.”
Like many others on the island, the chaotic winds of Hurricane Charley would prove to be a life-changing event.
“I got worried after Charley – working in an industry that relied so heavily upon visitors – I wanted to get into something more stable,” Jim said. “So I worked at the old golf course for awhile and when the Town had something, I applied and started working here.”
Though he doesn’t coach anymore, Jim still remains active in his free time (as if being in charge of Bay Oaks’ massive grounds weren’t enough to keep someone fit) by riding his bike all over the island. “I love this place,” he said. “Fort Myers Beach is so special.”
Mark LaFave – Maintenance Supervisor
Mark ‘Tunes’ LaFave is another public works employee who is no stranger to old-timers on the island, having lived here for over 20 years. A lifelong Green Bay Packers fan from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, he has worked for the Town since the era of Marsha Segal-George, who was our Town Manager at the time of incorporation.
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do for the Town and few things I have not already done over the years I have been here,” Mark told us. “When they ask me to paint something, I ask ‘what color’. If they ask me to dig a hole, I say ‘how deep’! As a side note, I also do windows too!”
In his free time, which isn’t much as LaFave also serves on the board of our local library, Mark enjoys riding his Harley, spending time with his beautiful new bride and sailing – the activity that first brought him to our emerald shores all those years ago.
“I sailed here to spend one winter and I never left,” he said.
Jeff Richard – Maintenance Supervisor
Jeff is a Florida native who was born in Boca Raton and moved to our area in 2005 to open a plant nursery.
“I was a park ranger for the state of Florida, and before I started working for the Town in 2010 I worked at Lovers Key and Wiggins Pass,” Jeff told us. When asked what he does for the Town, Richard smiled and said, “Put out ‘fires’”.
“When I’m not working, I love doing outdoor family stuff with my two kids,” he said. “Fishing, camping – that kind of thing.”
Anthony Cirer – Mound House Groundskeeper
Anthony is a military brat, born in Pensacola but made it all the way out to New Mexico and California before moving to Southwest Florida to be near his mom.
“I’ve always been involved in the construction and remodeling business, so when I came to the Town looking for work a year and a half ago they hired me right away for part time and now I’m full time,” he said. “They just started having public works over at the Mound House and Newton Park, so I work over there doing maintenance and ground work.”
In fact, it is Cirer’s work that readers can check out at the newly landscaped overflow lot for the Mound House at 216 Connecticut Street.
“What I do in my free time is what I do during my work time,” Anthony told us. “I enjoy the beach! I have a dream job!”
Shawn Zamorano – Beach Division
Like Austin, Shawn is another former hospitality employee who decided he wanted to make a difference.
“I’ve lived in Florida most of my life, now I live in Cape Coral, and I’ve always wanted to work for a city government – to make a difference,” Shawn told us. “When I saw that the Town of Fort Myers Beach was hiring, I jumped at the chance.”
Having been with the Town for only four months, Shawn is the newest member of the Public Works family but says he’s already fallen in love with what he does for a living.
I help keep the beach clean and maintained,” he said. “My job is great – I’ve always loved being on the beach! It’s perfect because I have a son and he’s proud of what his dad does. When I’m not working, I hang out with him – fishing and playing sports.”
Ryan Bellows – Harbor Maintenance
Working in the Town’s mooring field, Ryan’s days are vastly different than most people’s.
“I’m a beach rat – born and raised,” Ryan told us. “I liked the idea of working close to home, so when I saw that the Town was hiring I got my application in right away. That was almost 2 years ago, and now I work in the anchorage.”
That means that Ryan is the Town’s ‘eyes’ in the back bay mooring field.
“On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we go and pump out all the boats and on Tuesdays and Fridays we haul the mooring balls out of the water – there are 70 of them – and clean the barnacles off.”
Off course, not everyone in the harbor is legally hooked to a mooring ball and that’s where Ryan’s days can turn from simple to downright strange.
“Matanzas Inn takes care of the land-based stuff, but we’re the ones out there seeing who’s legal and who’s not,” he said. “And the derelict boats and those not on mooring balls – it’s pretty amazing what people will live in. One time there was boat that was filled with ankle-deep water, and two people were living on it!”
Like his co-workers, Ryan’s love of the outdoors extends past clock-out time. “As long as I’m not stuck inside I’m happy,” he told us, laughing. “Fishing, mountain biking – I love doing anything outdoors.”
Warren Rood – Beach Water Field Service Technician
Warren moved to southwest Florida to ‘retire’ back in 2005, after vacationing here several times from his native New Hampshire.
“Up there, I worked for a chemical company for 30 years,” he told us. “So when I saw an ad in the paper for Woodard & Curran (the company that ran the Town’s water department before it was brought in house last year) I applied for it. Now I work in homes, piping for the water department.”
Rood, who has two sisters in this area along with kids, grandkids and even three great-grandkids ‘back north’, has a pretty important role in the current waterline replacement/Estero Boulevard improvement project – he oversees all the searches for underground pipes before anything is dug up. “I’m the only one who remembers where it all is,” he said, laughing.
As if spending his days outside surrounded by pipes wasn’t enough, Warren told us that – in his spare time – he hires himself out as a handyman. “I am also an HOA board member – which occupies most of my spare time,” he said. “And I am a state licensed water distribution operator.”
Mickey Lentz – Public Works Maintenance
Mikey is another friend of Ryan Bellows who – like Austin – left the hospitality industry to work for the Town.
“I grew up in southwest Florida after I moved here in the 2nd grade with my mom,” Mickey told us. “I’d been working in the service industry on the island when Ryan told me to apply here at the Town. That was seven month ago, and I love it!”
Mickey told us that what he likes most about his new gig is that every day is different. “We get our hands on everything,” he said. “From cleaning tools, to out handling storms, to clean-ups. It’s very hands-on, and never boring. I like the idea that I’m helping the community progress forward, bit by bit.”
Doing all that manual labor requires stamina, so it’s not surprising that Mickey – like many of his co-workers spends his free time at the gym or doing other outside activities like riding his motorcycle.
Todd Sears – Beach Patrol
Todd is a retired police officer from Omaha, Nebraska who moved to our area four years ago after he and his wife ‘discovered’ Fort Myers Beach when their son played a baseball game here eight years before that.
“That was four years ago, and I took a part-time job with the Town almost right away,” Todd told us. “I wanted to be near the beach all of the time.”
Far from the dangers of the big city, Todd now spends his days helping people.
“We patrol the beach all day, assisting people when they need help and if we see wildlife that’s been injured we capture them and take them to CROW,” he told us.
When he’s not working, Todd doesn’t go far – he and his wife are currently building a house just off-island.
“I like to work out and hang out on the beach with my beautiful wife,” he told us. “If I’m not doing that, I’m out with my two dogs, fishing.”
Keri Hendry Weeg