October 31, 2014

From the Editor

Consider yourself warned. the Forces of History are coming your way. Lavern Gaynor and Lois Bolin have been around Naples a few years, and they burn for you to know and connect to the people, places and things that have transformed our little fishing village into the paradise we have today.

Lavern, The First Lady of History in this town, founded the Naples Cultural Landscape project in 2007 and brought in Lois as her strategist and more. They’re pushing their Naples Backyard History program and, if you think they’re taking the ivory tower approach, then you haven’t been listening to Lois out there with the town’s school kids. She’s down with the rap, and here’s how it goes …

“My name is Dr. Bo and local history is my mission;

There’s no turning back, no room for indecision;

Let’s get out and talk, ’cause commitment is the mood;

Tell everyone you know up to their history altitude.”

So, Lois, what are the kinds of things that would be fun and enlightening to learn about? She offers a sampling:

• Take Lester Norris, Lavern’s very imaginative and public-spirited father, who came here in 1945. Ideas abounded. He not only presented the notion of doing children’s stories to Walt Disney, but also, as a cartoonist, created The Three Little Pigs for the Disney empire. In another arena, he conceptualized the Victory Gardens that sprouted across America during World War II. Locally, you’ve got to call him The Prince of Naples Pier. He paid to have it rebuilt after Hurricane Donna in 1960 and 10 years later agreed to pay to repair all the pilings if the city council would guarantee free access to the public. It did, and we’re still saying thank you, Lester.

• Then there’s Julius Fleishmann, world-renowned yachtsman, whose family fortune came from a secret formula for yeast. Under the cover of yachting with his family, he took an assignment from U.S. officials to chart the topography of the South Pacific ocean floor just prior to World War II. His intelligence served our nation valuably once the war broke out. Around here, he acquired Nehrling’s Gardens (now Naples Zoo) in 1952, back when it was known for botanist Nehrling’s studies of plants for medicinal purposes. Julius brought in animals and had some of them coached to perform. The trained ducks made an appearance on national TV’s Ed Sullivan Show.

• And how about Back Bay (now Crayton Cove) in the ’50s with its Swamp Buggy Day races, parade and ball? In those days, if you wanted to be part of the fun and didn’t have a full beard, you were consigned to a faux jail. Wild and woolly times indeed. Actor Gary Cooper came to Naples to ride a swamp buggy, and the festivities once made it onto ABC TV’s Wide World of Sports.

Lavern and Lois would love to have you stop by their Third Street habitat, where you can drink some coffee, browse through newspapers from the ’60s or ’80s or whenever and gaze upon visuals of the first Swamp Buggy, Deaconess Bedell (who taught the Seminoles to weave and make dolls) and the first bus ride on the Tamiami Trail in 1928.

Lavern’s passion for making history more fun, more available, more meaningful aims to give us all a sense of belonging. And isn’t that, she says, what community is all about?

So learn your history—or Dr. Bo’s rap may include one on the knuckles.

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