NBC2 news traffic reporter Natasha Verma not only gets up at 3 a.m. to tell you about crashes, congestion and the like, she’s also putting very different kinds of images up on movie screens. She’s got her own production company and has a hot film, Hardy, that’s getting accolades at film festivals around the country, including our very own Fort Myers Film Festival. The film—which she directed and had a hand in shooting and editing—tells the story of champion boxer Heather Hardy, one of the first women to box at the famed Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “We reveal the struggles of a woman in a man’s world,” Natasha says, “and, above all, this film sheds light on the exciting and surprisingly vulnerable woman behind the gloves.” Sounds like a knockout in the making … We know we’re the golf capital of America, but Florida got a little attention recently for something definitely not about birdies and eagles. In fact, it was about a different species that turned up on the seventh hole of the Myakka Pines Golf Course up in Englewood. A photo of a 13-foot alligator there (looking more like a dinosaur) went viral, and the media running the image started calling the clubhouse to make sure the gator was real. It was—and maybe more of a challenge than a sandtrap or water hazard …
Her loving effort to make that little girl feel so special was done privately.
—Deanna van Emmerik
It’s not every day when you go out for barbecue—in this case at Sonny’s BBQ in Fort Myers—and find yourself winning the place’s Random Acts of Kindness award. But that’s what happened to Canterbury School nurse Nicole Laquis back in March, when she walked into the eatery and was surrounded by her family, fiancé Mark Stevens, friends Anne and Will Wittenborn, Dianna and Scott Willis, and Brad Phelps and Ryan Frost. Nicole was celebrated for her support of numerous causes, and her pal Deanna told of one incident at the American Girl Fashion Show. Nicole, hearing from one mother how beautiful her little girl felt trying on one of the dresses, quietly ordered and paid for an identical dress for the child. “It showed,” Deanna says, “the depth of Nicole’s passion.” Classy, Nicole. And have some fries along with the award.
… Ryan Heryford, grandson of the late Dr. Bill Lascheid, created a great visual tribute to his grandpa at the Neighborhood Health Clinic’s annual Block Party at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples in February. This was the first gala since Bill died last year and an emotional one for his wife, Nancy, co-founder of the clinic. As Ryan spoke eloquently about his grandfather’s legacy, he asked the guests to pick up the tiny flashlights on their tables and hold them aloft as a beacon of light in tribute to Bill. He was known to carry a small flashlight in his shirt pocket every day—and we can imagine him flashing back at us with a smile … Once again, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest proved itself a rising force with highlights galore at Miromar Lakes in February. The grand intake (mainly) for the Golisano Children’s Hospital: $3.3 million. The Fund-a-Lifesaving Cause to support the pediatric intensive care unit brought in $600,000. The artwork by child artist Sophia Black, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia at the hospital, raised a record $500,000. The donations really started to pour in when Jace Eddy, 20, who spent five years at the hospital as a leukemia patient, joined Sophia on stage to offer her support and testimony on her successful treatment. Interesting to note: The biggest lots didn’t include pricey wines, lavish jewelry or exotic trips but rather generous people giving their money to help sick kids … There was big emotional wallop, too, at Magic Under the Mangroves in March. The fundraising event for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida built to a rousing ending with the auctioning of the first Steven Leonard Diamond. The 2-carat diamond, donated by Steven’s close friend and boss, William Boyajian of Port Royal Jewelers, is meant to continue the 32-year-old’s legacy of philanthropy. Steven was serving on the Magic committee when he died tragically in a fire just a few weeks before the event. It was somehow fitting that Jennifer Conery, his best friend and fellow star on the Naples-based reality TV show Paradise Coast Wives, won the diamond with her $40,000 bid …
To see my little boy standing there in the batter’s box, representing the Atlanta Braves, is more than I could have ever imagined for him.
—Karen Johnson Crowther
This was St. Patrick’s Day at JetBlue Stadium, and, to Karen Johnson Crowther, it was no meaningless spring training game between the Braves and the host Boston Red Sox. When her son, Brave third baseman Chris Johnson, stepped up to hit, it was a dream come true. “To see all his hard work pay off makes my heart proud,” Karen says. “It’s the only thing he ever wanted to do since he could talk.” And mom was there every step of the way, from South Fort Myers Little League to his years in the minor leagues and then to this big-league moment. It didn’t hurt that Karen had begged the team manager to put Chris on the travel roster so he could play in front of his home crowd. That’s one All-Star mom, I’d say.
… Congratulations to Larry Forsyth, who retired in March after 27 years of distinguished service at The Veranda restaurant in Fort Myers. His boss, Paul Peden, describes him as a “waiter’s waiter,” and his fans already miss him dearly … In case we forget how glorious it is here in Southwest Florida, consider this: (1) Sports Illustrated shot part of its swimsuit edition on Captiva Island (capturing tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey in all their splendor) and (2) Abercrombie and Fitch’s spring style guide features scenes from Cabbage Key and the Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island. Owner Rob Wells tells me the producer of the guide had heard of the Lodge and, after looking up Cabbage Key on the Internet, called to make arrangements to come on down. Beautiful.