The lives they led – Florida Weekly


THEY WERE ARTISTS, COMMUNITY builders, heroes, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. The people we lost this year filled public and private spaces. They lit the times and places they lived each in their own inimitable way – gone now, yet at times more radiant than ever in their absence. “Now that your are gone, you are everywhere,” the poet J.D. McClatchy wrote. Here we take a look back at some of their lives in our annual year-end issue.

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Paula E. Hess

May 15, 1926-April 6, 2018

Paula E. Hess

Paula E. Hess

PAULA EDMOND HESS WAS A FORMIDABLE LEADER, INSPIRING for her dedication to the nonprofit organization Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, whose mission is, “To help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes in Charlotte County. C.A.R.E. works to create safety in our community by helping survivors and by promoting nonviolent and healthy relationships by education and example.”

Ms. Hess was a founding member of the C.A.R.E. board. Later she was named chairman emeritus, allowing her a permanent vote on the board.

“She was 91 when she passed, and she never missed a board meeting,” said Judith Harris, chair at C.A.R.E. “She was such a wonderful woman. She was a fundraiser, working hard to protect victims of abuse and rape. She had no idea how many lives she touched.

“She was my mentor; she gave me guidance. I could ask her any question. She was always so professional. C.A.R.E. was her baby. I wish she had been my mother.”

Ms. Hess was born in Hawthorne, New Jersey. She worked for the telecommunication company New Jersey Bell and Telegraph. In 1981, she and her husband, William, moved to Florida. He preceded Paula in death in 1988.

Ms. Hess’s list of civic accomplishments runs long and spans 30 years — among them, service on the League of Women Voters, chairwoman of the Charlotte County Planning and Zoning Board from 1987-2018 and trustee of Charlotte Regional Hospital (now Bayfront Health Punta Gorda) for two years. In 1997, she received the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce’s Pacesetter Award for her service to the community.

In January, at the C.A.R.E. annual ball, the establishment of the Paula Hess Humanitarian Scholarship was announced. The funds are earmarked to help victims of violent crimes continue their education.

Linda Lusk, a member of C.A.R.E., met Ms. Hess in the ’90s. She also looked to Ms. Hess as a mentor.

“We had both worked in telecommunications, so we had that in common,” she said. “I wouldn’t call Paula a feminist, but I knew that, in my day, it was a tough world for women. I can guess how it was in hers. She was a good friend.

And while Ms. Hess might never have missed a C.A.R.E. board meeting, she always left promptly to go play cards with her lady friends at the Isles Yacht Club, Ms. Harris noted.

“I miss her so much,” she said. “Everybody does.”

There is a counter on the C.A.R.E. website — A “rape clock” that shows, “Every 97.8 minutes, an American woman is sexually assaulted.”

That counter is there thanks to Ms. Hess.

Jonathan Fry

Jonathan Fry

Jonathan Fry

July 28, 1992-Nov. 19, 2018

ONE NIGHT, WHEN JONATHAN FRY WAS YEARS OLD, HE WAS IN bed fussing. He feared monsters were in the closet, according to his mother, Maureen Fry.

“I had forgotten to leave a light on as I usually did,” she recalled. “But I told Jonathan, ‘When we have Jesus, there is nothing to fear.’”

Before Maureen could get to the switch, Jonathan said, “I don’t need the light anymore. Jesus is with me.”

“I was blown away,” Maureen said.

Mr. Fry suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, – a genetic disorder resulting in progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. As a consequence, he used a wheelchair for 14 years.

But his father, Jim Fry, said, “He was determined to rise above his disability and bear witness to his faith in Jesus Christ and to bring others into a relationship with Jesus.”

As a student, Mr. Fry excelled. Home-schooled in his early years, he was third in his graduating class of 500 from North Port High School. Later, he studied history online at the University of Central Florida.

A whiz at football stats from any era, he and a friend enjoyed vying over results of college games.

Mr. Fry also loved to write and was the author of two novels.

James Abraham published both of them and recalled an early meeting with Jonathan.

“His mom had seen an ad about my Success Camp for Writers at FGCU in Punta Gorda,” he recalled. “Jonathan told me he got the idea for his novels while playing video games. He wanted to create his own fantasies. He was a great student. He was meticulous and questioned many of my suggestions yet was always willing to hear and assess opposing views.

“After FGCU, Jonathan approached me about working with him. Every Tuesday, Maureen brought him to Starbucks on Kings Highway, where we would plot characters, go over chapters and build his novel.”

Mr. Abraham added that Mr. Fry had “the courage and intellect” to craft the novels “Dawn of Darkness” and “Break of Day.” A third novel was under consideration.

“Maureen and Jim were so encouraging,” Mr. Abraham said. “Nancy Staub, the program director at FGCU, was, too. Jonathan held both of his book launches where his books were born.”

“Looking back,” Ms. Staub said, “meeting Jonathan Fry helped me remember that courage is much more than physical bravery. Every week Jonathan came in his electric wheelchair to James Abraham’s writing class. He came with a smile and a readiness to learn. With support from loving parents, and his vision for his book, Jonathan wrote his medieval fantasies. What a lovely break from the sometimes harshness of reality. I remember his smile, kind words and spunky humor. Well done, Jonathan.”

As his health declined, Mr. Fry chose not to write fantasy anymore. Instead he wrote about his faith in Jesus Christ via his blog, Jonathan’s Perspectives. Parishioners of First Baptist Church of Port Charlotte, where the Fry family worshipped, were so moved by his blog posts that they published them.

Erik Colleen’s celebration of his friend goes a step further. He’s in the process of turning the posts into a bound book.

Mr. Fry died from complications of his illness.

Ralph Edward Yankwitt

Ralph Edward Yankwitt

Ralph Edward Yankwitt

June 15, 1950-Oct. 2, 2018


“A planner,” Jared Yankwitt told a visitor. “He could be intense. Planning gave him something to look forward to.”

Sitting across from her son in her Port Charlotte family – home, Beverly Yankwitt agreed. An award-winning artist, her multicolored abstracts, both oils and acrylics, line the walls. Twice a week, Beverly teaches art at the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda.

“Ralph planned parties, short getaways, vacations —”

“My life,” Jared, who works in federal law enforcement, interjected.

Patricia L. Bacon“Ralph even planned his own funeral,” Beverly “This was all very strange for me. I hadn’t met anyone who planned their own funeral. But he made it easier for meme. He planned the whole format — who would emcee after the rabbi’s prayers, who would speak, where I should order the food. He wanted sandwiches, salads and desserts.”

He also wanted their daughter, Cami, to sing.

“Cami has a regular job,” Jared said, “But acting is her love. She performed in the musical ‘Once.’”

“Curiously enough,” Beverly said, “Ralph didn’t say what songs he wanted Cami to sing.”

The Yankwitts would have celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary this year. Mr. Yankwitt was from Brooklyn. He and Beverly met at Marshall University in West Virginia, and married in 1972. Both of their children were born there. The family moved to Florida when Jared was a year old.

Mr. Yankwitt was a financial adviser yet cautioned his clients not to wait until retirement age to enjoy life. He took his own advice, taking his family on trips to China, Alaska, Israel, Hawaii and other destination.

At home, the Yankwitts supported the community, receiving the Charley Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Arts among other accolades.

For Beverly’s last birthday, Mr. Yankwitt was back to planning.

“I had no idea where we were going,” she said.

“When they arrived at the Visual Arts Center, Ralph opened the doors,” said Kim Phillips, the VAC’s program manager. “‘I love you! Happy Birthday!’ he told his wife.”

“Family and friends were there,” Beverly said, relishing the memory. “Tables were set up. He even flew in a friend from abroad.”

“Ralph had rented out the whole place,” Ms. Phillips said. “Bev’s art covered one entire wall.”

Second only to Mr. Yankwitt’s love of family was his love of theater. He acted in many plays.

David Abraham, a former board member of Charlotte Players, directed Ralph in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Zero Hour,” a one-man show about Ralph’s favorite actor, Zero Mostel.

“He fit the part of Tevye,” Mr. Abraham said. “Ralph had the physicality. He developed a persona, he could sing well, his accent was great. And Ralph did something different. He didn’t just wait for another character to finish his lines, like some actors. Ralph had great facial expressions and body language. He could act and he could react.”

“I’ve been doing theater for years,” Mr. Abraham added. “Ralph was not the least self-centered as an actor. He was always willing to help someone else, to give a helping hand. ‘How about if we do it this way?’ Ralph would often ask.”

David paused.

“I had a great deal of respect for Ralph Yankwitt,” he said. “I will miss him.”

Apparently, he is not alone.

Jay Carlson O

Jay Carlson

Jay Carlson

Died Dec. 7, 2018

JAY CARLSON, FHBA 2009 PRESIDENT AND CDBIA 1989 & 1995 president passed away on December 7, 2018.

Jay was a third-generation builder who moved to Port Charlotte in 1975. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he became a building contractor and joined the local builders association. Starting in the early 1980s, Jay worked to ensure the Charlotte County chapter of the Five County Builders and Contractors Association made a smooth transition to becoming its own local association. After securing a charter from the National Association of Home Builders, Charlotte Builders and Contractors Association began addressing governmental issues and organizing the various committees  necessary to run an association.

As president of the Charlotte-DeSoto Building Industry Association known as the Charlotte Builders and Contractors Association) in 1989, Mr. Carlson began to turn his focus to representing the state of Florida through the Florida Home Builders Association. Workers’ compensation issues attracted his attention, and he began the long and arduous task to reform the system — which led to a victory for FHBA in 2002.

In 1994, as the building industry was going through a challenging time, it was hard to find someone who could commit to being the president of the CDBIA, and Mr. Carlson once again stepped up to the plate. He also became more involved at the FHBA, serving and chairing on over 40 different committees and being the chairman of the FHBA Policies and Procedures Task Force, Workers’ Compensation Task Force, Nominating Committee, Governmental Affairs and Past Presidents’ Council.

As president of FHBA in 2009, Mr. Carlson traveled the state visiting local associations in an effort to bring information and resources to the members during the severe downturn in the economy. He worked closely with his fellow senior officers, nurturing a unified effort to unravel the association’s deteriorating financial condition that a falling real estate market brought to bear. With the help of past leaders, the team made real progress with that effort without compromising vital services to the local associations.

Jay continued to be a voice for the building industry with his appointment from Gov. Rick Scott as chairman of the Florida Building Commission. Mr. Carlson’s focus was a common-sense approach to the Florida Building code, keeping public safety first while maintaining a watchful eye on unnecessary, costly codes and regulations. He was a gentle giant with a silent power to get this done for the building industry.

In 2016, Mr. Carlson was inducted into the Florida Housing Hall of Fame for unwavering dedication and improvements he has made to the building industry locally and throughout the state of Florida. His legacy will continue on through his wife, Gina, and the fourth generation of builders, sons Jacob and John.

Alton Thurston

Alton Thurston

Alton Thurston

Dec. 14, 1951-June 26, 2018

ON A HOT, HUMID SUNDAY AFTERNOON, AL THURSTON SAT AT HIS ranch and beckoned horses he had rescued.

“Come on Bella, Beauty, Ballerina, Cisco Kid. … I wanna go home, so I’ll feed you early.”

Al’s voice was soft and gentle. The horses answered the call. A video posted on Facebook captured the scene as the horses moved single file from their cooling spot by the water.

“He was passionate about his horses,” said Theresa Thurston, his wife of 20 years. “Back in the ’80s, long before he rescued horses, Al followed the racetrack – circuit, training horses. Al was a unique person. He’d come across as a tough guy; he was a man of few words. But he was kind and helpful to everyone he met. We lived simply. He was accommodating. He never took action that involved us without consulting me. He respected me.”

At the time Mr. Thurston passed, Theresa was in Massachusetts visiting her daughter. She’d been there for four months.

“I never thought he’d be gone when I got back,” she said. “I thought we would be together for the rest of our lives.”

Mr. Thurston, who hailed from Providence, Rhode Island, was the founder and chairman of North American Bodybuilding Federation and the former head trainer at Snap Fitness in Port Charlotte.

Rose Tison met Mr. Thurston at Snap Fitness once a week for five years, taking private lessons.

“He was a generous man with a wonderful sense of humor,” she said. “I sometimes t made goofy movements. It was OK. We laughed.”

Jennifer Huber knew Mr. Thurston for nearly a decade. Like Ms. Tison, she’d met him at Snap Fitness.  “He could be sarcastic,” she said. “People might be intimidated by his gruffness. He ticked off a lot of people. But I think he made working out fun. ‘Come on ladies,’ he would say as he added repetitions to the program. He really did care as about his students. He took pride in helping people. He was one of those good souls you connect with.”

Ms. Huber helped Mr. Thurston set up his Facebook page with photos of him and his beloved horses.

In a final FB video, Mr. Thurston’s thoughts were on his wife’s well-being: “Hello, FB friends: I have a couple of things I ask of you. My wife, Theresa Thurston, is going to need some help. Could you please help her re-home my eight beautiful horses for a good donation? I have at least a dozen saddles, English and Western. Maybe help Theresa have a barnyard sale? Thanks for your friendship. Please don’t shut down my timeline. I’m just trying to get some help for Theresa and my animals. Thanks.”

Don Royston

Don Royston

Theresa Thurston confirmed that, since the video was posted, the horses have all been re-homed.

Don Royston

June 6, 1933-Nov. 19, 2018


He was the glitter; I was the glue,” said Lee Royston of her 11-year marriage to Don Royston.

Mr. Royston loved vintage cars, and the couple worked in the antique car business, putting on shows throughout the area.

“I could do it all, but I did more of the paperwork,” Lee said. “Don was out in front. Everybody knew him. But sometimes, driving along, he’d honk at someone he recognized. They might not respond.. So he reached for his captain’s cap, put it on, and the person would shout out, ‘Captain!’

“He was the captain all right. He was the captain of our ship, the Vintage Motor Car Club of America, Southwest Florida Region.”

The VMCCA members describe their club as, “a place for people to share their interest in antique autos. Also, to dedicate themselves to the restoration and enjoyment of historic automobiles.”

Friend and associate James Kantor, a member of VMCCA, said he was amazed by Mr. Royston.

“He was the most dynamic individual I ever met … in my life. He moved at 500 miles per hour. Everyone active in the antique car community knew Don.

“I first met him when he came to Punta Gorda in 1997. We had a similar background. We were both fundraisers, did promotion and marketing. Here, he put on all kinds of antique car events at various places. He’d have them at nursing homes, for example. Don wanted residents to see cars they might remember from the ’30s and ’40s.”

Mr. Kantor recalled that Mr. Royston volunteered with the Salvation Army for years, organizing the bell ringers and gathering gifts for children.

“My last conversation with Don was two days before he passed,” he said. “It was about the Punta Gorda Christmas Parade. He wanted me to drive the honored guests and their grandkids in a vintage 1954 Cadillac Coup de Ville. ‘I’d be happy to,’ I told him.”

Mr. Royston was active in both the Punta Gorda and the Port Charlotte Chambers of Commerce. He wrote a column about antique cars for the Sun newspaper and even had a brush with national fame when he talked his favorite subject with fellow car lover Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.”

Lee was with her husband when he passed.

“He leaves large footprints in Charlotte County,” she said.

Patricia L. Bacon

Patricia L. Bacon

Patricia L. Bacon

April 9, 1940-Sept. 2, 2018


“People in Charlotte County who knew Mom ass a watercolor painter and teacher might be surprised to learn she only started painting later in life,” he said. “And art was not her only talent.”

Speaking from his home in Denver, Colorado, Ms. Bacon’s elder son described his mom. “She not only painted her beautiful birds and flowers, she was a singer. She had a great contralto voice and a light jazz style. We were from Michigan — music was everywhere. She could have sung professionally, but she was ahead of her time. Her parents were leery.”

Ms. Bacon also played the piano.

“We had an upright piano,” John said. “I remember one of her favorite pieces — Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor No.2). She must have taken lessons for a long stretch of her childhood if she could play that piece so well. Listen to it.

“No wonder she told my sister, Jane, she wanted her name up in lights. She could do anything creative.”

John recalled that his mother had her own kiln and created pottery. She also sewed.

“She and Dad loved to go out dancing,” he said. “I remember them showing us kids how to dance The Hustle.”

In Michigan, Ms. Bacon taught art in public schools on and off for two decades. In between, she was a stay-at-home mom before working in sales.

In 2004, she and her husband, Jack, moved to Charlotte County, where she eventually became a member of the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda. An award-winning painter, Ms. Bacon taught both beginner and intermediate watercolor classes. She served on the board of directors from 2012-17, and she chaired the exhibit committee.

“Everyone wanted to attend her classes — she was that good,” said VAC program manager Kimberly Phillips. “Patt was sweet, her spirits were high and she was encouraging. She called students and colleagues ‘Lovey.’”

She also had an idea for a special kind of light outerwear, so she cut fabric into strips and squares and sewed them together to make a kaleidoscope jacket, Ms. Phillips recalled.

In August 2018, Ms. Bacon returned to Michigan, as she was battling cancer, staying with her daughter and son-in-law. Less than a month later, surrounded by her family, Ms. Bacon passed away.

In November, the VAC held a celebration of life service in her honor.

“About 50 people attended, including her immediate family, students and friends,” Ms. Phillips said. “She was that loved. And just as she wanted, her name was up in lights.”

Myrtle E. Pringle

Myrtle E. Pringle

Myrtle E. Pringle

Jan. 31, 1912-Feb. 8, 2018

MYRTLE ELAU BUCKLEY PRINGLE DIED ONE WEEK AFTER HER 106th birthday. She’d lived in New York City, San Diego and Los Angeles before moving to Charlottee County in 2000.

Retired for decades, Ms. Pringle found delight and comfort in the Sunshine State. She enjoyed lounging at the beach, dining out with family and friends or playing blackjack on a cruise.

“Mom was affable, but not chatty,” said her older daughter, actor Joan Pringle.

A longtime friend put it another way:

“She did not suffer fools gladly,” Robert Myrstad offered,  quoting St. Paul. “But if you were straightforward with her, she was straightforward with you. I remember her sweet smile and sly wit behind her smile.”

Ms. Pringle was proud to say she was named for her godmother, Elau Powell.

Her name was chosen by her father, Walter Buckley. Each of his six daughters was named for a flower.

Violet, the eldest, was from his first marriage. Lily, Daisy, Myrtle, Hyacinth and Iris were from his marriage to Isabel Buckley.

Determined that his ‘Jamaican floral bouquet,’ as Walter called his girls, be well-educated, Walter and his family immigrated to America. They settled in New York City during the Roaring ’20s. Walter’s action ensured future generations of teachers, doctors, actors, writers and even a World War II Tuskegee fighter pilot.

Ms. Pringle was 9 when she arrived in Manhattan. She was teased about her Jamaican accent, hair and skin color. She took none of the slurs to heart, only her studies. Told not to apply to the prestigious Hunter College High School because she was black, Ms. Pringle took the entrance exam in secret. She passed and was accepted.

In 1936, she graduated from Hunter College with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics — the only person of color in the department. She worked for the city of New York in statistics and personnel until her retirement.

Ms. Pringle was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Herbert, who was also born in Jamaica. A pioneer like his wife, Herbert was the first black manager at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Bank, now called Chase.

Ms. Pringle and her husband were hard workers.

Later, she would leave New York for California to help Joan rear baby twins Robert and Nicole Wilson.

“I was always in awe of her humor, her math genius, her beautiful brown skin, that silver hair; her peanut butter cookies, her Jamaican rice and peas and sun tea,” said granddaughter Nicole Wilson-Schlegel, now 38.

At Ms. Pringle’s memorial at St. James Episcopal Church in Port Charlotte, Nikki’s twin, Robert, echoed his sister’s sentiment before a full congregation of family and friends.

“I won’t tell you goodbye, Nana,” he said. “I will see you in my dreams holding my son — laughing and smiling with our family surrounding you, our matriarch.” ¦