I don’t know about you, but while I have never taken things for granted, as I’ve grown older I have developed a greater sense of appreciation for the simple things, the quality of life and the sacrifice made by so many that I enjoy today.
Growing up as a small child we spent summers out on eastern Long Island, New York on a place called “Shelter Island,” where life seemed more carefree and innocent. Just by the resonance of the name alone implied there was a special kind of security and peacefulness this island offered that is uncommon today.
We fished, clammed and waterskied all day long. We played flashlight tag until late at night. We sat on the tailgate of our parents Ford Country Squire station wagon on our way to the beach and rode our bikes all over the island enjoying the country sounds, floral fragrances and wildlife along the way. While the island has experienced many changes over the years, 60 years later it remains a very special place that keeps me grounded.
Back then no one judged you by your ethnic background or political views. In fact, there was a non-judgmental inquisitiveness we had as we were eager to hear where our friends lived when not summering on the island, where they went to school and the subjects they took. We talked about what kinds of jobs or businesses our parents had and the dreams we all had for the life we wanted to live. We saw the love for community exhibited by our parents and how they pitched in to help, whether it was for a charitable event or a country club function, and we were taught to take pride in the odd jobs we took on the island as we grew older. It was a time when people seemed to care a lot more about each other and celebrated their time together, sharing common interests and not focusing on their differences. Unfortunately, with all the hype and hysteria in the media today, I feel we are not only losing respect for each other, but overlooking the efforts of those who came before us that sacrificed so much that allow us to enjoy the communities in which we live today.
Years ago, I was told by a boss I had in Texas the mistake most people make is they don’t turn off the major highways and drive through the small towns. He said, “There they will find all the wonderful qualities of life you enjoyed as a young child. The pace may be slower, but the people will be friendlier and there will be a community spirit you will experience that is lost in the fast pace of a major city and society in which we live today.” To this day, I do “turn off that major highway,” and have been fortunate enough to find such a place in Florida I call “home.”
Florida is filled with many small cities like Punta Gorda, Venice and St. Augustine to name a few. They are full of people who celebrate and preserve their community’s history while carefully integrating new thoughts and ideas with that rich history that make those communities special. Where else can you find people from all walks of life and backgrounds who volunteer their time, talents and treasures by giving back to their communities as you find in the small towns in which we live? Or where you can enjoy farmer’s markets, craft fairs, block parties, wine and jazz festivals and even the occasional dragon boat race?
We are fortunate to live in an area where you can speak with community leaders and business owners and where your physicians are usually some of your closest friends. Like many small towns, we have an exceptionally active Chamber of Commerce, a vibrant Civic Association, and in our area an organization known as TEAM Punta Gorda, that fosters the input from business owners and citizens alike in how to best plan and augment our natural resources for all to enjoy.
As we approach this 4th of July, I think back to the sacrifices made by those founding fathers that came to this country seeking a better life and how they crafted the “Declaration of Independence.” As I read the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” I can’t help but think how many small towns such as the one in which we live, still embody that same belief.
The 4th of July is that reminder to me of those special times when we experienced life through the eyes of a child, awed by nature’s simple things and our community’s spirit. It is my hope as we watch with excitement the majestic firework displays we did as children, we’ll reflect on the declaration written by our forefathers with that same love for each other and our community, never forgetting the sacrifices they made.
“Joe Angelini, A True Servant To His Community”
Our community is blessed to have many wonderful people who give generously of their “time, talents and treasures,” but few embody the principal, “to serve and protect” like that of Punta Gorda Police Officer, Joe Angelini.
While I have had the opportunity throughout the years to make many friends within the department (one that does an amazing job in protecting its citizens), there is a common core principle each officer I’ve met seems to embrace, “service to the community”, and none epitomizes this more than Officer Angelini.
Raised in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Philadelphia, Joe attended Plymouth -White Marsh High School where he excelled as an athlete. Graduating in 1977, his mother, now remarried, moved to Florida while Joe stayed behind a year to work with his dad, but in 1979 made the move to Florida himself. Now as a 19-year-old, Joe realized his dream of becoming a professional athlete didn’t seem as realistic as attaining his other goal which was to pursue a career in Law Enforcement. So, in 1980 Joe entered the reserves with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department , then under the supervision of Sheriff Alan Le Beau. A year later Joe would become a full time deputy sheriff before rising to a supervisory level four short years later, a position he held from 1985 until his retirement in 2006.
A year later, then Charlotte County Sheriff John Davenport, asked Joe if he would consider coming out of retirement to mentor the new deputies. When several days passed and Joe hadn’t responded to Sheriff Davenport’s request, future Charlotte County Sheriff and friend Bill Cameron reached out to Joe and told him he was surprised he hadn’t responded to Davenport’s request. Joe agreed to accept the position which he held for a year. It was during this time Joe recalls a funny story of a young officer by the name of Butch Arenal who was a civilian working in the private sector . When Joe arrived on the scene of a domestic violence call, he noticed Butch sitting alone in the front seat of the squad car and asked what he was doing sitting there. Butch told him that his uncle responding officer at the time told him to stay in the car while he went into the home to investigate. Joe replied, “You’re not going to learn anything sitting in the car. Follow me, I’ll cover you,” as they proceeded to assist the officer on call. It was a friendship that lasted for years as Butch went on to become Punta Gorda’s Police Chief and it was under his tenure when he asked Joe, who was now an active officer with the Punta Gorda Police Department, if he would like to take on the role of School Resource Officer at Sallie Jones Elementary School, a position Joe embraces to this day.
While much can be said about Joe’s 33-year history in law enforcement, 27 with the Sheriff’s Department and almost seven with the Punta Gorda Police force, Joe has an equally impressive track record of giving back to his community which dates back to the mid 1980s.
One of the first charitable events Joe created back in those days was “Cops Who Care” where proceeds went to feed less fortunate families throughout the community. Joe was able to recruit the area restaurants to supply the food and Walmart to provide the toys, with local judges, attorneys and community leaders serving up the treats.
He also created a basketball game pitting officers from the Sheriff’s Department against the local attorneys. Now I’m not sure after seeing all those Morgan and Morgan advertisements on T.V. that I would want to play basketball with a bunch of trial lawyers, but back in the 80’s things were different and proceeds went to benefit the “Star Program.” This program provided financial support for those experiencing debilitating illnesses and birth defects, one of which was Down Syndrome, something close to Joe’s heart.
With his love of sports, Joe has fond memories where he helped put together a ballgame against the Texas Rangers Coaching staff. Proceeds helped fund the various non-profit organizations in the area.
Joe recounted how the events he helped create fed hundreds of families and how he would pack up the extra food after these events and drive up and down 41 pulling over to feed every homeless family he came across. He said, “To see the smiles on their faces was worth every effort I made.”
Today as Resource Officer at Sallie Jones, Joe’s involvement isn’t limited to providing security for these children he is so passionate about, he continually implements new programs that he hopes will become a standard within each school district.
In his “Bicycle Pedestrian Safety” program aimed at kids from kindergarten through 5 th grade, he uses an egg to show the importance of riding with a helmet. To generate enthusiasm to wear a helmet Joe created a contest where children from kindergarten through second grade get to design their helmet with the winners being recognized in front of the Punta Gorda City Council.
One of the most intriguing programs Joe has created is the “Watch Dog” program where he and the Assistant Principal have a host of fathers and male figures come into the school to provide that “father figure” role for many of the single parent children who don’t have a father as a role model. Under strict supervision these men not only keep watch for bullying in the playground and hallway, they come into the classroom to help children in need of some additional academic tutoring.
In addition to these two wonderful programs, Joe teaches a program on ” Bullying ” whose goal is to teach ” Zero Tolerance .” He is also in the process of developing a “Gun Safety” program for children. Joe explained with the possibility of children going into a home where a gun may not be adequately secured, he wants children to “be aware, to stay away and to report instances where they have seen a gun has been left unsecured.”
On top of his passion for the welfare of children, Joe serves as an active Board Member for the Charlotte County Fair. He is a member of the board for The Charlotte County Children Services Council, an appointment he received by Governor Rick Scott. He is a Volunteer member for Back Pack Kidz of Charlotte County and mentor for Take Stock In Children, an organization that mentors high school students in Charlotte County. He is a volunteer member for Young Life, a national non-denominational Christian organization for middle and high school students, and for the past two years is an Impact Panel Board Member for the United Way, where funds are voted on and distributed to a host of local organizations. In addition, in conjunction with Team Punta Gorda, Joe has participated in Habitat for Humanity’s “Paint Your Heart Out Punta Gorda.” He sits on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club and Board of Directors of the Homeless Coalition. Joe has also served as guest server for the “Tip a Cop” fundraiser put on by the Punta Gorda Police Department which benefits SpecialOlympics.
Now somewhere in between being a full time Punta Gorda Police officer, getting his Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration, along with all the charitable organizations in which he is an active member, Joe is a Board member and Secretary for the Police Pension and for the past 2 years has been giving presentations to seniors and various organizations on how to avoid becoming a victim to a host of scams that have been on the rise.
For most, Joe’s resume for community service would leave you breathless, however, with a burning desire to do more for those in his community, Joe recently announced his candidacy for the position of Sheriff of Charlotte County . Typical of all law enforcement agencies, Joe explained their primary responsibility is “paramilitary” in nature, but Joe’s goal as Sheriff would bring more of a “business model with an emphasis on customer service ” side to the department. He said, “We need more of a community service approach where people can depend on us to help them in a host a ways, which can mean changing a tire for someone broken down on the side of the road to answering a call for the homeowner who left town and doesn’t remember if they left their home secure.” It is this passion for people both young and old alike that Joe outlines in a 10-point plan where he hopes to build a stronger bond between the department and the general public it serves .
You only have to meet Joe once to see the enthusiasm and passion he has for people. But I didn’t fully comprehend how much of that “service to others” approach he embodies until I was getting up from our interview and without missing a beat he said to me, ” If there is ever anything I can do for you or your family let me know” …….little does he know, he already has!
Interview by GARY CARDILLO
Each month we look to highlight the accomplishments of those who have either touched our lives or made an impact on our community. This month we bring you a very special couple who are here not only as a result of the improvements made to our community, but are the very ones bringing all those flying here to enjoy what we like to call “Our little slice of “Paradise.”
Meet Allegiant Airlines Captains, Mark and Leigh McCann. If you are a “white knuckle flier” like me, you’ll find yourself in some of the most capable hands in the industry with these two. They are engaging, extremely knowledgeable and have a great sense of humor, as you’ll soon find out.
I knew this was a couple I was going to like when helping them purchase a home this past spring. Leigh had to fly and Mark was doing the final walk through for their “new” home. As we walked the grounds of this pristine country setting, an Allegiant jet just taking off passed directly over us. As a Realtor I thought to myself, “With the roar of those jet engines he’ll never want to close on this home,” but to my surprise, as I was apologizing for the noise, Mark replied, “That’s O.K., that’s Leigh.” I replied, “What do you guys do, dip a wing to say hello and good-bye to each other?” Mark just laughed and said, “Not quite, typically just a quick flash of the landing lights, but we’re used to it.” At that point I knew I was going to become fast friends with this couple.
Born in Arroyo Grande, California, before moving to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1978, Mark said he knew at a very early age he was going to pursue his passion to fly. Leigh on the other hand, who grew up in St Louis, said her childhood dream was always to become an astronaut and even went to space camp. Their paths crossed while attending college in St Louis. Mark was pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation, when Leigh, who was studying Aerospace Engineering, saw that Mark was having more fun with his major. She decided all the math courses weren’t for her and she, too, pursued a path of becoming a pilot.
Their careers paralleled each other as both became flight instructors before becoming Captains with a commuter airline company based out of the Phoenix area. However, in 2007 Leigh left to join Allegiant and in 2014 Mark joined the Allegiant ranks, as well. While they tease that earlier on in their careers Mark achieved his Captains license first, they pointed out whenever you move to another airline, your “captain’s” designation does not follow you and must be “regained” with the current airline you join. Leigh got somewhat of the last laugh since she joined Allegiant prior to Mark and attained her Captains designation first. In fact, Leigh is one of the most tenured Captains for Allegiant in this area which now boasts 36 pilots or 18 flight crews.
It is a long way from the small Socata manufactured Tampico planes they used when instructing their students to the MD80’s they are currently flying. However, Allegiant is updating their fleet of planes to the much more technologically sophisticated Airbus A320’s, which not only can hold 177 passengers, but are far more fuel efficient and quiet, which those living close to the flight paths will be glad to hear. These planes are so sophisticated that all Allegiant pilots are required to go for three months of intense training before being typed rated to fly this aircraft. As both Leigh and Mark have indicated, this plane really hones your computer skills.
Currently Allegiant keeps six planes at the airport and would like to add more to their base of operations, as they said there is a real need to expand, but parking is what limits their ability to do so. Statistically the numbers are there, as shown on the Punta Gorda Airport website, www.flypgd.com. Compared to the time period of January through August of 2014, Allegiant has flown almost 150,000 more passengers this year, which is not only a dramatic increase, but bodes well for our local economy.
When not making their daily round trips to places like Ohio and Indiana, Mark says if they could get the time they would love to travel back to Switzerland, as they are avid skiers. Although, since “9-11” the challenge they have is getting time off together, since both are Captains and no longer fly together. However, when not flying they love to kayak and ride their motorcycles, but are considering trading them in for a boat since the area’s relatively flat terrain doesn’t provide the same thrill the winding mountain roads out west gave them. Unfortunately having moved here in March, and then each having to go back to Arizona simultaneously for three months of intense flight school training for Allegiant’s new fleet of planes, they haven’t had much time to explore the area.
Although, they love the colorful downtown area and community spirit.
When asked about what kinds of questions or comments they most get from their passengers, Leigh said most people are surprised she is a pilot, no less a captain. She is one of the rare few, as she said women make up only 4% of the pilot population in the industry. When I pressed her as to what the passenger response is from those who find out she is a pilot, she laughed and said they typically say, “Well, good for you.”
Both are extremely personable and proud to be with Allegiant. Mark said he especially loves it when kids want to come into the cockpit, as he loves their inquisitiveness, a quality he and Leigh seem to have themselves. When asked about his favorite place to fly, he said “You may be surprised, but West Virginia is one of them because the passengers have always been so friendly and appreciative,” something he sees here in Punta Gorda, as well.
Despite their accomplishments as Captains for a growing airline, Mark is equally as proud of the accomplishments Allegiant has made. He pointed out that for 50 consecutive quarters Allegiant remained profitable, even during the recession, which he attributes to the unique niche it fills. Mark said Allegiant is not targeting the business traveler but has captured the “leisure market” as they service the “under- served” markets that want to travel to popular or resort destinations. He says much of their passenger base is first time fliers or seniors who enjoy their travel on Allegiant.
Perhaps one of the best perks of being a pilot are the vistas they capture from the air. Mark and Leigh both commented on the pristine beauty of Charlotte Harbor as they fly around the point of Punta Gorda and Burnt Store Isles on final approach. Unfortunately when the weather is not clear they have to take a more direct approach to the airport. Although, with the new, almost complete instrument landing system approved by the FAA, they may be able to stay out over the water a little longer, hopefully capturing a break in the clouds so the passengers can enjoy the same majestic views they have experienced many times themselves.
I have come to realize we have many great champions for our community, but as the first point of contact for those coming to our area, Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte could not have better ambassadors than Mark and Leigh McCann, as they encourage those they meet to enjoy all the area has to offer. So the next time your travels take you on Allegiant, see if Mark or Leigh are at the controls. If so, sit back and enjoy the ride, as they give new meaning to the phrase “fly the friendly skies.”
We have all come across people who have either impacted our lives or the communities in which we live. Someone who has impressed me both personally, as well as, for the contribution he has made to our community is Mike Riley, Charlotte County Schools Community Relations Officer, Charitable fundraiser and founder of one of the most sought-after bands in Southwest Florida, The BoogieMen!
With Halloween around the corner and its ghoulish stories of ghosts, goblins and haunted houses, there is a Boogieman out there who is quite different from the one you heard about as a child growing up. For Mike Riley it is all about “serving the community and others before self,” and his impact on the lives of so many others, both young and old alike, is simply inspiring.
Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, he was born to Roy and Margaret Riley and joined his “big” sister Pat to make their family. They instilled in him, “the respect for your elders, compassion for others, and a desire to love life and live every day to its fullest,” something Mike holds dear to this day. While he grew up with a love for the outdoors, like many children in the 50’s and early 60’s he was captivated by the music of that era. When he first heard of The Beatles he thought they were The Chipmunks, but it was a friend of his sister’s who showed up to their home one day in his mint green ’57 Chevy and opened the trunk of his car to show off a sunburst Fender Stratocaster guitar on top of sheet music and 45 records that the music bug bit Mike. After putting his sister’s Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vinton and Frankie Avalon records away for Buddy Holly, The Beatles and The Everly Brothers, Mike was hooked and it has been in his blood ever since.
After graduating high school in 1970, he went on to Miami of Ohio University part time for the next ten years while working full time and raising a family. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education he moved that summer of 1980 to Charlotte County, where he accepted a teaching position at Meadow Park Elementary School and taught physical education to “a few thousand of the greatest kids in the world for ten years.”
He went on to further his education, receiving his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, and in 1990 accepted the position as Assistant Principal at the brand new Myakka River Elementary School. From there Mike went on to become Assistant Principal at Neil Armstrong Elementary School and then Port Charlotte Middle School before accepting a position as Manager of Adult and Community Education, which he held for six years. His service to the school system was highly recognized by Dr. David Gayler, Superintendent of Schools, who fifteen years ago asked Mike to serve as his link to the community and spokesman for the district as School Community Relations Officer. He also serves as the liaison between the school system and the non-profits, as well as, youth activity providers, but his service to community and the children doesn’t end there.
“Riley” as he is known to his closest friends, has served on a host of boards that include Youth Service Boards for the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of Charlotte County and the Education Committee for the Chamber of Commerce. He has chaired Education Day for Leadership Charlotte for 8 years, The Business/Educators Exchange Day for 6 years and has been the liaison for the Take Stock in Children Scholarship Program for 20 years while mentoring dozens of students from 8th grade through their high school graduation. And if you still aren’t impressed, aside from many other community leadership positions focused on local and state education and literacy, Mike is a past president, a “Paul Harris Fellow,” as well as charter member of the Peace River Heights Rotary Club, whose motto he practices to this day, “Service above Self.” This organization sponsors scholarships for local high school students and non-profits including “For Love of Kids” and “Project Graduation” for Charlotte High School seniors, but this is only part of his generous “giving back to his community.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has nothing over Riley’s home which in itself is a “hall of fame.” Perhaps the best way to describe this living tribute to rock n’ roll history is if you took Peter Maxx and Sgt. Pepper and sent them on a Magical Mystery Tour!
Almost 50 guitars hang from these history laden walls, each with an incredible story to tell, and there is no better story teller than Riley who said, “Even the artwork and furniture has a story to tell,” as I noticed a unique cabinet that had the lower right corner missing.
Riley proceeded to tell me as a child growing up his friends and their fathers all owned guns, on Riley’s Wedding Day, his hometown buddy Danny Rommel was at the house and the conversation turned to guns they had. Riley went in and brought out a customized shotgun he had that hadn’t been shot in 20 years. While racking the gun it went off, blowing a hole in the door of his liquor cabinet. Riley said, Danny overreacted, claiming he was hit in the leg as he sat on the couch on the opposite side of the room, but as Riley confided, Danny was in love with telling the story of this new misadventure! He still limps whenever he sees Mike coming.
He recounted the days when he was 10 years old and a neighbor returned home from the Army by the name of Johnny Allen. He wanted ten dollars for a guitar he got from Thailand. Roy, Riley’s Dad, would trade the belt off of his pants so he swung a deal and he had his first guitar. While he played on and off throughout his high school years, one of the first groups he played with in Charlotte County was with his son and one of his son’s school friends. He said they played on the steps of the old courthouse 34 years ago for the 4th of July Fireworks, as well as, some weddings and parties. It was a 4 year run as a 32 year old playing with a 10 and 12 year old. Even though Riley founded the group, the boys eventually kicked him out, as I got the distinct impression the boys felt he was holding them back.
However, in 1990 Mike formed the area’s premier “Rock and Soul” band called “The BoogieMen.” This is a high energy ten piece band that has opened concerts for The Beach Boys, Kansas, The Edgar Winter Group, “Dangerous Dan Toler,” Herman’s Hermits, Rare Earth, The Outlaws, Grand Funk Railroad, The Grass Roots, The Rascals and many other Rock, Soul and Country legends. When I asked Riley, with a resume like this why he didn’t take the group on a national tour he replied, “That was never my intention.” He said, “members of the band all had day jobs and family commitments, and the goal was to have some fun while helping support local charities, raise funds and improve lives.”
Twenty five years later The BoogieMen are still one of the most sought after bands in southwest Florida. They have played 128 benefits and changed the lives of many, both young and old.
Five years ago, Ron Evans and his partners from Smuggler’s Enterprises made a decision to recognize someone annually at the 4th of July Fireworks celebration who epitomizes community service. The award was crafted for someone who selflessly gives of their time and talents to improve the lives of both children and the adults in our community. This is accompanied by a $5,000.00 donation to the charity of the recipient’s choice. Mike was the first recipient of the award on July 4, 2010 and the award read, “In recognition of character, integrity, honor, generosity, community service and student mentoring…” Today this award is known as the “Riley Award,” a true testament to this remarkable man.
Since that time Mike has gone on to receive numerous awards for his dedication to his community and the children within the community whose accomplishments he is even more proud of than his own. He is one of the most humble people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and proud to call a friend. While his family inspired him to respect and care for others, I think Mike’s own words say it best when he says, “I am proud to call Charlotte County my home, and I hope that in some small way I can make a difference in the quality of life and self-esteem of the children and adults that are part of my community.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not kind of Boogieman I ever knew!
Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame had a sarcastic wit I loved. It wasn’t his sarcasm that captivated me as much as his introspective questioning of viewpoints we take as gospel. However, it wasn’t until CNN Money’s most recent article on “Best Places to Live” that I thought of Mr. Rooney’s profound insight that got me to thinking, “If Punta Gorda/ Port Charlotte Florida were voted before as one of the best places to live, how come we didn’t even make the list of top 100 this year?”
Florida always seemed to have a couple of areas in the top 10 but this year Weston, FL came in at #63 and Coral Springs came in at #94. More interestingly was that no city in Florida cracked the top 50. “Did Florida somehow not qualify this year; last I heard it was still part of the continental U.S.?”
Jobs, healthcare, low crime, education and quality of life were the criteria used in this year’s search, but in the Rooney style, I would have to say, “I didn’t realize jobs and quality of life were the major draws to such states as Minnesota and Michigan whose small cities garnered several of the top spots!” As a Realtor, I have been hearing for the better part of the past five years just the opposite that it was because of the tough job and housing market that many in these two states were leaving to seek a more attractive climate and “quality of lifestyle” that Florida had to offer.
It is hard to imagine the entire state of Florida had its 15 minutes of fame and now slips back to anonymity, or is the author of the CNN poll bias towards the northern states and trying to level the playing field?
I have always said, “If you move to Florida for employment, you may be best served going into business for yourself, unless you are being relocated with a large firm.” As for quality of life, somehow trudging through howling winds and freezing temperatures doesn’t appeal to me as much as year round sun filled skies, sandy beaches and a 10 minute relaxing drive to work…..I think Mr. Rooney would agree!