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Old-timers reunion — a walk down memory lane

July 12, 2017
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

Saturday morning, many of the islands "old-timers" arrived at the old Matlacha/Pine island fire house (the art building in Matlacha Park) to celebrate and reminisce about "Old Pine Island" and "Old Matlacha."

"This gathering has been going on for more years than anyone remembers," organizer Barbara Howard said. "This is the Pine Island Old Timers Reunion where all the elders of Pine Island get together to remember the old times."

About 35 40 people gathered in the Matlacha Park Art Building for stories and a pot luck lunch. Franklin King David Henderson traveled all the way from Jacksonville to Matlacha. Henderson is 78 years old.

Article Photos

The “old-timers” attending the reunion on Pine Island.


"I try to come once or twice a year to Matlacha," Henderson said. "My family moved here in 1951. My father was a farmer up north and when we moved to Matlacha in 1951, he became a commercial fisherman. The first place we lived on the island was on an old barge on the water."

Matlacha was a different place then Pine Island Road was "paved" with oyster shells and sand and, "If you saw a car out on Pine Island Road that was something," Henderson said.

When Henderson was 12 years old, he worked at the crab house for 75 cents an hour.

"I still remember out of that I paid Social Security 12 cents," Henderson said.

Growing up poor was hard.

"Whenever the price of fish dropped or the rent went up, we moved - I went to 14 different schools all throughout Florida," Henderson said.

Matlacha resident Laurie McClenithan arrived here in 1958 when she was 15 years old.

"My family moved from Illinois to escape the snow and ice," McClenithan said. "My father was an electrician and originally came to Fort Myers to retire. At that time there was only one electrician on the island and when my father learned that the electrician wanted to retire, my father took over his business."

The family lived in a small apartment on Matlacha before buying the house on Island Avenue.

"This is the house I still live in today," McClenithan said. "My husband Norman McClenithan's father homesteaded in a shack on Matlacha and then purchased the property from the state."

Laurie McClenithan ran the Matlacha Post office for 27 years and retired in 2006.

Benny Holloway, other than a few brief periods living elsewhere, has lived all of his 60 years on Pine Island.

"I come from a commercial fishing family and now that I'm retired, I still love to fish every day," Holloway said.

Holloway had his college education paid for by the Pine Island Fire Department.

"When I was a boy we had a small local volunteer fire department and the chief at the time was Marty Slater.," Holloway said. "One day, when I was about 16 years old, he asked me 'What are you going to do with your life?' When I answered that I didn't know he said, 'Well, let's send you to college.' So the fire department sent me to Edison and I became a paramedic and then went into nursing in the emergency toom at Cape Coral Hospital. I spent 35 years there.

"There's been a lot of change on these islands," Holloway said. "When I was a boy we didn't have a bathroom until I was 12 - we had an outhouse. And I never had an air conditioner until I was 19 years old. I was here before telephones, I was here before cable and so many things, and I love it here.

"I've been all over the country and Mexico but wherever I go, there's no place like this," Holloway said. "Why would anyone leave here, it's like living in the Caribbean and whenever I lived someplace else, I was sick for Pine Island."

"These walks down memory lane are a lot like family reunions," Howard said. "People haven't seen each other for a year or more and have a lot of catching up to do. Then they start talking about the old times. Life was harder then but it seems everyone remembers living here fondly."

The Pine Island Old Timers Reunion "Walk Down Memory Lane" is an annual event held on the first Saturday after July 4.



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