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Amelia Islander

Why I Love Amelia Island

Jun 07, 2017 02:50PM
With its fascinating history and enchanting beauty, Amelia Island draws people from all over the world. To residents of Amelia Island, this picturesque oasis, steeped in Southern charm, is considered by many to be the perfect place to live, with its sparkling beaches, indigo skies, and the shimmering waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But Amelia Island is much more than a pretty face—it’s a thriving, healthy community whose populace reflects a myriad of cultures and traditions. Fernandina Beach’s rich history has resulted in an eclectic mix of old Fernandina families, fishermen and shrimpers, business owners, retired couples, young families, and hard-working people. Once you visit this remarkable barrier island, you may find it difficult to leave, too!

[heading style="subheader"]Dickie Anderson[/heading] Dickie Anderson is a local writer and author whose fascination with the Historic District is readily apparent. She volunteers at the Amelia Island Museum of History, writes often about the island’s history in her weekly newspaper column, and even wrote a book about the downtown’s iconic Victorian-era homes. “Asking what I love about Amelia Island is like asking which is my favorite child or grandchild,” says Anderson. “Of course, my first and most immediate response is the beach. Few places offer such easy access to such an amazing stretch of sand that’s never the same each time I visit.” “When people ask what is unique about the island, I am quick to say it is not just a beautiful island with all the amenities, but it is a very real place—a Mayberry with tides,” she says. “Old-timers and newcomers mix together and team up to support community happenings and the island’s many non-profits. Amelia Island is ever changing. It feels like, recently, almost too fast. It’s no longer the best kept secret, so I guess I have to learn to share cheerfully! I am proud to call Amelia Island my home sweet home.”

[heading style="subheader"]Lori Lecker[/heading] Lori Lecker is a local entrepreneur who owns three downtown businesses with her husband, John—lori+lulu, Pearl, and JJ COOPER. She and John moved to Fernandina Beach 14 years ago. “We are so proud and happy to have created three little boutiques downtown on Centre Street,” says Lecker. “Doing so has been the highlight of our career. I have visited almost all of the coastal towns of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, and there is simply no better place to live than Amelia Island.” Born in Jacksonville in 1961, Lecker attended St. Andrews Episcopal Day School until her family left Jacksonville and moved to Fernandina Beach, where she attended sixth grade. “Afterwards, we went on to live all over the country,” says Lecker. “I always looked forward to returning every year to Fernandina Beach, where my family rented a little vacation beach cottage. My grandparents chose to retire here in the 1970s, and my parents followed in the ‘80s. I’ve always felt my roots are here, and I get a sense of peace whenever I drive over the Shave Bridge. My life has come full circle back to our hidden secret little gem of an island, which I will never leave.”

[heading style="subheader"]Marsha Dean Phelts[/heading] A third-generation Floridian, Marsha Dean Phelts, a charter and life member of the James Weldon Johnson Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, has spent her life on the northeast coast of Florida, in Jacksonville and American Beach. In 1997, Phelts earned the distinction of writing the first book chronicling the history of American Beach, An American Beach for African Americans from the University Press of Florida. “Living under the Blue Bottle Tree on American Beach is the fulfillment of my lifetime dream,” says Phelts. “For me, island living is a therapeutic stress buster. Porch sitting, I watch the rush of ocean waves crashing to shore, or marsh hares and gopher tortoises making paths across the yard into the maritime forest. “Thanks to island friends and neighbors Eugene Emory, Neil Frink, Vick Wellington, James Whitsett, and James Wilson, I never run out of fresh-caught fish. And whenever I need the sights, sounds, and amenities of my birthplace, Jacksonville is only 12 bridges away.”

[heading style="subheader"]Johnny Miller[/heading] Johnny Miller is the mayor of Fernandina Beach, and he encourages his constituents to visit him at the oldest bar in Florida, The Palace Saloon, where he works as a bartender. He’s lived on Amelia Island for the past ten years with his wife, Lori, after having retired from the Navy. Their daughter, Summer, attended Fernandina Beach High School, and Miller’s mother, Nancy Fishburn, also lives on the island. Miller considers Amelia Island the perfect place to live and raise a family. “Fernandina Beach has a small town feel to it,” says Miller. “It has a gorgeous beach, and we love living near the water. Lori and I adore the community here. We have a large cross-section of residents on this island, and we’ve seen how people come together to support each other when needed. “The Palace Saloon draws folks from all over the world, but we also have lots of regulars who have become good friends. People are always welcome to come in to talk to me about community issues, and I’m eager to listen to their concerns. I may not have grown up here, but I consider Fernandina Beach to be my hometown now.”

[heading style="subheader"]Lindy Kavanaugh[/heading] Owner of Lindy’s Jewelry on Centre Street, Lindy Kavanaugh loves and appreciates the rich history and strong community spirit of Fernandina Beach. “The atmosphere of downtown Fernandina Beach has a comfortable ease and an interesting history that make for a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” says Kavanaugh. “While a local only since 1988, my husband, Hardee, was born and raised on Amelia Island, and his family has generations of history here. “In 2015, we purchased property downtown and later came to learn that the building was once J & N Hardee Groceries and Hardware, a business owned years ago by my husband’s family. A family member even brought in a receipt dated 1907. Its family ties like these that make it feel a lot like home.” “Our community is made up of many organizations that rely on the compassion and generosity of volunteers,” she says. “Barnabas operates with the strength of many volunteers, providing services to those in need. The Amelia Island Museum of History is another local treasure that is an asset to our island.  In addition to a relaxing day at the beach (if there is such a thing with three children), my family enjoys walking along Egan’s Creek Greenway. We have so many natural resources available to explore on the island!”

[heading style="subheader"]Sandra Baker-Hinton[/heading] Sandra Baker-Hinton is the owner/artist of Amelia SanJon Gallery on Ash Street in downtown Fernandina Beach. She lives modestly, but finds she is amply entertained with her passion for creativity and the natural world. “I love my life here, from the big trees surrounding my home, the foster squirrels I have who live there, the plants I grow for the butterflies I raise, to being able to realize my goal of being a full-time artist with my own gallery.” “But the most exciting part is my dream volunteer job as a Sea Turtle Volunteer,” she says. “For the past 15 years, for six months of the year, Fort Clinch State Park becomes like my second home as I check for nests, watch for hatching, and dig into the sand to provide data on the productivity of the nest laid. “All of this would not be reason enough, if it weren’t for the good people who share this island home. They are a healthy mix of old timers and newbies, but all with a heart as big as all outdoors. We sometimes disagree on issues, but when you need help, they will all come through for you. Even though I am not able to travel the world, I am thankful that I already live in paradise.”

[heading style="subheader"]Aaron Bean[/heading] State Senator Aaron Bean comes from a long line of Fernandina families, and he has never thought about living anywhere but on Amelia Island since he became an adult. “I’ve always envisioned living here,” says Bean. “Our community is well-rounded, and it’s a place where everyone knows your name. The schools are great, and besides tourism, we have other thriving industries that make for a healthy community. It’s great place to raise a family, a true slice of Americana.” Aaron’s love for Amelia Island began with his mother, Joan Bean, who has been inspiring young people for 60 years with her Bean School of Dance, located on South 3rd Street in downtown Fernandina Beach. For generations, her dance school has held a special place in the hearts of local children and families, and Joan’s love for young people is apparent. “It’s a thrill to see our Amelia Island young people grow up, then come back to visit,” says Joan. “They inspire me!” Aaron’s wife, Abby, is executive director of the Nassau Education Foundation, whose vision is to maximize support for local public education by providing funding to furnish students with the skills needed to compete in our 21st century economy. “Aaron and I have always been involved with our local school system,” she says. “We love our students and feel that they are the community leaders of tomorrow. Our Amelia Island young people mean the world to us.”

[heading style="subheader"]Eric Corbett[/heading] When Amelia Island resident Eric Corbett turned 18, he couldn’t wait to leave this island community. By the time he turned 28, he couldn’t wait to move back. Coming from many generations of Corbetts on Amelia, Eric’s roots run deep. “My wife, Marie, and I have been married for 15 years, and we have a son named James, who will become the fourth generation to graduate from Fernandina Beach High School,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. This community comes together to take care of one another, unlike any other.” Eric and Marie volunteer at James’ school, and Eric coaches Babe Ruth baseball. “This is my number one favorite thing to do,” says Eric. “Besides our church community, our yoga community, and our business community, our school system is one of the best things about Amelia Island. Parents chip in at school and work together to help our children succeed.”

[heading style="subheader"]Joseph Marasco [/heading] Executive Director of the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, Joseph Marasco purchased a beach condo on Amelia Island with his wife in 1982. The couple loved the island so much they decided to retire here from Pittsburgh in 2000. “I’ve seen a lot of growth and change since we first came here,” says Marasco. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the growth has provided our residents with all sorts of cultural offerings, like the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. These opportunities enrich the fabric of our island and help bring people together.” “One of things I love about Amelia Island is its friendly atmosphere,” he says. “We have people from all different backgrounds, and this enhances the quality of our community. It’s a working community, not just a resort community, like some other coastal areas. Amelia Island is a place where people flourish. We help one another, we volunteer, we know our neighbors, and we come together to make our island a better place to live.”

[heading style="subheader"]Gil Langley[/heading] President of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, Gil Langley has the good fortune of promoting all the attractions, events, experiences, amenities and lodging options on Amelia Island. He feels these amenities also make for an unsurpassed quality of life for residents of our community. “When I moved here ten years ago, I had no idea this would be home for the remainder of my career,” says Langley. “After a short discussion, my wife and I decided that Amelia Island was perfect for our family. “There are at least 25 world-class dining options serving amazing dishes in a relaxed atmosphere that foodies crave. You can learn the secrets of top chefs on the island at cooking classes and themed dinners that are offered regularly. Of course, for those who like to do it themselves, fresh ingredients are always available at the farmers market and local organic farms. “And for those looking for live entertainment, local community theaters showcase the amazing talents of our neighbors in productions ranging from elaborate musicals to ensemble dramas. As far as my family is concerned, as a place to live, work, and play, Amelia Island is simply perfect.”

[heading style="subheader"]Ernie Saltmarsh[/heading] Ernie Saltmarsh was born a Navy brat and he lived in Jacksonville as a child, but his heart belonged to Amelia Island, a place he visited regularly. His best friend, Chris Curry, lived on the island. Curry’s father was part of Amelia Island’s early development team. As a young man, Saltmarsh happened to visit the Florida House Inn for a business meeting, and he was taken with its inviting fireplace and warm, comfortable atmosphere. Today, Saltmarsh owns the Florida House Inn, along with the Green Turtle, the Beech Street buildings, and the old Down Under property. “I love restoration, I love Amelia Island, and everything I do is a labor of love for me,” says Saltmarsh. “Why do I love Amelia Island? I guess it’s the lifestyle, the casual, relaxed feeling I get when I drive over the Shave Bridge after having been away for a bit. When I go away, I miss the island and people who live here. When I come back, my heart rate settles. Amelia Island is where I want to be.”

What do you love about Amelia Island? Leave us a comment below or visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ameliaislandermagazine.