November/December 2001

Spreading the Joy
Creating her Web site,, is a labor of love for Ft. Myers resident Victoria Monfort, who is busy raising her son and co-owns GetNetSmart Inc., an Internet services firm. But so passionate is she about that she devotes the rest of her time toward it.
    The site’s name sums up her low-tech message—living with gratitude. “The more people who are happy and positive, the easier it is for all. The site lets you focus on what’s really important. I came to this as a result of a lot of difficult times,” Monfort says.
    “I used to be sarcastic, cynical. Having to deal with my mother’s cancer battle, difficulties I face as a single mother, my health crisis—I lost about 35 percent of my hearing and it happened overnight—that affected me.
    “I’ve learned to see the common elements we have as people. If we look deeper, we’re all here, getting by as best we can. I want to deal with people from a viewpoint of love, not fear. Once you realize this, your world changes.”
    Monfort says her nondenominational site is “about the larger truths; the idea is a sharing opportunity.” Included are daily meditations, everyday epiphanies, quotes, features, and therapy art. She’s excited about submissions and wants subscribers to get weekly reminders of something positive, perhaps have their own page. “I may have sponsors but want to keep it as noncommercial as possible.”
    Site visitors will notice a wentletrap seashell on each page. “My Dad would always tell me wentletraps are special,” Monfort says, adding that she grew up in Virginia and vacationed on Sanibel. Her family moved to Lee County in 1976, she graduated from Cypress Lake in 1979, and she moved back in 1995.
    She mentions future projects—a companion book, public speaking—and smiles widely, saying, “bethankful is why I’m on the planet.”
–Libby Grimm

Noteworthy Entertainer
Fans of Sanibel vocalist Theresa Rose Shea are counting themselves lucky this season because T Shea, as she prefers to be called, is again entertaining visitors and locals at the Sundial Beach Resort. Listeners are drawn to her repertoire of “sultry standards and torch songs with a slight tropical influence.”
    “I sing standards from the ’30s and ’40s, cabaret-style, Gershwin, and Cole Porter,” notes Shea, who garnered the most votes for the islands’ 2001 Best Local Entertainer Award.
     The Brookline, Massachusetts, native used to work in private banking in Boston but is now happy to be in her “second life.” It all began when she moved to Sanibel in 1994, worked at the Pirate Playhouse, and then started studying with a vocal coach.
    Lately, Shea’s reputation is growing by octaves. In addition to singing at private parties, she has just recorded a CD.
    Contact T Shea at 941/395-9278 or 941/410-1169 (cellular phone). Her Web site is
–Libby Grimm

Man on a Mission
Neither vandals nor fire can keep the Rev. Israel Suarez down in his pursuit to supply food, shelter, clothing, and, most important, encouragement to individuals and families who need them. Established in 1978 in a mobile office near the Michigan Links housing project in
Ft. Myers, the Nations Association is a nonprofit organization that now has more than 140 volunteers and a small support staff. Thanks to Suarez and his wife, Ruth, in 2000 alone the association provided more than 7,600 soup kitchen meals, 1,200 food boxes, not to mention job referrals, services for seniors, holiday boxes, and field trips for children. In 1990, President Bush recognized it as a Point-of-Light organization and the Rev. Suarez received the 1993 Lee County Citizen of the Year Award.
–Valerie Cope

Tale Tellers
Who can turn down a good story, told with a Southern accent and a good heart? For almost six years, Maggie and Steve Mullins have drawn islanders and visitors to The Sanibel Library during the winter and spring to hear First Friday Stories for Grownups, where all are invited to “Come, listen, and tell if you wish.” The storytelling sessions will resume this winter.
Raconteurs come from around the state or region—often other members of the Tamiami Tale Tellers. But Steve and Maggie Mullins’s passion for stories has opened doors to many hearts and hidden tales.
    “I know about stories and how powerful they are,” says Maggie, a mental health counselor, “and I know from storytelling class how standing up in front of people to tell is like magic.”
But once psychologist/author Sid Simon—a seasonal resident and fellow storyteller—called the Mullinses a Sanibel “treasure,” she says, “I don’t think I realized the impact of what we were doing until then.
    “We came to realize that this was our version of storytelling. Somebody else will have a different one, in a different form, and that’s the way storytelling works.”
    “Lots of grownups have not heard stories since they were children and they really are enthralled by the idea,” says Steve. But the true moment is in the sharing, Maggie adds. “People love us because they love the intimacy of these sessions. We had people come who wouldn’t miss it, because good storytelling is entrancing. You may not realize it, but you are seeing in a different state of consciousness. That’s what’s so powerful about it.”
    Storytelling did not come to them until 12 years ago when their last child headed to college and they took off for the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where Steve taught at a medical school. “There’s really not a lot to do there. No picture show, no television, no radio,” he says, “so we devised a system of our own entertainment.” Each week, they gathered with some friends and took turns leading the evening’s entertainment. For the Mullinses, storytelling began there.
    When Steve and Maggie came to Sanibel, islanders Bert and Noel MacCarry were teaching storytelling. The Mullinses took up this ancient oral tradition in classes and monthly story swaps.
    “The learning, like any art, is in the doing,” Maggie says. “The beauty of storytelling is one person tells of the images they see, but listeners form their own. It’s a transfer of energy. It’s an art form, but it’s also a form of communication that’s sacred.”
–Dawn deBoer

Seeing the World
In a lifetime of adventure, 67-year-old Monica Brown has made it around the world, but returns every spring to the shores of Sanibel, where she was first drawn some 40 years ago by the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. “I came for the sanctuary specifically and haven’t seen anything that equals it since. I love it.”
    Columbus, Ohio, is her home; Ohio State University and Wexler Center for the Arts her playgrounds. To this lifelong student of art and nature, the two are one and the same; she’s been behind a camera since she was a child in New Zealand. “I remember, as a child, a box Brownie camera that belonged to my aunt. I developed my trays of film on my mother’s white, wooden bench. I’m surprised I’m still alive with all the chemicals I spilled.”
As a young woman she traveled with camels in India and donkeys in wartime Yugoslavia—although the donkey carried only luggage; she walked. “I traveled on a shoestring. The shoestring was $250 to fly from New Zealand to the United States by way of India, Singapore, and Hong Kong.” She ventured out six months at a time and if money ran out, she worked along the way.
She married and studied, earned a master’s degree in health and hospital administration, and worked as a continuing education director with Ohio University’s College of Medicine, which took her around the country. “I was never faculty, didn’t have a Ph.D., and I was female,” she says, “but that’s how I got to see the United States.”
    Later, President Nixon appointed her to a government operation. “It was the time of Vietnam. All the men that served in medical posts, I interviewed to direct them back into civilian life.”
    She has chronicled her way around the world through photographs and poetry. “I’m not famous. I shan’t set the world on fire. I have people who remember me and who I remember well around the world,” says Brown.
    “I remember when my husband, Harold, and I graduated from the university and moved to the big city on a farm truck. We settled for cushions on the floor so we could go off to the Bahamas. People thought we were mad, but we thought if we couldn’t afford good furniture, memories would carry us through.
    “I still believe that in my old age.”
–Dawn deBoer

Peace Officer
While most of us watched the news footage, Ray Christensen was there. This Sanibel policeman was on tour of duty in war-torn Kosovo for 15 months. As a United Nations police officer, he transported Serbs to safety, investigated accidents, screened candidates for the newly formed Kosovo Police Service, and did his best to instill order and peace in the midst of an unreasonable situation. What did he enjoy most about his trying experience? “Meeting other officers, seeing change, and being accepted by Albanians—and even Serbs,” Christensen explains. And, despite fractured ribs and close calls with land mines, this trooper would do it again.
–Valerie Cope

When Critters Come to Call…
Southwest Floridians are used to inviting plenty of houseguests, of course. But what to do about uninvited “guests” on your property, such as rats, birds, snakes, raccoons, or possums, especially when they are no longer alive?
    Just give a call to Critter Control in North Ft. Myers. “We’ll remove anything except insects and alligators,” explains Eugene Kepes, who has owned the franchise for almost three years. “You’d be surprised how many animals are out there. We’re busy full time, especially in season.”
Kepes, who grew up trapping and hunting in the woods of northern Ohio, is perfect for the job.
And what’s his most interesting request? “Well, rattlesnakes always bring an adrenaline rush,” he says. “We relocate them if they’re healthy. I’ve also had to take a few animals to CROW on Sanibel and I do a lot of referrals to them.”
    Critter Control’s telephone number is 941/731-6255.
–Libby Grimm

Picture Perfect
Sanibel nature photographer Francine Litofsky, noted for her compelling black-and-white images, will show her works at the Center for Education at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Litofsky’s photographs, featured in the September/October 2001 issue of Times of the Islands, capture the rich textures and lighting found in the region’s environment and wildlife.
    “My goal is to raise awareness and advance the cause of conserving and preserving the environment by having my photos serve as a method of getting people involved in our ecology,” notes Litofsky. “I’d like my images to get people interested in taking care of all of the beautiful natural resources along the Lee Island Coast.”
    Until recently, Litofsky divided her time between New Jersey and Sanibel, but she is now a permanent islander, having just sold her home up north. She is active in many island organizations, serving as a volunteer and staff photographer at the wildlife refuge, working in the gift shop at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, and helping out at BIG Arts and The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.
    Environmental Portraits of Southwest Florida: A Study in Black and White Photography begins Jan. 1 and will run through March 31.
–Kelly Madden

Making Waves is Times of the Islands’ honor roll for Southwest Floridians who, in their everyday lives, make the community and the Lee Island Coast special. If you know of someone who deserves recognition, call us at 941/472-0205 or 941/472-0629.