March/April 2002

NYCB Dancers Take Ft. Myers Stage
Put March 1 on your calendars for a “Don’t Miss” event. Jock Soto, longtime principal dancer with New York City Ballet, and fellow principal Wendy Whelan are headlining a performance of eight NYCB principals in BRAVO!Ballet to benefit Gulfshore Ballet, a not-for-profit ballet academy. It will be at the Santini Center for the Performing Arts at Bishop Verot High School in Ft. Myers, followed by a “Dance with the Dancers” party.
    In March 2001, Soto conducted a master class at Schein Hall on Sanibel, followed by a pas de deux with Sanibel resident Melinda Roy, the former NYCB principal who founded Gulfshore Ballet.
    Soto gave his time last year and this year he returns with Whelan and six fellow NYCB members, each a star in his or her own right. “I just try to help Lindy’s school out as much as I can,” says Soto.
    BRAVO!Ballet is a coup for not only the school, but for Southwest Florida.
    After studying at the School of American Ballet, Soto was accepted into NYCB. At age 16, he rose quickly from the corps de ballet in 1985 to principal dancer, where he continued for years. His extensive repertoire includes leading roles in numerous George Balanchine and Peter Martins ballets. Soto debuted on Broadway in the Encore Series of Ziegfeld Follies and has participated in four Live from Lincoln Center broadcasts on PBS. He has even appeared on Sesame Street, TV Food Network and A&E’s Breakfast with the Arts.
    BRAVO!Ballet’s wide-ranging program will include pieces from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Balanchine’s Who Cares? and Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. Wheeldon, artist-in-residence at NYCB, presented Polyphonia at Lincoln Center last year to rave reviews, with Soto and Whelan starring.
    Tickets to the March 1 extravaganza of talent are $60; tickets to both the performance and “Dance with the Dancers” dinner party to follow are $125. Asked if attendees might get a chance to twirl with Soto, he laughs and says, “You never know what might happen at that point.”
    For more information or for tickets, call 941/590-6191.
– Libby Boren McMillan

History and Her Stories
What makes history interesting? People like Jean Downes, a writer and historian, and her husband, Dick, a Sanibel planning commissioner, whose activities in the community keep them very much attuned to the island’s rich past.
    “If we don’t know where we’ve been, we don’t know where we’re going,” explains Jean.
    Soon after she and her husband moved from Sparta, New Jersey, and became full-time Sanibel residents in 1989, Jean volunteered as a docent at the Island Historical Museum. Through her contact with other docents and with the help of the museum’s surprisingly thorough archives, she culled a lively collection of historical narratives.
    From pioneer families to historic buildings to—her favorite topic—the island’s burial grounds, Jean’s engaging narratives of the past are printed alongside historic photos in local newspapers.
Dick Downes agrees that studying Sanibel’s history is imperative, but he uses knowledge of the past to shape future development. A land-use attorney who practiced in Sussex County, New Jersey, Dick was hired in 1984 to author Sanibel’s Land Development Code, a document he proudly admits is 95 percent the same as when he wrote it. Since 1993 he has served on the Sanibel Planning Commission and in August, Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes appointed him to the county’s Land Development Code Committee.
    Serving on the Planning Commission has its downsides but, he says, “The subject matter itself I find fascinating. I’m convinced that, in municipal government, the most important thing is its zoning ordinance, because it’s what guides the whole community and what makes it run.”
– Valerie Cope

Discovered Talent
Since she arrived from Moscow a few years ago, Irina Danilyants has made a name for herself at ’Tween Waters Inn on Captiva as a hardworking housekeeper. But staff members there didn’t know about her talent as a pianist until this past year, when they heard the 64-year-old playing expertly at an in-house party.
    She was offered a regular gig, and now Danilyants can be found taking requests Monday evenings on the Kimball baby grand in the Old Captiva House restaurant.
    A retired heating and air-conditioning engineer, Danilyants started playing the piano with her mother at age 3 or 4 and formally studied music in school from age 7 to 17. She has played for personal enjoyment ever since.
    She is partial to classical composers and classic jazz pieces, which suits the restaurant’s clientele, says Patrick Pratt, evening manager of the restaurant and lounge. “We have such an international staff and guests. A lot of yachters come here and they really know their stuff—they love it.”
– Libby Grimm

“Sanibel Cares” About Kids
When Amanda Cross first came in touch with the Children’s Hospital four years ago, she became one of the first islanders to really understand just how valuable that health facility is. And when her daughter developed a heart problem, Cross realized how important it is for parents to have convenient access to a children’s health care facility. For her, it is just across the causeway, along Summerlin Road, a part of Lee Memorial Health System’s HealthPark Medical Center.
    Cross moved to Sanibel about 13 years ago with her husband, W. J. Torpey, and their daughter, Lindsay, from Boston so that “Torpey” could pursue a career in guiding saltwater fly-fishermen. “Primarily, though, we moved here so that Lindsay wouldn’t grow up in a city,” says Cross. “I grew up in New York City, so I know what it’s like.”
Cross became a good friend in the community with a lot of the other mothers of island youngsters. “About 15 to 20 of us would get together for lunch at each other’s houses; we’d each bring a dish,” she says.
    About two years ago, a situation close to home struck her and the other mothers with the importance of being so close to the only children’s hospital between Tampa and Miami; an island child with cancer survived a life-threatening condition because he was able to receive treatment so close by.
    “At that time, people really didn’t know about the hospital,” says Cross. “We talked about donating a rocking chair or something, and then came up with the idea of really doing something more.” The result was last year’s first annual Sanibel Cares art auction, which raised $150,000 to go toward an emergency room just for kids at the Children’s Hospital.
    This year, the second annual Sanibel Cares art auction will be April 13 at the Sanibel Community House. Money raised will go toward the hospital for overall use. “Number one: We need to support the hospital,” says Cross. “Number two: We need to educate people about the hospital.”
    Cross cochairs the event with Toni Shannon and Julie Smith. A committee of about 20 islanders helps organize the annual fund-raiser, which transforms the community house into an international art gallery by virtue of the works included. Again this year, world-renowned artist Darryl Pottorf, a Captiva resident, will donate the featured work of art.
    To find out more about Sanibel Cares, call Patti Chipala at the Children’s Hospital, 941/437-1748.
– Barbara Linstrom-Arnold

At 92, Her Dance Card is Full
Ninety-two-year-old Theta Claflin has more entries in her day planner than do many people half her age. A resident of Shell Point retirement community in Ft. Myers, she helps Shell Point’s Low Vision Group and its genealogy laboratory, gives oral readings, and volunteers as an exhibit docent at The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel. Those activities, however, pale in comparison to Claflin’s “obsession” with ballroom dancing. She takes private lessons three times a week at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Ft. Myers and enters about three competitions each year.
    Claflin has always been an active person. As a child in Massachusetts, she wanted to study ballet but her father did not approve and squelched that idea. Claflin played field hockey and basketball in high school, and tennis at Middlebury College in Vermont. She married a schoolteacher, Lester Claflin, and they learned to ski after moving to New Hampshire. She also convinced Lester to go square dancing, “which was not a favorite sport of his, but he did it.”
    Although Claflin’s life got busier when she became an elementary schoolteacher, sports always had an important place. She gave up skiing to concentrate on figure skating, which continued to be a favorite activity until she was in her mid-50s. Over the next three decades, she and her husband continued to bike, hike, and swim—sports the couple could pursue year-round once they moved to Shell Point in 1987.
    Things changed dramatically when Lester died in 1993. “Three months after Lester’s death, I hit clinical depression and was hospitalized for two weeks,” Claflin explains. Meeting a Shell Point resident’s daughter who was taking ballroom dancing lessons was a turning point in her recovery in 1994.
    She invited Claflin to the studio as a guest “and I just fell for it right off,” Claflin says, her face lighting up. “Being widowed, I was interested in doing anything. But I particularly liked it because I’d always loved social dancing and I didn’t have anyone to take me dancing anymore.
    She went to her first competition in February of 1995. “I’m simply obsessed by dancing! It’s my therapy,” she says. “I may slow down a bit on the competitions, though.”
    So far, there’s no sign of that. In December, Claflin took 17 first places out of 21 competitions at the Gator Classic in Ft. Myers. “Of course I’m dancing with a certain age group,” she notes, smiling. “But I usually try and compete in a lower age group as we’re allowed to go down one group. All those firsts in the Gator Classic were in the 80-to-89 age group.”
– Libby Grimm

British Journalists Share in Success
Thinking of investing in the London Stock Exchange? The man who could give you a hot tip might be the fellow sitting right next to you.
    Journalists Michael Walters and Maggie Drummond break from their family business of financial news three or four times a year and head straight for the shores of Sanibel and Captiva from their home in Kent, southeast of London. Walters, formerly a national newspaper stock-market columnist, built a loyal following in the 20 years he wrote for England’s Daily Mail. His readers were delighted when he made the transition to Internet columnist and was an instant hit. Today it’s managed by a leading London stockbroker, written by Walters, administered by Drummond, and eagerly devoured by an ever-growing cadre of subscribers.
    “That has been a fantastic change,” says Drummond, a successful author and publisher in her own right. “It’s been completely dramatic and very transforming.” With the newfound freedom that electronic publishing provides, Walters and Drummond are now able to visit their favorite Florida islands three or four times a year, notebook computer in tow. Children Daniel and Lucy, now grown, sometimes accompany them.
    Drummond also has completed plenty of journalism projects. Her recent book, No Fuss Fat Loss, follows half a dozen other books as well as stacks of articles for the London Times, Daily Telegraph, and Sunday Times. She also self-publishes her husband’s financial books under Laddingford Books. It’s named for Laddingford Croft, their country estate complete with historic apple orchard and mouth-watering English garden.
    Yet they leave every chance they get and head straight for these islands. “The atmosphere on Sanibel and Captiva is perfect,” says Drummond, “just perfect.”
    The two discovered Sanibel in 1988 on the recommendation of a Ft. Lauderdale friend. “We drove over and arrived very early in the evening,” recalls Drummond. “We didn’t know where we were going, but found somewhere to stay for the night. We all walked out to the beach, somewhere down by the lighthouse, with the sun going down. There were lots of people out but they were all very quiet and picking up seashells.
    “I looked out to sea and four or five dolphins went by—and that was it. Not a year that we haven’t been back since then.”
– Libby Boren McMillan

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.