May/June 2002

Pickle Champ
Matlacha resident Champ Planét’s pickles, mango chutney, pickled garlic, pickled beets with Vidalia onions, pickled pineapple, and salsa are eliciting rave reviews throughout North America. At least by folks lucky enough to get hold of some.
    Pickling has long been a part of Planét’s life. While he was growing up in Miami, his parents sent him to visit his French grandparents and his Czech grandmother in New York State during summers. “My Czech grandmother would do pickling and sell the pickles. She had been a young widow. She grew her own produce or went to farms and always stressed to me about the freshness of vegetables and fruit,” Planét explains.
    “I started making pickles for sale 18 years ago when my daughter was three months old,” says Planét, who was in the Army for 23 years and retired as a chief warrant officer. “I’d visit picklers wherever I was stationed. A lot of people took time to teach me. I learned to make pickled pineapple in Hawaii.”
    He started his gourmet pickling business four years ago, when he moved to Matlacha from the East Coast of Florida. “I have two historic homes with an old garage that I turned into a pickling kitchen. It’s certified by the Department of Agriculture.”
He started making mango chutney, which contains eight kinds of Pine Island mangos, just last summer, but it already is in high demand. “I bought mango chutney from different companies from all over the world and none tasted to me what my idea of mango chutney should be,” he explains.
    His customers include gourmet stores in New Mexico; Colorado; Wyoming; in Seattle; and British Columbia, where his daughter lives. “They buy them because they know there are no chemical preservatives or dyes.” Except for his garlic, which comes from Gilroy, California, all Planét’s produce is from local farms.
– Libby Grimm

Happy Campers
When two people like Armand and Beverly Ball are united in marriage, each partner must be prepared to adapt his or her lifestyle. For Bev, whose husband was chief executive of the American Camping Association, that meant consigning three months of her life each year for many years to living in a remote cabin while her husband trained youth camp leaders.
    “At the end of three months I was ready to go home,” says Bev, who ran the association’s publications department. Now that the Balls have coauthored a college textbook on camp management and are semiretired, the tables have turned. Bev is coordinator of the Sanibel-Captiva Conser-vation Foundation’s sea turtle program, with more than 100 volunteers. “Towards the end of the turtle season, you want the turtles to go home, too,” jokes Armand.
    From Russia to Malaysia to Bermuda to Minnesota, they have journeyed all over the world for their work. But after deciding that they could provide camp management consultations from anywhere, they moved to Sanibel in the 1980s.
    Over the years, Bev has donated much of her time to island organizations like C.R.O.W. (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) and the Foundation, which has yielded wonderful and sometimes amusing perspectives. “One lady wanted to know where we stabled the alligators at night,” giggles Bev, who also volunteers as a rover at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
    Armand traded lobbying in Washington for serving on SCCF’s board of trustees, the Committee of the Islands, and others.
    For the past few years, the Balls have traveled with Earth Watch—studying lemurs in Madagascar, working in Belize on a study with the Oceanic Society, and monitoring manatees in Costa Rica.
    “We’ve been to beaches all over,” adds Bev, “but there is nothing quite like Sanibel.”
– Valerie Cope

For Magical Kids
Since moving to Ft. Myers in August, Milo Gralnick, 36, is spending his time and energy as director of the newly created Magical Kids Studio. It’s a nonprofit, after-school arts program for low-income children in kindergarten through second grade. Tuition and transportation are free.
    Magical Kids Studio, at 10851 Bromley Lane in Ft. Myers, is on ranch property owned by Gralnick’s father and stepmother, Marvin and Helene Gralnick, who founded Chico’s women’s clothing stores. The studio occupies several buildings and is licensed by Florida’s Depart-ment of Children and Families.
    Milo Gralnick is excited about offering ceramics and painting programs at Magical Kids Studio. He hopes in the future to add film, video, theater arts, and music, and maybe expand to include elementary-aged children. (For more information, contact Milo Gralnick at 239/418-1079.)
    The entire project is right up his alley: Gralnick holds a master’s degree in education from Washington University in St. Louis and is certified to teach art. For several years, he worked with second-graders in the inner city of St. Louis and also taught kindergartners in a suburban private school.
– Libby Grimm

Going Green at FGCU
As an undergraduate majoring in anthropology and zoology, John Fitch assumed his career would focus on theoretical research. Life had other plans, however, and now Fitch, an associate professor of environmental studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, finds himself leading the charge to shape the school into a model of environmental stewardship and sustainability.
    A founding faculty member of FGCU, Fitch came to the university following stints as president and chief executive officer of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, as chief scientist for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and as a faculty fellow in the Executive Office of the President when then-President Jimmy Carter was crafting the Global 2000 Report. The experiences helped him realize how much humans impact their environments and how they can, in fact, learn to tread lightly.
    “I really like Churchill’s line, that we shape our dwellings and our dwellings shape our lives,” Fitch says. “That’s the crux of the whole matter. We can take actions to ensure both the quality of our lives and the continuation of basic environmental resources for future generations. We’re not doing nearly as much as we can and should be doing.”
    Fitch is doing what he can to guide FGCU into doing more. He was instrumental in establishing an environmental literacy course, which all students must complete before graduation. Last year he headed an environmental task force, resulting in the creation of an environmental stewardship advisory board (made up of students, faculty and staff). He also serves as the university’s director of the Institute for Sustainability and as project director for the Green Building Project.
    The latter is an ambitious project to construct an educational center incorporating various environmentally friendly and economically feasible features—things like water conservation, hurricane protection, solar water heating, and recycling.
    “We want to be very user friendly,” Fitch says, “a place where prospective home buyers can go with their builders or architects. We want to be a catalyst for home building in Southwest Florida, a demonstration of what can be done and where you can find it.”
    Groundbreaking for the project was set for Earth Day this year, and Fitch hopes the building will be complete by Earth Day 2003. He is currently looking for monetary and supply donations, as well as interested volunteers. Together, he explains, we can make a sustainable future a reality for us all.
    (To learn more about the Green Building Project or get involved, call project assistant Susan Fohs at 239/590-7197.)
Janina Birtolo

Racing Champion
These days, Thomas Stevens and his wife Linda own and operate Stevens Family Chiropractic on Sanibel, where they also live. But motorcycle racing fans still recognize him as one of the world’s premier racers.
    “My father rode street bikes and I started riding with him as a little kid,” Stevens says. He got his first bike when he was 7, “much to the dismay of my mom,” he recalls, and he was racing by the time he was 11.
    In 1980, just after his father passed away, Stevens won the Maryland State Championship, but by 1981 he had stopped racing altogether.
    After he graduated from high school, he moved with his mother to Cape Coral. He was working and goofing off and, in spite of all those years of disciplined racing on Sundays, he let his dreams slide.
    During a shift as pizza cook, he had an epiphany: “If I don’t race again and chase my racing dreams, I’ll regret it.” By 1984 he was racing again.
    A year later, he moved to Sanibel and shared a house with islander and fellow racer Mark McQuade. “I became an amateur and traveled with Mark, ’cause he had a van. Almost every weekend, we went to a different club race,” he says.
    “I needed to work at a place where they let me go racing,” so Stevens took a job at Ft. Myers Cycle. “I’d get a good deal on bikes and parts.”
    A first, his good deals were offset by bad luck. A shop in Naples let Stevens sign for a motorcycle instead of paying for it. Soon after, he totaled it. His mom, who had developed a change of heart about racing, put the next bike on her credit card. Stevens was now up to his neck in debt for two bikes, but never wavered in his belief he could be a professional, despite those who tried to burst his bubble.
    A slew of titles followed. Stevens won two classes in the Amateur National Championship of 1986, then came in second in the nation in the 600 SuperSport series 1987. By 1988, three-time World Champion Kenny Roberts asked him to join his racing team as a pro. Stevens finished second in the nation that year.
    Yamaha came back into the premier class with a 750 Superbike and Stevens tested it at Daytona. After coming within a half-second of breaking the track record the first time he rode the bike, Stevens landed a Yamaha contract.
    In 1990 the American Motorcyclist Association voted Stevens the Superbike Rookie of the Year. He capped his award with a 1991 National Championship title for Yamaha, still the only AMA Superbike Championship win the company has had in 25 years.
    Stevens was under contract to Kawasaki long enough to hand them a second-place finish at the national level, then Suzuki came calling and “they had a ton of money,” admits Stevens. He spent the next three years riding for Suzuki and “making more money than I could ever even imagine riding a motorcycle.”
    When Ducati approached him in 1997, Stevens signed, but he soon realized it was time to retire. “I had had a 10-year career,” he explains. “I never spent a night in the hospital, although I had lost three teammates. I was 34 years old and I knew it was time for me to go.”
Thomas Stevens went out on top and now helps Linda, a chiropractor, run their Sanibel-based business, Stevens Family Chiropractic. You can still see his photo on posters in motorcycle shops across the country.
    As for the naysayers of the past, “They said ‘You’re not going to do it. Only a handful of guys make it and you’re not going to make it,’ ” recalls Stevens. “They didn’t know what was in my heart. I got to serve up some humble pie.”
– Libby Boren McMillan

Attending to Preschool
When Susan Peck enrolled her two young children in the Children’s Center of the Islands in 1997, little did she know that two years later she’d become director of the Sanibel-based, nonprofit preschool.
    “It’s been an ideal match,” Peck says happily.
Her husband, Michael Gomez, took early retirement in 1997 and the family moved from New Jersey to live year-round in their Sanibel house. “At first I was staying home with my children, but after they started at the Children’s Center, I began teaching music there on a volunteer basis for about a year.”
    Peck holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and taught music for a few years in New Jersey before “making a complete career switch by going into business.” She spent a decade in various capacities, including working as a consultant in Manhattan for William M. Mercer, an international, human relations consulting firm.
    Peck did not initially apply for the Children’s Center director position, “but some parents encouraged me. I went through the whole process and was hired.”
    Now she reports, “I’m thrilled how things are going. With 60 children ages 2 to 5, enrollment has almost doubled since 1999. I’ve worked to make the school more accessible. We’ve expanded our scholarship program and our hours. We have a full-time Spanish teacher and I still teach music two days a week. I purposely kept my hand in that!”
– Libby Grimm

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer
Who were those exuberant women wearing decorated bras in November’s New York Marathon? Islanders Mary Irving and Barb Silvers joined their friend Nina Barough, all walking in uniquely sensational bras, in the name of breast cancer research.
Barough, a longtime visitor to the islands, is founder of the very successful fund-raising group, Walk The Walk. It began on a whim, with 13 highly visible bra-clad women walking the New York Marathon. They got a lot of attention and raised a lot of money. Barough was adamant the funds be given to breast cancer research, although she knew nothing about it. She was leading a full life as a photo stylist for catalog shoots. All that changed soon after, when Barough herself was diagnosed.
“Overnight, I had to give up my work, get treatment and surgery,” she says. “My friends did the London Marathon to support me. It kept me focused and positive during something very traumatic.”
    Barough recovered but left her job; her new idea now had legs of its own. She continued to organize walking women, scraping by on a meager salary and the help of friends. Playtex UK eventually gave Barough office space for two years, allowing her organization to grow. In 1999, Walk The Walk was registered as an official charity and it has since grown from 13 women to about 20,000. In September, when Prince Charles invited organization members to his Highgrove country estate, WTW used the occasion to present a million pounds to charity.
The sheer size of the group gave birth to its own event, Moonwalk, which raised a million pounds this past May and got worldwide coverage.
    “We’re sort of taking part in all these different events all the time,” says Barough. “We’ve had girls skydiving in their bras; this year we’re going to the Peru Inca Trail.”
Barough’s island pals, Irving and Silvers, often join her and have walked in both London and New York. For more information, visit the Web site at
– Libby Boren McMillan

Spice of Life
Did you know that most of the world’s mustard seed comes from the Canadian prairie provinces?
    A chat with Captiva homeowner Ron Kramer will test just how much you know about the ingredients of a common condiment. Kramer is the owner of G.S. Dunn, global supplier of dry mustard products and Canada’s only dry mustard miller. More than 45 countries on six continents purchase products from the company, which has been in business since 1867.
    Kramer got into the food ingredient industry when his accountant brought the opportunity to his attention. “I was happily retired,” bemoans a joking Kramer, who says that, prior to purchasing Dunn in 1988, his “only experience with food was eating it.” His humble nature belies his success. G.S. Dunn is now the premier supplier of mustard products—including mustard flours, ground mustard, brans, and deactivated mustard—to the world.
    “Very little mustard flour goes into mustard,” explains Kramer. “It goes into mayonnaise, salad dressing, barbecue sauce. A lot of it’s also used in the meat industry as a protein supplement in hot dogs and sausage.” Who knew?
    As chief executive officer, Kramer oversees production, manufacturing, and personnel, and he periodically makes sales calls. But anyone who knows him well knows where he’d rather be: on the water. Kramer keeps a sailing yacht on Captiva, where he and wife Helen spend winters away from their primary home in Toronto. On sunny, breezy days, one will most likely find him plying the waters of Pine Island Sound.
    Cooks and trivia buffs will appreciate a visit to, which is a font of mustard facts, history, recipes, and more.
– Libby Boren McMillan