southwest side of the park in front of the chapel
were gone, with much of the sand washed into and
around the building.
Chad Lach, Park Manager III for Gasparilla Island
State Park administration, didn’t even know where
to begin at first when it came to the clean-up. The
firefighters helped as best they could, pushing the
water out of the building until it became manageable.
The building, however, was still buried.
Then came a man named Steve. Chad didn’t
know what his last name was, but whoever Steve
was, he saw a plea on Facebook for the use of a
Bobcat excavator. Mystery Man Steve dropped one
off the next day, and the good job Irma did of covering
the little chapel in sand was quickly reversed.
Two of the park’s dune walkovers that had
already been damaged in other storms became
dangerous to walk under, as precariously-hanging
twisted boards were raining down in a stiff breeze.
Volunteers who live on the island and some who
just love the island came to help as well, some with
their own shovels. Boy Scout Troop 776 from Gulf
Cove and Troop 26 from Englewood came and
moved mountains of debris. Some came and
scrubbed walls and windows and swept out the
It soon became apparent how very blessed we
were to have escaped this storm’s greatest wrath,
and how our neighboring communities needed
help. One of the first groups to respond were
Howard and Emily Wise of Hudson’s Grocery. Days
before the storm, when they realized the proximity
of the coming storm to the island, they made plans
to fill a semi-trailer truck full of necessary supplies
and send it down from their primary residence in
Alabama. The Wise family is one of the most generous
on the island, but normally never tout their
good deeds if they can help it. This time, though,
Hudson’s was right in the thick of the action. Not only
did their staff in Alabama prepare to help island
residents with supplies after the storm, the on-island
staff were a beacon of hope in the darkness in the days
(and hours) prior to and directly after the storm; they
stayed open as long as they possibly could to serve the
people who were still here.
Their donation truck was filled with everything from
generators to food and water baby products and
Gatorade, and when they realized the island had been
spared their focus shifted. After making contact with a
good friend in Immokalee they were able to take a
group down to that storm-torn area just a few days
after Hurricane Irma hit. The team that included Capt.
Charlie Coleman and his wife Nicole, as well as Smitty
Smith and Amber Gassman. The driver of their 18-
wheeler was Jeff, an employee from the Birmingham
steel plant the Wise family owns.
Howard and Emily were also part of a donation drive
to get items to the Florida Keys, where many homes
and businesses simply disappeared into the sea. Bobby
Miller from Grande Aire and Jason Miller (not related)
were taking those items down by boat.