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Man who helped build greener city passes away at 101

By Staff | Jul 1, 2009

Joe Stonis, a local redwood among tree advocates who pushed for open spaces in Cape Coral for nearly 30 years, passed away Monday night at the age of 101.
His work on median landscaping and beautification efforts across the city helped transform the Cape’s landscape from that of a flat, preplotted city to one that blends into Southwest Florida’s ecology.
“He really brought definition to the word ‘green.’ He was so passionate about parks for the people,” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said.
Stonis moved to Cape Coral in 1981 and founded the Cape Coral Beautification Association, a group that planted trees and urged the city council to create more parks.
The buoyant attitude and character of the centenarian helped him build a greener Cape.
“I think he had a bubbly personality. I was amazed at his stamina at his age, and I guess it was because he had the right mental attitude,” said Cape historian Paul Sanborn.
Sanborn said he became good friends with Stonis when he was soliciting funds for beautification projects.
“He had a great way with words and with people and was just a great man,” he said.
The city rewarded Stonis’ efforts on behalf of the environment when a park was named after him. Joe Stonis Park, a seven-acre park located in the northwest Cape, was dedicated in January 2008.
“He loved green space and parks and trees,” said Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Pohlman. “It really wasn’t about the park system, it was about beautifying the city.”
According to Sanborn, the park held special meaning for Stonis, who turned 100 two months after the dedication.
“I remember him saying he wanted to have his 100th birthday at his park and he did,” he said.
Bertolini praised Stonis as a pillar of the community whose legacy as an environmentalist will carry on long after his death.
“There’s certain people — they made an impact on your life when you came here — and he was one of them,” she said.
Stonis leaves behind his wife of 28 years, Doris Butts Stonis; her adult children, Barbara (John) Hill of Fort Myers Beach and Roger (Pam) Butts, and their daughters, Stephanie and Courtney, all of Cape Coral; his only daughter, Patricia Beckwith, and her children, Kathy Hayes and Henry Beckwith II, and great-grandchildren Brian Beckwith and Katy and Stephanie Hayes, all of Jacksonville.
A celebration of his life will be held at 10 a.m. July 18 at Joe Stonis Park, located at 3444 Ceitus Parkway.