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Sanibel celebrates 35 years of incorporation

By Staff | Nov 4, 2009

A standing-room-only crowd filled MacKenzie Hall on Tuesday morning as the City of Sanibel paused to celebrate its 35th anniversary of incorporation with a proclamation recognizing longtime residents, remembrances of the island before its independence and cake and refreshments for all in attendance.

After opening the City Council’s regular meeting, Mayor Mick Denham took time to applaud the efforts of the citizens who, on Nov. 5, 1974, voted overwhelmingly in favor of home rule from Lee County. He also recognized former mayors and council members in attendance, thanking the city’s “Founding Heros” for establishing excellent priorities as the city started its journey as an independent entity.

“Porter Goss called and thought he would be able to make the 35th anniversary celebration, but has been called to Washington and will not be able to return to Sanibel until the week after,” Denham told the crowd. “He sends his regards and said that he is still proud of Sanibel.”

In another message, former Mayor Carla Brooks Johnston informed City Manager Judie Zimomra that she would be out of town as the city turned 35.

“I’ll be toasting Sanibel’s accomplishments from Athens, where all this democracy stuff originated,” her e-mail to Zimomra read in part. “The ancient Greeks would be proud of Sanibel’s forebearers. Our islanders knew how to make the system work!”

Denham then passed the microphone around the room, asking several longtime citizens to share their memories of Sanibel before incorporation. Jonathan Tongyai, a member of the city’s first Little League team, recalled attending a few early City Council meetings when Goss served as Mayor.

“I remember them talking about keeping dogs off the beach,” he said, noting that he was in favor of allowing pets to frequent Sanibel’s shorelines. “At one point, I stood up and said ‘Dogs are people, too!’ That got a laugh, and the ban on dogs on the beach was defeated. And that eventually became our leash law.”

Island icons Sam and Francis Bailey were also among the honored guests.

“Sometimes, I think I’d like to go back to the old days,” said Sam. “But I don’t think we knew what we had back then.”

“We’re for people, we’re for bugs and bunnies and trees… and we want to keep it that way,” Francis added.

The meeting was then paused for about 20 minutes, allowing the audience to disperse to the City Hall courtyard area for some birthday cake and refreshments, provided by Denham. In the spirit of the Sanibel Recreation Center’s “Fit 4 Life” campaign, Zimomra supplied red delicious apples for the health-conscious attendees.

“I want to thank everyone for organizing such a wonderful celebration,” resident Louise Johnson told the council later. “It was great to see so many people meeting each other that they haven’t seen in years.”