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Cape’s ‘pioneers’ reunite and reminisce

By Staff | Apr 11, 2017

Many of today’s Cape Coral residents have no idea what the city was like when people starting moving to the Cape in the late 1950s.

For that, you would have to talk to some of the nearly 90 people who came to the German-American Social Club on Sunday to reminisce about what it was like to live in the city before it was.

The reunion, which was the fourth for Cape Coral’s “pioneers,” was organized by original residents Paul Sanborn and Chris Schroder for those who moved to the Cape between 1958 and 1965.

Schroder said throwing the party was the easy part. Finding some of these early residents proved difficult.

“So many people moved, and we’re asking the people who came here to help us locate where they are. It’s a great way for us to get together and remember old times,” said Schroder, whose family moved here in 1959, making them the 12th pioneer family. “The people here are the ones who started businesses or organizations because everyone who was here had to be a part of it.”

Sanborn, who came in 1962 as an employee with the developer, Gulf American Land Corporation, said he thought it would be great to get the old gang back together, since they had so much in common.

“We were a tight-knit family in the early ’60s. There were only about 2,000 people back then. Look and see what’s happening and this hasn’t even started yet. Everyone is talking and reminiscing,” Sanborn said. “We thought this would be a good thing to do.”

The event was sponsored by the Cape Coral Historical Museum, which had a display of the early days that included an 18-minute promotional film with Connie Mack and Bill Stirn, and the Cape Coral Community Foundation, through the Schroder Family Foundation.

Cape Coral Parkway was the main street, but once you got west of Coronado Parkway, you were in the woods. The Rosen brothers were still digging the yacht basin and the canals in the late 1950s, as much of the land was underwater – the sand dredged to build the canals created the land for the houses to be built upon.

“We used to play king of the mountain on the sandpiles as they dug the canals. It was great for three boys growing up,” Schroder said. “I wish my parents were still here to see it now.”

Mary Lou Ketcherich Griffin also moved here in 1959 and had a hand in bringing people from all over the world to Cape Coral by running their flight program at Page Field in the early 1960s.

“They came from the Midwest and all over. They would be here three days and two nights and we’d assign the salesman. A lot of sales were made by those flights,” said Griffin, who would later go on to work for the Cape Coral Breeze with her husband. “We would have sales meetings in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Michael Chatman, executive director at the Cape Coral Community Foundation, a relative newcomer, expressed gratitude to those who made the city possible.

“There’s an imprint of the originals all over the city. People sometime lose sight of who built it and we don’t want people to lose sight of how you built it,” Chatman said.

Gloria Raso Tate, who came along with her sister, Cathy Sangiovanni, said it was great to get together with old friends and see how the city has grown.

“Just remembering the wonderful times we had in the early days. There were only 180 people when we got here, and I grew up with the Schroder boys who lived across the canal from us,” said Tate, a former Cape Coral City Council member and Realtor. “I was asked if Cape Coral has grown in a good way, and I say it has. It did everything my dad said it would.”

The first celebrity to move to Cape Coral was ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, who moved here in 1965 to give allow him to get off the road from doing TV and live gigs in Las Vegas.

“When you’re in show business, you’re on the road all the time. We were still raising a family and never regretted moving to Cape Coral,” Nelson said. “We were the only house on the block and we’re still in the same house. We had three kids and they had plenty of places to play.”

Back in those days, everybody knew what everyone was doing. That meant if you were a kid and up to mischief, your parents would hear about it – or worse you would get it from the neighbors.

“We had way too many mothers. It was such a small community we couldn’t get away with anything,” said Elmer Tabor. “His mother would beat me or someone else’s mother would beat me.”

“It was a great place to be raised because everyone knew everybody,” Chris Schroder said.