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SCCF turns 50

By Staff | Nov 8, 2017

A large crowd of supporters gathered at the Bailey Homestead Halloween afternoon to help the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation celebrate its golden birthday.

“I can’t be more pleased today to be here celebrating our 50th birthday anniversary,” SCCF Executive Director Erick Lindblad said. “With everything that we do, including programing, we couldn’t do it without volunteers. Thank you so much for all you do.”

On Oct. 31, 1967, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation was born.

“It’s just amazing. When we think what was going on the island then, the group that worked to incorporate SCCF, they had just completed the successful effort of establishing the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. They worked for five years from 1962 to 1967 to do that,” he said.

In 1967 the initial effort of setting land aside and naming it was done to protect the refuge, Lindblad said.

“Our partnership with the refuge and the city enables so much work by SCCF, by the city and refuge. We are very fortunate to have that three-way partnership here on the island,” he said.

Lindblad said in 1963 when the Sanibel Causeway was completed it opened the doors for development over the island. At that time, he said Lee County had jurisdiction over the island with the thought of 90,000 residents with a four-lane road going down the middle.

“We have about 7,000, or so, full-time residents on Sanibel right now,” Lindblad said. “It could have been a really different place.”

In 1974 the City of Sanibel was incorporated, which enabled SCCF to work on the development of the Comprehensive Land Use plan based on natural systems and the Environmental Sensitive Land Conservation District Lands program.

“The folks that were part of the motivating factor of that through the years was our board presidents and chairman of board of trustees,” Lindblad said.

Porter Goss, Ruth Deuber, Dean Skaugstad, Ron Gibson, Paul Roth and Linda Uhler, all past presidents and Gwenda Heitt-Clements, the current president all spoke during the 50th birthday celebration.

“What history you all have. You have been mentors to the staff throughout the years. You have been our contacts to the outside world over the bridge. Our political contacts. Our funding contacts. We just couldn’t have done the work we have done without you on the board,” Lindblad said.

Goss said although his term was very short, he saw everyone pitching in and doing a fabulous job.

“I think of the talents we had. One of the most important things to know in those days was where good legal assistance could come from and we had all of that. Where good fundraising would come from, we had that. And where the interest that was generated in what the mission was, and we certainly had that in this community to where I’ve never seen it in another community,” he said.

Deuber said the beginning of her term involved a $30,000 shortfall in the budget.

“I decided to write to the membership, so I wrote them a letter and told them we were $30,000 short of the budget and they responded by $45,000, so we were off to a good start,” she said.

Skaugstad said at the time he was the president they had eight or nine employees, which made him think they needed a personnel policy, which was created. He said they also talked about having a representative living in town to keep them informed of what was going on “oversees.”

“Rae Ann (Wessel) was hired a few years later. She has done a super job ever since,” Skaugstad said.

A risk manager was also hired during his tenure.

The next past president to speak was Gibson.

“I was president during SCCF’s 49th year. We know all years ending in zero are the most exciting, but as I was elected in December ’15, you have to complete 49 years in order to make your 50th anniversary,” he said.

Gibson said throughout the last 20 years he has been honored and proud to be a trustee for 14 of those years.

“We are a go to organization in this area. We are the people that everyone around us want to go to. We are the main source of information for everyone on the island – residents, local, state and federal. We help answer questions for many issues,” he said.

Roth said two years after moving to the island in 1992, his neighbor Bob Wigley said he needed to go to SCCF and be on the board. In 1994 he joined the board and later became the treasurer. Over his tenure he was president of the SCCF board twice.

Roth shared a story, a conversation had with Francis Bailey. He said he wanted to sell the Bailey Homestead to SCCF instead of having a housing development take over the space.

“We talked to Francis. He wanted us to buy it and have that home preserved,” Roth said because Bailey did not want it bulldozed if a developer purchased the land. “We promised him that we would preserve that home. So, we signed the agreement. I said to the board where are we going to get $5 million. I said no one has ever raised money quite like that on this island.”

The money came, he said, which was the amazing part.

“This 28-acres is another wonderful addition that we manage,” Roth said.

Uhler said when she looks back at her terms as president, she thinks of the word building.

“When you talk about a building you talk about a physical structure, but when you talk about buildings you also talk about connections,” she said.

She spoke about the pavilion, where everyone gathered during the celebration, the Wilmeth Cottage, where visiting scientist stay and the new marine laboratory, currently under construction.

The Wilmeth Cottage is a charming two bedroom, two bathroom house, Uhler said for visiting scientist. She said she believes there has been two dozen people who have stayed at the cottage to work with staff.

“Three buildings, but a lot of connections that I think have left us focused on the future,” Uhler said.

The last to speak was current president, Heitt-Clements, who has volunteered for the organization for the past 20 years.

“It has been a great honor, and great privilege to serve during this celebratory year,” she said.

Following the speeches, those who spoke gathered around the 50th birthday cake for a picture before everyone enjoyed a slice.

“I would like to say we are on to our next 50 years,” Lindblad said. “At some point in time, 50 years from now, hopefully there will be a group back here thanking all of you for all the work you did. We are just so fortunate to work in a place that has so many people who are dedicated to this kind of environment because it doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes a village and you are a great village.”