Fort Myers Beach community mourns sudden loss of longtime library director
Hearts are heavy in Fort Myers Beach this week as local residents remember a life cut short too soon.
Dr. Leroy Hommerding, 69, was found fatally stabbed on Sunday morning in front of the library where he had served as director since 2000.
According to witnesses, he was opening the library for a weekend book sale when suspect Adam M. Soules, whom some described as homeless, allegedly stabbed him.
Witnesses chased Soules to the nearby Topps building, where police apprehended him.
Soules, who does not have a history of violent crime, remained in custody at press time and was being held without bond.
His only other arrest on record in Lee County was a loitering charge in 2014.
“For him to be attacked like this is just unthinkable, it really is. It breaks my heart,” said Betty Simpson, Friends of the Library board member.
She was planning to work the sale’s afternoon shift that day, and she described how Hommerding set an example of dedication for everyone who worked at the library.
“You did these things, even on a Sunday, when you’ve got family and you’ve got other things to be doing. But you did it, because of love for the library, and because of the devotion that he had. And he just transferred that thought to all of us,” she said.
“This library, this was his dream.”
Resident Tom Babcock remembers how instrumental Hommerding was in creating the library that the community enjoys today.
“I had the privilege to be chair of the Local Planning Agency and a member of town council when plans for the new Fort Myers Beach Library were being approved. Dr. Leroy Hommerding’s fingerprints were all over that plan. Not only was it customer focused, it was designed to be environmentally friendly. It set the bar for future development on the island. His leadership provided a plan that could be easily approved, but as a taxpayer, it was economically feasible and structured to make all islanders proud. One person can make a difference. Leroy will be remembered for that,” he said.
“I worked with him when we built the library,” said Mark La Fave, who served on the board of the library for the last decade.
“He had a vision that went out 50 to 100 years. Even on our basic planning, we are always on a 10- or 20-year timeline, but the long-term vision was out well up to 50 years and beyond. Very few administrators have this acumen and foresight.
“I’ve lost a friend and a colleague, and certainly this town has lost a citizen that dedicated not only his professional life, but the last time I saw him, he was volunteering at the Kiwanis club on his day off, after working 60 hours a week,” he said.
Resident Fran Myers said they were fortunate to have Hommerding as director.
“What an extraordinarily intelligent and smart guy. He was a real true southern gentleman and truly loved our library. He always wanted to tour me around (and show me) anything new he had ordered; he was like a little child with a new toy,” she said.
Beach Elementary School teachers remember Hommerding for his dedication to educating their students.
“Every year he would give the new kindergarten class a tour of the library. He took such care and detail to welcome them and get them excited about books. He was always so excited to see us,” said Heather Lodovico, the school’s PE teacher.
Kindergarten teacher Tina Cribbs said she learned something new about the library herself every time he took her students on a tour.
“He explained everything, he was so knowledgeable about that library, how it was built, and the decisions that were made in choosing the materials,” she said.
After a tour, her students could even explain why they chose the particular plants at the library and the function of the pavers in the parking lot.
“He took us all throughout that library because it just meant the world to him. And he shared it with our kids,” she said.
Cribbs had a personal link with Hommerding, too.
They both shared a love for hand-decorated Ukranian Easter eggs, called pysanky.
“He made them himself. And every year he had his collection on display at the library,” she said.
For several years, she took her classes to the library to learn about Hommerding’s eggs.
“The man hours to create these eggs are phenomenal. They’re very detailed and they’re very intricate, and he would invite us every year, not only to see his display, but he would sit down with us and he would demonstrate how he did it,” she said.
Two years ago during one of these presentations, disaster struck.
An egg accidentally rolled off the table and shattered.
“And my children didn’t breathe. They didn’t move… It had just rolled off the table. And I know he was devastated. I know that man wanted to cry. But he didn’t. He just looked at us and he said, you know, it’s OK. And he just kept right on going,” Cribbs said.
“I’m going to miss taking my kids to hear him tell how he made those eggs, and how much love he put into those eggs, and what the eggs symbolize,” she said.
In 2009, the Observer wrote a story about Hommerding and his eggs.
In it, he explained their significance.
“Ukrainian tradition says that you are putting something of yourself into the egg to give a gift to someone. You are not calling attention to yourself. So, whoever makes the egg is not important. It’s the story. Every color on the egg stands for something and every symbol on the egg becomes part of the story,” he said.
Hommerding painted brown and white eggs after his father passed away.
“The purpose of the brown and white is to indicate that life continues to go on,” he said. “It doesn’t end.”
Cribbs hopes they continue to display Hommerding’s eggs at the library in remembrance of him.
Mayor Tracey Gore described Hommerding as one of the kindest humans she’s ever known.
“He took the time to reach out to me when he thought I was down to remind me of what really matters, the things that bring us happiness. I’d love to have the library renamed in his honor,” she said.
“So many people have asked what they can do. Here’s what Dr. Hommerding would want:
“Continue to visit our beautiful library and enjoy the special presentations, displays, and all we have to offer, and support the volunteers and staff in anyway you can,” said library board member Jan Fleming.