Ralph Woodring speaks to historical village volunteers
Every month, the Sanibel Historical Village holds an event for its volunteers. The aim is to help broaden their knowledge of the history of Sanibel and to meet and mingle with fellow volunteers.
Recently, island icon Ralph Woodring, whose grandfather was one of Sanibel’s original homesteaders, talked to the group about his life and times. Accompanied by wife Jean, Woodring said they decided some years back that they did not want their property to be developed.
“We thought the best thing to do was to come up with some way to take care of it and keep it in perpetuity,” Woodring said.
The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge had the money and the pull to make it all happen. Through the Conservation 20/20 program, it purchased the property, and the Woodrings have a life estate.
“We’re pretty happy and satisfied with the way it’s going. We have set up a fund to take care of the house after we’re gone,” Woodring said.
Woodring said he still fishes, but not nearly as much as he would like and it is not like the old days.
“You might spend the whole day out and catch nothing,” he said.
In his younger years, people could catch about all they wanted, and certainly all they needed for a good dinner.
Woodring sold The Bait Box but kept the wholesale business, moving it to Kelly Road. After experiencing some staffing and other issues, he now finds himself working five days a week again.
“Some people think I’m pretty damn hard to get along with,” he said.
Coastal Keepers, a branch of the Sanibel Sea School, has taken over a local water quality organization that was started by Woodring and was formerly known as START, or Solutions To Avoid Red Tide.
“Water quality is a people problem,” he said. “But I’m going to be here to see that it gets better.”
Woodring talked about the old days in the island’s school, how the younger children were separated into a different room – a later extension that was removed when the school was moved into the historical village. What he remembers vividly about the old days is that neighbors helped each other.
“No matter how far away the neighbors were, somehow or another you would get word to them, and they would help you,” Woodring said.
There was no road to Woodring Point until 1941, after trying for about five years to get the county to build it. The family would go once a month to Fort Myers and clean out the grocery store.
“In between times, we would go to Bailey’s,” he said.
Woodring was a track and football star and was elected president of his senior class. After that, he joined the Air Force, where he was elected flight commander and graduated with honors. Woodring held a number of jobs after, like repairing cement jetties for the Captiva Erosion Prevention District and working for four years at the South Seas Island Resort, where he worked his way up to manager.
Woodring told stories of his mother, Esperanza, her fishing prowess and strong personality. He also warned the volunteers – with a wry smile on his face – to be on the lookout for the ghost of Lee Greer, who died in Burnap Cottage, which is now in the village.
“We had a pretty darn good life on Woodring Point before the road,” he said.
Called Volunteer Updates, the historical village routinely hosts speaker programs for its volunteers. They are held on the first Monday of each month. The following programs are planned:
– March 4: Mariel Goss on the formation of the shared-use paths and more
The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road.