Profiles with Personality
This "Keys Voices" section was created to allow you to "meet" some personalities of the Florida Keys & Key West and learn, through their stories and comments, about their lives, work, passions and reasons for loving the island chain.
Here you'll find profiles of charterboat captains, artists, chefs and restaurateurs, animal rescuers, musicians and writers, historians, treasure seekers and many others.
The insights of these creative, quirky, independent people offer a window into the environment and culture that make the Florida Keys unique. Each month an individual is featured in our free, e-newsletter called 'Keys Traveler.'
Explore the profiles here, listen to their subjects' "Keys voices" and discover the beauty, history and easygoing lifestyle of the Florida Keys.
Bette Zirkelbach, among the guiding spirits behind Marathon's world-renowned Turtle Hospital, has helped rehabilitate scores of sea turtles — and even accompanied one on a recent journey to Las Vegas. Click here to "meet" the savvy woman devoted to saving turtles. (Nov 2013)
Kelly Grinter has spent 18 years at the helm of the Marathon Wild Bird Center and is now one of the Florida Keys' most prominent wildlife rehabilitators. Click here to meet the woman whose passion is "for the birds." (September 2012).
Two decades ago Robert Lingenfelser changed his life, inspired by an emotionally charged stint in the Keys volunteering for marine mammal rescue efforts. To meet the man whose marine mammal connection became a career, click here (November 2009).
The guiding spirit behind Marathon's Dolphin Research Center, Armando "Mandy" Rodriguez, calls his work with dolphins a blessing and a gift. To meet this dedicated dolphin advocate, click here (September 2009).
Laura Quinn is the quintessential "bird lady," a name she earned over the years since founding the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier. Find out how her unique facility took flight by clicking here (March 2009).
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Laura Quinn passed away at her home Sept. 18, 2010. Her legacy lives on through the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary visitor center.
Cheryl Messenger's work at Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort includes nurturing and caring for pregnant dolphin, monitoring the growth of their calves via monthly ultrasounds, celebrating as they give birth and watching the calves thrive and grow. Click here to discover her "dolphin connection" (October 2008).
From working on Volkswagens to rehabilitating and releasing injured sea turtles, Richie Moretti has led a diverse and challenging life. To meet the Keys' turtle champion, click here (June 2008).
Given her lifelong love of dolphins and familiarity with the Florida Keys, Mary Stella is a natural to serve as media relations coordinator at Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key in the middle Florida Keys. To "meet" this outgoing woman who delights in dolphins, click here (September 2007).
Authors & Wordsmiths
He peddled tacos from a three-wheeled bicycle when he first moved to Key West — and Tom Corcoran has never forgotten the irreverent, weird, magical island he discovered from that vantage point. Find out how he became Key West's master mystery writer by clicking here (May 2009).
The granddaughter of legendary writer and former Key West resident Ernest Hemingway, author Lorian Hemingway fell in love with the Florida Keys in the late 1960s. Learn more about the director of an internationally recognized short story competition based in Key West by clicking here here (September 2009).
Adventurers Beneath The Sea
Every day in the water brings a new adventure and a new photo for Stephen Frink. Click here to find out why this world-renowned underwater photographer calls the Florida Keys his home and Keys waters his "office." (January 2011).
Sally Bauer, co-founder of the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum, was recently inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame and is dedicated to telling the story of man's quest to explore the undersea world. Click here to "meet" this passionate diving historian. (April 2011)
Sean Fisher was 7 years old when his grandfather, Mel Fisher, discovered a legendary 17th-century Spanish shipwreck in Key West waters — and today, he helps guide an ongoing search for artifacts and treasures. Click here to “meet” this third-generation shipwreck seeker. (November 2010)
Entering her 31st year in the scuba diving business, Amy Slate has not lost an ounce of her undeniable enthusiasm for diving, ocean preservation or the Key Largo community she has called home since the 70s. To meet this dedicated diver and resort owner, click here (August 2009).
Why would 80 Key lime pies be stashed in the freezer at a dive center? Just ask Pam Timmerman, co-owner, with her husband Tom, of Florida Keys Dive Center in Islamorada. Solve the mystery and meet Timmerman by clicking here (August 2008).
At the age of 13, under aquamarine water in a flurry of bubbles where the only noises were his own breathing and the pounding of his heart, Ken Nedimyer fell in love. Click here to discover why the lifelong diving enthusiast has become staghorn coral's best friend (May 2008).
Ken Nedimyer was named a CNN Hero for his pioneering efforts to develop techniques to preserve coral reefs and motivate the public to assist in the cause. Click here to learn more about this honorable achievement. (April 2012)
Spencer Slate has been cultivating marine relationships for 30 year, and has developed a passion for extraordinary "friends." Click here to learn more about his Creature Feature dives (October 2008).
Adventurers Above The Sea
George Shattuck, owner of Sundance Watersports on Duck Key, is passionate about spending quality time with his loved ones, a mantra he shares with his guests bringing their own families together to reconnect while on vacation. Click here. (July 2012)
Sean Reyngoudt grew up on Summerland Key fascinated by board sports, but didn't strive for more than recreational enjoyment until he lost his left leg in a forklift accident. Today he's the world's only professional amputee kiteboarder and wakeboarder. Click here to see how Reyngoudt turned his loss into triumph. (March 2011)
The average family might spend an afternoon flying a Charlie Brown-style kite, but Islamorada's Walsh family is anything but average. Their family "kiting" afternoons are filled with extreme jumps, twists, flips and other acrobatics on the open water of the Florida Keys. Click here to "meet" kiteboarding entrepreneurs Mike and Shana Walsh. (July 2010)
When the fancy maneuvers of an aerobatics instructor caught Fred Cabanas' eye, that set the course for his future career. Click here to meet the Keys' aerobatics adventurer (December 2008).
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Fred Cabanas passed away Jan. 15, 2013 in an aviation accident.
Karen Thurman's hospitality career and hospitable nature have led her into some unusual situations. For example, she has costumed herself as an oversized conch shell to greet attendees at trade shows and appear on the Weather Channel. She's also a pyrotechnics expert. Meet the intriguing Thurman by clicking here (March 2008).
Keys Historic & Natural Heritage
Ethnobotanist Rick Hederstrom has discovered that plants are living, breathing organisms with names, stories to tell and a complexity and beauty that play a vital role in humans' well-being and survival. To find out how the Ohio native wound up "planted" in Key Largo, click here. (March 2013)
Henry Morrison Flagler never lived in the Florida Keys, but he left a more lasting and valuable mark on the island chain than many lifelong residents. Click here to "meet" the man who built the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. (January 2012)
Kelly McKinnon's love of fishing attracted him to the Florida Keys, yet he never dreamed his back door would be three feet from the Atlantic Ocean. "Meet" the executive director of historic Pigeon Key, who mixes youth with a century-old yesteryear, by clicking here. (June 2010)
Archeologist Irving Reade Eyster, now age 90, tells the stories of old Florida, the Keys and Key West. His lectures and artifacts remain the most sought-after material chronicling Florida Keys history, and the makings for a much-anticipated museum in Islamorada. Click here to share his story (January 2009).
Bill Keogh took a childhood love of the outdoors and turned it into a career. Today, he's the owner of Big Pine Kayak Adventure in the Lower Keys — as well as a respected photographer and author. Click here to discover the natural world of Bill Keogh (November 2007).
Jerry Wilkinson's passion is to uncover as much history as possible in the Florida Keys. Learn why Wilkinson has become one of the area's expert historians by clicking here (November 2006).
Lodging, From Laid-Back To Lux'
At only 35 years old, Kevin Geanides has accomplished more in the hospitality industry than many people do throughout their entire careers. "Meet" the manager of luxurious Little Palm Island here. (Oct 2013)
From surfing and cycling to standup paddling, the always-busy Key West hotelier Heather Whitehead keeps her drive alive surrounded by the great outdoors and healthful pursuits. "Meet" the adventure-loving innkeeper here. (April 2013)
Herbert Spiegel approaches life, and his career as general manager of Islamorada's Cheeca Lodge & Spa, the same way — determined to "love it, nurture it and enjoy it." Meet the guiding spirit behind the legendary Cheeca here. (June 2011)
Former New Jersey residents Harry Appel and Jen DeMaria are living their "green" dream in the Lower Keys at Deer Run Bed & Breakfast. Click here to find out how these innkeepers went from crowded to quiet — and brought the Lower Keys their premier eco-conscious and fully vegan inn. (February 2011)
Hubert Baudoin took The Moorings of Islamorada from a three-unit property decorated with his dorm room furniture to an exquisite, elegant oasis. Click here to meet the windsurfer turned luxury hotel and restaurant owner. (August 2010)
Diane Schmidt's tenure as general manager of the Westin Key West Resort has been filled with memorable moments — like hosting a live broadcast of NBC's top-rated "Today Show" on the property. To meet the gracious GM, click here. (April 2010)
Patti Stanley, owner of Island Villa Properties, has provided locations for the film Red Dragon and reality show Platinum Weddings. Meet her by clicking here (July 2008).
Harold "Dixie" Brown's winning demeanor and smile have been a fixture in the Florida Keys since the late 1980s. Formerly at Islamorada's Cheeca Lodge, the friendly bellman now greets guests and effortlessly assists them with any needs or problems at the Key Largo Grande. Click here to meet this "island ambassador" (October 2007).
The snow drove Dave Taylor out of Illinois and brought him to Florida in 1993 because "the wind chill at Chicago O'Hare Airport was 60 below and it was 72 degrees in the Florida Keys," said Taylor, the engagingly friendly innkeeper at Key West's Cypress House. To discover more about Taylor, and the legendary happy hour he hosts at Cypress House, click here (August 2007).
Harriet Stokes, only the third owner of Largo Lodge since it opened in Key Largo in the late 1940s, remembers the sleepy years of the Florida Keys. Share her remarkable memories, and learn about her determination to retain the property's Old Florida atmosphere, by clicking here (January 2007).
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Harriet Stokes passed away at her home Sept. 27, 2009. Her legacy lives on at Largo Lodge.
David Feder, a trained engineer turned musician, has become a leader of Islamorada's cultural community — and works to enrich the lives of children through exposure to the arts. Click here to discover the musician "in tune" with the Upper Keys. (March 2012)
He has performed for audiences around Europe, starred at a famed San Francisco venue and been the first American singer/pianist to play in the American Bar of London's Savoy Hotel. Nevertheless, Key West keeps calling Bobby Nesbitt home. To meet the acclaimed pianist and entertainer, click here. (January 2010)
When Howard Livingston and Mile Marker 24 step onstage to perform their trademark tropical rock, they bring along an unusual "instrument": a 1952 Johnson 5.5-horsepower outboard motor used to blend margaritas for the audience. Click here to learn what inspires Livingston's musical mindset. (November 2008)
Many people seek to explore the Florida Keys by kayak, but none explore like Captain Andrea Paulson. Click here to learn how this eco-adventurer is bringing visitors face-to-face with the unspoiled Florida Keys. (Oct 2012)
An accomplished graphic designer and website programmer, director of two fishing tournaments and proud mother and wife, Sugarloaf Key resident Loren Rea has made a name for herself in the Florida Keys during the last 17 years. "Meet" the multitalented Rea here. (August 2013)
As the son of fishing legend Richard Stanczyk, who has owned Islamorada's iconic Bud N' Mary's Marina since 1978, Nick Stanczyk has been a fisherman for as long as he can remember. "Catch" a glimpse of the new generation of outstanding fishing captains here. (June 2012)
Jimmy Johnson has had a home in the Keys since just after his second Super Bowl victory. These days, his focus is fishing aboard his 39-foot SeaVee “Three Rings,” named for his three coaching championships. “Meet” the man behind Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill here. (Sept. 2011)
As well as being a skilled fishing guide, Captain Tony Murphy has created an acclaimed guide service for virtually all types of Florida Keys fishing. He also owns a top Keys fly fishing outfitter known as the Saltwater Angler. To "meet" the multitalented Murphy, click here. (May 2011)
It was too windy to go fishing, so Charlotte Ambrogio went real estate shopping instead. Click here to find out how the fishing tournament director got "hooked" on the Florida Keys. (December 2010)
Rick Berry, a longtime Keys resident who owns Key Largo Rods, has designed more than 2,500 fishing rods and is regarded as an innovator in his field. To meet the designer with a passion for angling, click here. (March 2010)
Fishing captain Nick Aldacosta began plying Keys waters at age 3 and opened his own bait shop at 13. He's also a storyteller whose larger-than-life character has even been chronicled in a fictional, salty tale of tournaments. To meet this seafaring spirit, click here. (May 2010)
Sandy Moret has been fly fishing almost all his life, and the passion and drive he brings to teaching and advancing the sport is unequaled. To get to know Moret, the owner of Islamorada's Florida Keys Outfitters, click here. (July 2009)
Before Chris Robinson became a Lower Keys fishing guide, he co-owned the All-Breeds Hot Dog Pound, tended bar for 18 years at the renowned Louie's Backyard and shared adventures with Jimmy Buffett and "gonzo journalist" Hunter Thompson. For a glimpse of his world, click here. (September 2008)
Captain Skip Bradeen arrived in the Florida Keys for a two-week vacation on Sept. 23, 1964, in a '64 Chevy Impala — the only new car he's ever owned — and never left. Meet this successful, energetic and charismatic captain, by clicking here. (January 2008)
Robbie's Marina is an institution in Islamorada. Visitors to the laid-back marina can watch and feed wild tarpon from the dock, embark on fascinating tours, rent a kayak, hire a fishing guide, rent a boat and much more. Find out more about Robbie Reckwerdt, the man who founded the Robbie's dynasty, by clicking here. (July 2007)
Keys Cuisine & Restaurateurs
Robert Stoky knows good cooking. Whether it's preparing lobster fajitas at Señor Frijoles or all-you-can-eat stone crab at Ballyhoo's, the Stoky family has been a key player in the ever-growing Florida Keys restaurant scene since the 1980s. "Meet" Stoky and discover his recipe for success here. (Sept 2013)
Brooklyn born but raised in Florida, John Mirabella has a formula for island living that involves a large dose of diving, spearfishing and offering his fresh catch at his Marathon eatery. What began as a journey to the Keys aboard a 36-foot Trimaran evolved into a new life as a successful restaurateur. "Catch" more of this giant personality's Castaway tale here. (June 2013)
Kristie Thomas, the culinary creator behind Key Largo Chocolates, currently is the only chocolatier in the Florida Keys. Click here to "meet" the woman who established Key Largo’s sweetest emporium. (December 2011)
After calling many countries home and indulging in plenty of "junk food," Charlie Wilson established roots in Key West and opened Help Yourself, offering natural and healthy foods. Click here to see how she's bringing "real food" to the Florida Keys and inspiring people to help themselves. (November 2011)
Proving the old adage that a song can change lives, Gloria Teague was forever changed by the James Brown tune "I Feel Good." Find out how Brown's hit led the former dive shop owner to trade in her scuba tank for cinnamon buns here. (October 2010)
For Jennifer Hammer, owner of Snook's Bayside in Key Largo, the restaurant business is both a longstanding passion and a family affair. To meet the woman who dishes up "island style" at Snook's, click here. (October 2009)
When John Richmond stopped piloting DC3s to take the helm of a Key West bar and restaurant, his workplace didn't change — he still plies his trade at Key West International Airport. Click here to "meet" the man behind the Conch Flyer (June 2009).
Culinary artistry is the norm in the Florida Keys, and a select group of gourmet chefs lead the way with innovative cuisine created using fresh local ingredients and a unique flair. Learn their recipe for success by clicking here (February 2009).
In 1971, a young Norman Van Aken first tasted caramelized plantains in a little restaurant in Key West. Eating that simple meal was a transforming moment for Van Aken — now an internationally acclaimed chef whose trademark New World Cuisine is based around the vibrant flavors he found in the island city. Meet the chef by clicking here (December 2007).
Few people are aware that the stone crabs served at the famous Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in Miami are provided by a commercial fishing operation in the Florida Keys — Keys Fisheries in Marathon. And Gary Graves, owner of Keys Fisheries restaurant and manager of the fishing operation, has been with the business since it began 40 years ago. Click here to meet the Keys' king of crab (May 2007)
When Bobby Mongelli looks around the Hogfish Bar and Grill, he sees far more than the funky, quintessentially casual locals' emporium he created overlooking the water in Stock Island's Safe Harbor area. Click here to learn more (October 2006).
Artists & Thespians
Longtime Key West resident Crystal Ruffo has turned her passion for potions into a thriving business, offering bath and personal care products that she handcrafts in her tropically decorated Purely Paradise boutique. "Meet" the affable artisan here. (Nov 2012)
The watercolors, oils and colored pencil renderings of 28-year-old artist Michelle Nicole Lowe seemingly pop off the canvas. Click here to "meet" the Florida Keys woman whose subjects range from sea life to island birds and tropical flora. (Feb 2013)
With the help of former CPA turned fishing guide Dick Hagood, the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District is enhancing art, imagination and culture in the island city of Islamorada, commonly known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. Click here to learn more about how Hagood integrates art and angling. (August 2012)
Lower Keys artist Kim Workman, skilled in the traditional Oriental art form of gyotaku or fish printing, memorializes finned Keys denizens by inking or painting actual fish and pressing paper on them to create exact replicas. "Meet" the unique artist here. (May 2012)
"An Islamorada-based artist, known locally as "Lighthouse Larry," has fashioned his passion for lighthouses into creating exact scale replicas of six historical beacons off the Florida Keys. Click here to "meet" the intriguing artist. (February 2012)
A replica sailfish helped inspire Pasta Pantaleo's creative career and journey from Coney Island to the Florida Keys. Click here to "meet" the renowned Islamorada game fish artist. (October 2011)
Since 1977, Alan Maltz has indulged his passion for photographing the natural wonders and beautiful eccentricities of the Florida Keys — wandering far off the beaten path with his camera to capture faces, places, lavish or tumbledown houses and hidden haunts of birds and wildlife. To "meet" this master photographer, click here. (July 2011)
Nature and the water play a large role in the work of Lower Keys photographer Valerie Fecher, so she often takes off in a kayak right from her property on Big Pine to seek compelling images. To meet the island-inspired shutterbug and longtime Keys resident, click here. (December 2009)
Love brought Loretta Geotis to the Florida Keys and another passion led her to the Marathon Community Theatre. Click here to meet the woman who stars as general manager of the popular theater (April 2009).
When Brian Gordon Sinclair looks in the mirror before going onstage, Ernest Hemingway looks back. That's because Sinclair, an award-winning Canadian actor and playwright, has spent the past several years researching, writing and performing one-man explorations into the life of the iconic author, presenting them each July at Key West's popular annual Hemingway Days celebration. Find out what motivates Sinclair by clicking here (June 2007).
Islamorada artist Stacie Krupa, a native Floridian, did her time in the Northeast before discovering the lifestyle in the Keys suits her — and her art — far better. Discover that art, which depicts ocean life, animals and people, and incorporates iridescent colors layered with drips and sparkles, by clicking here (March 2007).
Simply ... Unique
Florida Keys weddings are conducted on beaches and boats and in historic homes, hotels, guesthouses, gardens and elsewhere. Nadene Grossman, Key West's go-to planner for upscale "I Do's," guides nervous brides and traveling guests through the nuptial gaieties with ease. "Meet" the personality-plus planner here. (Jan 2013)
In the late 1920s, Lower Keys landowner Richter Clyde Perky had a problem. To solve it, he built a strange shingled tower that remains a beloved Keys landmark. Learn the tale behind the unusual Bat Tower and its creator by clicking here. (July 2013)
Four engaging Chihuahuas delight divers and snorkelers who visit Strike Zone Charters, a leading excursion business on Big Pine in the Lower Florida Keys. "Meet" the tail-wagging ambassadors, who even have their own shades and life jackets, by clicking here. (August 2011)
He stands only three feet tall, but Robert the Doll is internationally renowned for his mischievous deeds, receives letters and e-mails from all over America and has more than a thousand Facebook friends. To "meet" the unusual icon, click here. (September 2010)
For 30-some years Bill Becker, news director at Lower Keys-based U.S. 1 Radio 104.1 FM, has provided a soothing, authoritative presence that appeals to Florida Keys listeners. To meet the "voice of the Keys," click here. (February 2010)
He may be 60 years old, but Will Soto still walks a tightrope three evenings a week, juggling and bantering with crowds as the undisputed star of Key West's famed sunset celebration at Mallory Square. Click here to discover what motivates the remarkable Soto (April 2007).
For viewers of CNN's annual New Year's Eve program anchored by Anderson Cooper, "sushi" doesn't mean a tasty Japanese morsel served with spicy wasabi. Instead, it refers to a spicy Key West drag queen. Click here to find out more about the elegant and widely renowned Sushi (December 2006).