It was October 2012 when I first pitched this column to David Goodhue at The Reporter. By 2012, my mentorship with Jerry (Wilkinson) had been developing for several years and I had been absorbing a plethora of historical nuggets relating to this string of islands. Frankly, I needed an outlet.
Of course back in 2012 I would have never guessed that after writing 75 editions of Notes on Keys History it would still feel like I was scratching at the surface.
When I moved to Florida 25 years ago, all I wanted to do was live on an island and write.
That I am able to call the Florida Keys home and make my living by essentially writing has been a blessing. It is a beautiful thing to be able to support yourself by doing the thing you have always dreamed about. Mind you there were many years when the idea never sparked so much as an iota of possibility, but then one of my strengths, at least as a writer, has been the perpetual belief I have in what I am doing.
Granted, 25 years ago a betting man would have put money on fiction as the kind of writing I’d be doing and the island being called home would have been located on the west coast of Florida — particularly Captiva or Sanibel, my first Florida home. However, 25 years ago a betting man would not have considered my acceptance into the MFA Program at the University of Miami to study creative writing.
Back then, it would have been next to impossible to predict my proximity to the Florida Keys or the subsequent move to Plantation Key weeks after graduation, but then this chain of events only highlights that fact that roads occasionally fork and when they do it can become necessary to redefine a chosen path. Fortunately for me, this particular jaunt proved right up my alley. Now, having said all of that, in celebration of my 75th edition of Notes on Keys History, this will be a thankful column.
First and foremost I would like to say how thankful I am for Michelle who understands my need to sit at this computer and write, the life we have built together and the little house we bought on the that particularly shaded lot with the Sioux Street address (thank you Rhonda Brewer).
Professionally speaking, thank you David Goodhue for agreeing to let me do what I do. Notes on Keys History has given me the opportunity to share these wonderful histories with not only our residents, but our visitors. The work has also opened doors, with perhaps the biggest door swinging open when I was hired by the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation to curate a museum dedicated to exploring the history of the Florida Keys in general and the Upper Keys in particular.
When I first began working at the facility two years ago, there were just a lot of blank, blue walls. The museum has come a long way (and as a side note, if you haven’t visited in the last few months, you have not seen the future of our facility). Of course without Jerry taking me under his wing and encouraging my venture into the local history back in 2009, it is highly unlikely that I would have found myself in this position.
Fortunately, Jerry is not the only Keys historian to have been generous with both his time and his knowledge. Tom Hambright, in charge of the Florida History collection at the Key West Library, has proved a resource time and time again. The biggest problem with the Key West Library is the four hours it takes to drive there and back, a fact that has made me appreciate what Jim Clupper accomplished at the Islamorada Library all that much more.
Jim once served our community as the librarian at the Islamorada branch of the Monroe County Library. More specifically, he served the community by creating the Florida Room, an absolute treasure trove of books, documents, and maps relating to Upper Keys history that are stored in a small room in the back of the Islamorada library. Fortunately, like Jerry, Jim has invited me into his home to share what he has discovered during the course of his study of these islands and I am thankful to these men, as well as the growing list of community members who have reached out to share their personal histories.
The history surrounding these islands continues to be uncovered, discovered and revealed and I am thankful to have been given the time and resources to explore them. It is a great responsibility and one I am thankful for having. Lastly, I offer a special thank you to the readers who have enjoyed what I’ve been doing these last couple of years. Writing is isolating work and hearing feedback from those who have taken time to read my work always brings a smile to my face. Thank you.
Brad Bertelli is a published author of four books on Florida and Florida Keys history. He is the curator of the Keys History and Discovery Center, located at the Islander Resort. His column will appear every other week in The Reporter. Reach Brad with comments and questions at WhyPanic@aol.com.