I love Marathon. I’ve lived here a quarter century — moving here in 1994. I met my husband, had my babies (who aren’t so little any more), met 98% of all my friends, and regularly wrangled with, and wrote about, the challenges of a tropical backyard. And I found my dream job as the editor of the Marathon Weekly — writing about people I admire, issues that hit close to home, and stories that deserve to be told fairly and concisely.
Here are my favorite community news items for 2019.
• In August, the Marathon Weekly added a high school sports page! With the help of intern Clare Merryman, we can at last offer some stats, a schedule and athlete profiles to compliment the incredible work of our photographer Barry Gaukel. Oh, and we have a wonderful new book editor, too; her name is Karen Newfield.
• Oh, Vince Neil came to town in February. Yes, that Vince Neil. He performed at the CoralHead Music on Feb. 17. That music festival, as well as the CoralHead Blues Festival in October, is the work of local concert promoter Rich Anderson and the American Legion Riders. (The performance by the Ghost Town Blues Band was electric!) Anderson was recognized at the Best of Marathon annual awards ceremony as “Best Celebrity.”
• Nothing could have compared to the excitement of the re-opening of Winn-Dixie in late March. Locals were chomping at the bit to get back in the supermarket that had been closed for more than two years after damage from Hurricane Irma. Corporate suits threw a big party and locals responded with a huge welcome.
• Winn-Dixie was big news, but so was the grand opening of two new Marathon resorts — diametrically opposed and on opposite sides of the town. Isla Bella officially opened on April 1, 2019. The 199-room resort looks great on the western end of town, and is great for the economy. The Grassy Flats Resort and Beach Club, opened in the summer of 2019, is a boutique resort with a variety of room and suite styles to choose from. It’s locally owned, and in it’s in my ‘hood!
• It was almost too much to hope for … that another young local would take the title of 7 Mile Bridge Run for the second year in a row. But that’s exactly what happened when Jonathan Pitchford, 16, broke the tape in 39 minutes in the 38th annual event on April 6. Pitchford was also a part of Marathon High School’s cross country team that qualified for the state championship held in Tallahassee on Nov. 8. The boys’ team finished ninth overall, and the girls’ team placed 29th. (This is an appropriate place to mention that twins are the scourge of sports writers attempting photo captions everywhere; Pitchford’s twin Owen is also on the track team, as were twins Allison and Sarah Paskiewicz.) In other MHS sports news, the girls’ softball team made it as far as the district semi-finals. And the powderpuff football game — between senior and junior girls — was reinstated.
• The Marathon Weekly paid tribute to local “ink.” In August, we featured an assortment of locals — Rachel Bowman, Elizabeth Schut, Megan Hughes Schubert, and Gary “Sammy” Leo — and the beautiful artwork they choose to adorn themselves with. It was such a big hit, we will probably bring that back again next year with a new crop of great people wearing personal art.
• A unique blended family from the Middle Keys had not one, but TWO, babies on the roadside in 2019. On Aug. 22, mom Bonnie Barry gave birth to son Sawyer on the steps of the Islamorada Beer Company at about 11 p.m. And, two months later, mom Jessica Bogle gave birth to daughter Amber-Jackalyn on the roadside, just 10 minutes short of the hospital on the mainland. Both times, dad Stephen Anderson, and siblings Caylee and Jaelyn, both 10, and Brycen, 5, were also passengers in the minivan.
• The Weekly was honored to interview and tell the story of Coast Guard Bosun Tracy Mannes, who received the service’s Coast Guard Medal in August 2019. The honor was bestowed for actions during the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas in 2001. Mannes used her body to shield her friends and strangers, before leading them to safety. Thank you, Tracy.
• Space junk! Who doesn’t love a headline like that? Marathon’s Tim Green found an unidentified floating object on a paddle. He dragged it home and posted pictures on Facebook. That’s when Weekly reporter Tiffany Duong began her investigation that revealed: one, it was probably part of a Russian rocket; two, the Russians have a space center in French Guiana in South America; three, trying to sell space junk is a big no-no and will land you in hot water.
• Two important projects broke ground in September 2019. The first, is the construction of the new Baptist Health Fishermen’s Community Hospital. The second is a new “fixed base operator” at the Marathon airport. The hospital is set to be complete in two years at a cost of $43.3 million. The Middle Keys are supporting Baptist Health’s indigent care costs with a property tax. The FBO is set to open in 2020.
• We have our share of spooky stories in Marathon, too. In October, locals including Karen Thurman conceived of a one-way Witches Paddle to support the local American Cancer Society’s Strides Walk. About two dozen witches paddled from Crane Point Museum to Faro Blanco Resort, with hydration stops. Also in October, Keys author David Sloan debunked the myth of the hanged woman on Pigeon Key. No such thing ever happened. Leona Kyle, wife of the 7 Mile Bridge tender, lived to the ripe old age of 88 and outlived two husbands.