For 2020, the Keys Weekly staff launched an ambitious project — a contest to nominate our favorite locals in the image of famous Christmas characters. We were looking for local versions of the Grinch, Clark Griswold, Kevin McCallister, etc. And y’all — and by y’all we mean our readers — interpreted and executed it in true Keys fashion. And by that, we mean you went fishing, apparently. Nevertheless, we are persevering because this idea has legs and we intend to resurrect it in 2021. Here are the two Marathon winners of 2020:

Kevin Johnsen
Buddy the Elf
Nominated by Jeanine D’Amico

Kevin Johnsen and Buddy the Elf have a lot in common. Both approach life with a supernatural amount of zest, zeal and common sense for situations involving danger. Buddy does a double bounce on the couch and launches himself at the Christmas tree to put the star up. Johnsen hand feeds 300-pound bull sharks or “plays” with waterspouts … just because. 

“It’s either feeding the sharks or watching dolphin play around the boat. There’s never a dull moment,” he said, laughing. Johnsen operates Florida Keys Reel Adventures out of the Middle Keys. His customers praise him for the professional and fun outings that still impart a ton of environmental information about what makes the Keys special. 

And, yes, in 2013 he filmed himself and a buddy getting up-close and personal with the waterspouts. Then, in 2016, with the same amount of planning, a bunch of friends decided last-minute to enter and decorate a boat for the annual Boot Key Harbor lighted boat parade. They won, of course. 

The Keys Weekly hereby proclaims Kevin Johnsen to be the Keys’ Buddy the Elf of 2020. 

Hammer Runyon
Martha Stewart
Nominated by Kathy Hill Burnett

He has a first name, but nobody knows it. Hammer works for the Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Marathon. He does a tremendous job putting up the municipal holiday lights around Marathon, but what he does to his own domicile … well, it sort of defies explanation. He has about 40 statuettes of Santa spread around his home, a full Christmas village that is his “pride and joy” and Christmas lights all over his house. In fact, they are beginning to spread — the lights at the end of his dead end street in Marathon are also his work. For this reason, and many others, he was nominated in the Martha Stewart category — someone who would rather die than use a plain old bed sheet in place of a tree skirt. 

“I have more plans for next year,” he said, pointing to a blank spot … on the roof … clearly lacking a blow-up Christmas display.

The Keys Weekly hereby proclaims Hammer Runyon to be the Keys’ Martha Stewart of 2020. 

Dan Reynen
Clark Griswold

Chevy Chase’s unforgettable character from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is the patriarch of the family who plans to have a great old-fashioned family Christmas with a house filled with relatives. He’s alo the homeowner who obsesses over his exterior Christmas display, which includes 25,000 twinkling lights — and an electric meter that’s spinning madly.

Marcus Varner  nominated Dan Reynen of WeBeFit for this year’s inaugural Southernmost Clark Griswold. 

“Not content with typical holiday decorations, Dan works with his staff to build original concepts. This year he converted a 12-foot Halloween skeleton into a 12-foot snowperson. If you look at the decorations, you’ll see unique items like the red accent bars at the top, the layer-cake bell decorations, men and women nutcrackers, twinkling stars and green wrapped rope light wreaths,” Varner said. 

“Even during a pandemic, Dan feels it’s important to create “visions of hope” that everyone can enjoy.” 

The WeBeFit building at 1277 First St. houses the fitness studio on the first floor and Reynen’s and Marcus Varner’s home above it.

“I decorate for every holiday,” said Reynen, adding that the displays started as a simple marketing effort for the business, but eventually took on a life of their own. “We build on the Christmas display each year. All the decorations are handmade by us, because I don’t want to have anything that someone can buy someplace else.”

The pair spends months cutting foam decorations, gluing lights and bending metal into snowmen, snowflakes and other shapes.

“We actually built a separate shed on our property just to store the holiday decorations,” Reynen said, laughing proudly at the Clark Griswold nomination.

Virginia Wark and Eileen Kelly
share Buddy the Elf title

Kendall Cameron nominated Virginia Wark as Key West’s own Buddy the Elf, while Graff Kelly recommended Eileen Kelly for the title character played by Will Ferrell in the movie “Elf.”

“I live across the street from Virginia Wark, who decorates colorfully, is often costumed, is definitely tall and silly, she likes everyone, and the Christmas Conch Train route includes our block, the 1700 block of United Street, so Virginia can run outside and yell Merry Christmas while ringing sleigh bells,” Cameron wrote in her nomination.

In nominating Eileen Kelly as Buddy the Elf, Graff Kelly wrote, “After Hurricane Irma, Eileen found all the scrap wood in the streets and surrounding area, collected it and built a huge hurricane Christmas tree for our neighborhood. It was even decorated with blue tarp and caution tape.

Each year since then, she has redesigned and painted the tree for everyone to enjoy at the corner of 15th Street and Pearl Avenue just off Flagler.

“This year she has stepped up her elfish game and designed the Christmas tree to be a ‘Charity Christmas tree.’ She has put out wooden ornaments for everyone in the neighborhood to paint, personalize and hang. Then, with each ornament that’s placed on the tree she collects donations for the Florida Keys SPCA.

Devon Pharo
Buddy the Elf

Nominated by Lynea Wilson

Devon emphatically celebrates every new white hair in his beard because it’s one step closer to his childhood goal: being Santa. His jolly demeanor, keen navigational skills and vast collection of Christmas pajamas are also part of this festive package. The tree was up and decorated Dec. 1, the Christmas village is under construction as I write this, and more than a few cookies will be dipped in milk as he trains this year.   

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