By Helen Kelly

NeffWhenever I conduct an interview for Harbor Light, I become even more aware of and impressed by the diversified group of people who reside here.  Ann and Ray Neff are recent move-ins to Apt. E-308.  Sitting down with them, I was immediately impressed with their congeniality.

Ann is a petite bundle of energy who has already embraced the new Wellness Center.  Born into a farming family in Bryan, OH, she spent her early youth on no less than 100 acres where initially her father raised chickens before moving to Union City, MI, where he established a cattle farm.  Ann said she and her sister were already baling hay and milking cows before they were ten.  Her fondest memory is the birthday gift of a pony, beginning her lifetime interest in horseback riding.  Following high school, she enrolled in and received a diploma from Cosmetology school.  However, an opportunity to work in and ultimately to own a furniture store took precedence.

Ray Neff, born in Mt. Pleasant, MI, earned a Masters degree in Actuarial Science at the University of Michigan and began his career with the Michigan Insurance Department in Lansing.  Following a few moves, the now growing Neff family, including four teenagers, relocated to Tallahassee in 1979 and Ray worked for the Florida Insurance Department.   Another move in 1986, when Ray joined the FCCI Insurance Group, brought them to Sarasota, where they rented on Bird Key and in One Watergate where they met the late Jean Nunn.   Their home for the last eight years, which is on the market, is located at Lakewood Ranch.

Upon leaving FCCI in 1999, Ray established his own business, Neff & Associates.  He has been Chairman of the Board of Sabal Palm Bank and Beacon Aviation Insurance Services and Vice-Chairman of Maiden Holdings Ltd.  An affable, friendly man, he goes to the office of Neff & Associates every day after working out in the morning at our new “state of the art” Wellness Center.  On occasion, he finds time to play golf.

In fact, both Ann and Ray are ardent exercisers and bridge players.  They have parented four children and twelve grandchildren the majority of whom live in Florida, happily providing them with the opportunity to enjoy time together.  In between all of their activities, they are enjoying meeting and being entertained by their Plymouth Harbor neighbors and are anticipating joining one or more of the various Plymouth Harbor committees

 

 

 Six months ago, there stood a lonely overgrown patch  in the west gardens that once was a place of joy for former resident Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  In its heyday, more than eight years ago, Tilley could be found following the lazy wanderings of butterflies among their favorite blossoms in this lovingly tended garden designed just for them.  

When Nichole Peal first saw the garden last winter, the faded trellis was obscured by weeds and the birdbath filled with rotting leaves.  The potential that she soon saw in this butterfly garden was not far from the memory of Tilley’s former sanctuary and it emerged as the perfect project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.  The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.  

“I had just finished my Harvest Award where I had learned about butterfly gardens on a visit to the Florida Native Plant Nursery in Myakka,” says Nichole, referring to another prestigious Girl Scout Senior award.  “There are so many elaborate rules for butterfly gardens like the number of plants and which ones are for the butterflies to eat and which are for laying their eggs.”

Nichole, now a senior at the Sarasota Military Academy, dedicated her spare time February through August to the planning and creation of “Tilley’s Butterfly Garden,” dedicated to the memory of Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  Recruiting the assistance of fellow Girl Scouts and the expertise of local butterfly aficionados, Nichole sees this as an ongoing effort to maintain the garden and ensure that it remains a long-standing source of solace for Plymouth Harbor residents and guests. 

When the sun and the weather are just right, it’s easy to imagine the peace to be found in a well-appointed butterfly garden.  Sarasota abounds with these delightful gardens filled largely with native plants and the 170 species of butterflies that find their homes here at one time of the year or other (that’s nearly a quarter of 740 species found world-wide!).

“Butterflies are deep and powerful representations of life,” shared Plymouth Harbor CEO Harry Hobson. “They symbolize different things for different people:  endurance, change, hope, and life.”

It’s fascinating that face-to-face encounters with this most delicate and resilient creature, the tiny butterfly, can have such a dramatic effect on people.

The butterfly evokes an experience of calm, peace, and comfort. Research at medical centers has found that patients who visited or viewed a healing garden took less pain medication and overall had shorter stays than patients who did not. The greatest benefits are found by those living with illness, disabilities, or suffering from a loss.  The wellness aspects of a therapeutic butterfly garden are multifaceted.

Senator Bob Johnson, a former member of the Plymouth Harbor Board of Directors and the attorney managing Mary “Tilley” Bessemer’s estate, understands the affection with which she cared for this garden in the years before her passing in 2006. 

“Tilley loved her butterflies,” said Senator Johnson who met Tilley when she married his long-time neighbor. Widowed in later life, she had reunited with her high school sweetheart and found love anew.  They moved into a new home at Plymouth Harbor where they enjoyed many years together.  “Tilley was unassuming and down to earth. Even as her vision worsened, she could see those butterflies,” he added.  “She would be very proud, and probably astonished, by this garden dedication.”

A celebration and dedication of the newly refreshed butterfly garden  on Tuesday, September 10 at 11:00  recognizes and appreciates Mary “Tilley” Bessemer and Nichole Peal for their past and present contributions.

“Our very special butterfly garden will serve as a symbol of peace and serenity for all who visit,” added Harry, “and a life-affirming tribute to Tilley, whose zest for life continues to grace us.”   

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun and find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.

~Irish Blessing

monarch butterfly at Plymouth Harbor When the sun and the weather are just right, it’s easy to imagine the peace to be found in a well-appointed butterfly garden.  Sarasota abounds with these delightful creations filled largely with native plants and the 170 species of butterflies that find their homes here at one time of the year or other (that’s nearly a quarter of 740 species found world-wide!)

Tillie Bessemer appreciated the delicate natural beauty of butterflies and the restorative powers of a garden in which to appreciate them. For this reason she designated a gift from her estate to provide for a butterfly garden to be maintained on the grounds of Plymouth Harbor after her passing.

Resident Fran Rehl became a member of the Grounds Committee very shortly after arriving at Plymouth Harbor in 2006. Fran never knew Tillie personally; however, she and her fellow committee members have kept her wishes in the years since.  But the labor of planting every spring, not to mention weekly weeding and pruning, can be difficult to maintain.  Butterfly gardens take loving care and attention. This is where Girl Scout Nichole Peal steps in.

Nichole, a junior at the Sarasota Military academy, is a hardworking and high-achieving young lady. She’s been in Girl Scouts for 11 years and is now an Ambassador Scout working on the coveted Gold Award, which is the highest ranking Girl Scout award one can achieve.  She got the idea to develop her service project around the Plymouth Harbor butterfly garden last autumn when she met resident Ann Brackett and VP of Philanthropy Becky Pazkowski on a visit to the Girl Scout Headquarters.

“I had just finished my Harvest Award where I had learned about butterfly gardens on a visit to the Florida Native Plant Nursery in Myakka,” says Nichole referring to another prestigious Girl Scout Senior award.  “There are so many elaborate rules for butterfly gardens like the number of plants and which ones are for the butterflies to eat and which are for laying their eggs.”

Nichole was no stranger to Plymouth Harbor having visited several times for Christmas caroling and the idea of creating a project that would have a lasting impact on this community was appealing. In fact, in her words, “It sounded cool.”

With the support of the Gulfcoast Girl Scout Council and executive director Sue Stewart, Nichole was ready to go to work.  And it’s a lot of work required to earn the Gold Award; work that she has to fit in between classes at her high school as well as at State College of Florida where she has started early, and her part-time job!

First she had to conduct serious research and prepare her plan following the first five of seven required steps – identify an issue, investigate it thoroughly, get help and build your team, create a plan, and then present the plan and gather feedback.  She’ll be purchasing the plants and getting ready for planting in mid-May. 

Be on the lookout for updates on Nichole’s progress and the rejuvenation of a beautiful butterfly garden for all to enjoy.

 

Plymouth Harbor resident Ann Brackett has spent a lifetime believing in the unlimited potential of girls when given the opportunity to grow.  Not so long ago, she was attending the annual Boys & Girls Club Luncheon, one of the largest and most inspiring fundraising events of Sarasota’s very busy “season.” She found herself sitting next to Sue Stewart, who was there representing Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida. Before long, they were sharing their mutual love for the tradition of scouting.

Ann Brackett Donates her Girl Scout uniform

Ann Brackett donates her vintage Girl Scout uniform to the Girl Scouts.

You see, being a Girl Scout when she was a child was so important to Ann that she had kept her uniform, proudly decorated with numerous badges to mark her achievements, in a keepsake box all these years.  An idea sprang out of her chance meeting with Sue: why not donate that uniform, now considered a rare vintage treasure, to the local Girl Scout council?  It was an easy decision to make and before she knew it she was visiting with current Scouts and sharing stories with them while they gazed at the proper dress uniform so different from the simple vests the girls wear today.When Ann was a child, there was a local Girl Scout troop meeting regularly at her church, which was right next to her school in Newton, MA. This made it very convenient for Ann to get involved.  Being an only child, belonging to her Girl Scout troop gave Ann the social interaction she craved. She enjoyed the opportunity it gave her to work with and become friends with girls beyond her circle from school or her neighborhood.

“In Girl Scouts it doesn’t matter what color you are or how you look. You are part of a family and everyone respects you,” adds Ann. “This outstanding organization has made our nation a much better place. Girl Scouts present positive role models, endless possibilities, and a clear path to making dreams come true. The positive influence of Girl Scouts has lasted a lifetime for me.”

Girl Scout uniforms

Over time transformations of the Girl Scout uniform.

Ann was an enthusiastic scout and some of her fondest memories were of summer camp. Each merit badge earned built her confidence and inspired her increased involvement over the years.  She feels it was Girls Scouts that prepared her for an unexpected challenge later in her life when she was called upon to care for her aunt diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Girls are strong when they help other people. Girls need to feel a responsibility to care for others and experience the joy that goes along with it,” she comments.

Ann was unexpectedly reunited with her Girl Scout leader, Edna Hockridge, 40 years after her scouting days. She was with her aunt at the doctor’s office, when Mrs. Hockridge, also in the waiting room, recognized Ann’s laugh. It was one of those unexpected, sweet moments to reminisce with her Girl Scout leader all those years later. “I guess I never lost my unique laugh!” exclaimed Ann.

“The staff and current Girl Scouts were thrilled when Ann offered to donate her beautiful, pristine, vintage Girl Scout uniform to Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida. Her gift serves as a reminder to all our girl members and Girl Scout alumnae that Girl Scouting is a lifelong circle of friendship, with shared ideals.

Girl Scout Vest

This junior vest is the Girl Scouts' uniform today.

“The powerful values – courage, confidence and character – are as relevant today as they were in Ann’s day. The insignia, badges and achievements proudly displayed on Ann’s uniform show girls today that what they do matters, and that they can take action to make the world a better place,” shares Sue Stewart, CEO of Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida.

As a result of Ann’s recent connection with the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida, Plymouth Harbor is now partnering with a member of Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida who is interested in fulfilling her Gold Award by rebuilding the Butterfly Garden, a special feature of Plymouth Harbor’s beautiful campus grounds.

Ann’s story is not unique.  In fact, many of the women living at Plymouth Harbor were Girl Scouts. It seems as if everywhere you turn, you meet women excited to share their memories as a Girl Scout. Whether it’s a fond reflection of their time at camp, a friendship formed fifty years ago that is as strong today as it was then, or the recent memory of a college student whose passion was ignited as a Girl Scout – the stories are everywhere.