Interview with Richard Sayers, 1987-12-23

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Interview with Richard Sayers, 1987-12-23
Sayers, Richard ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Lee County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Lee County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Lee County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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D--We're doing an interview with Richard Sayers in his home in Charlotte

Harbour, Florida. It's December 23, 1987. The interview is David Dodrill.

Dick, tell me a little bit about your background, as far as when you were

born, where you got your education and stuff like that.

D--I was born in Joplin, Missouri. And went to a Catholic High School there.

Not too many of them there. And all through high school. At the begin-

ning of my junior year in high school I was fifteen and went to work for

a daily newspaper for 42 hours a week. Nights and the summers. And

started junior college there and found out, it was before the end of

World War II, 1944. So I wound up in the maritime service, going to

Catalina Island and got trained to go to sea as a merchant marine. So

I sailed to Hawaii and to the Phillipines on a tanker. Was over in the


back and made one more trip to Greece. Then I finished my junior college.

And then the Korean war came along before I got done with my college

education. So I decided that last time I was at sea and this time I was

a soldier. So, I went down and enlisted in the army. Asked for the infantry.

So, I went to Ft. Riley, trained there. Go into OCS and they got me

enroute to leadership school because I was disqualified for color blind-

ness and they sent me on to leader school. So, I went on to become a

sergeant major of a batallion. And went to Korea. And in Korea they

made me combat correspondent with the 20th division. By that time I had

worked about eight years as a daily newspaper. So, I was there for about

15 months and came home. Six days later I was discharged. I got married

when I first went into the army and I had a son waiting for me when I got

back. And then I had two more....

D--What was your wife's name?


R--Betty. And I had two more children born in Kansas when I started Ft.

Riley and he was born before I went to Korea and when I came back I

finished school at WAshburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Took a year of law

school. Was going into law but I had a job offer and two kids. Took

my B.A. and left. I had two boys born in Kansas, three children born

in Missouri and two born in Florida. I had seven all together. But I

went to work for Sinclair REfining Company. And wound up in an oil

business before moving to Florida and going to work for the Miami News.

Before I became chief copy editor.

D-When did you go towork for them?

R--1962. I was there during the Cuba MissileCrisis. In fact, I edited a

Cuban MissileCrisis series that we wrote and won a pultizer prize. The

author, Hal Hendricks won a pultizer prize for the Miami News doing it.

And then I had, through little league I met a vice-president of a p.r.

firm that happened to be handling the Gulf American account. Neither

one of us ever talked about our jobs for a long time.

D--Who was that?

R--:MertWetstein. Vice-president of Woody Kepner & Associates. They were in

Coral GAbles. He handled this account and one day he told me, in fact,

he walked into the Miami News. "What are you doing here?" And we began

to talk about work and one day he called me and said that I had spoke

about a interest in public realtions. So he asked me if I might be inter-

ested in looking into a job with Gulf America Corporation in Cape Coral.

lie said he would talk to me the following MOnday. So that week-end I put

the family into the car and we drove to Cape Coral and then back. They

\vere impressed because of my initiative in going over there to see what

it was all about. Before the interview, so they hired me. So, we went

to cape Coral. This was in October of 1964. October 1, 1964, I actually

went to work for them. The bridge was already opened and the bank had


just opened.

D--Made it a little bit easier to get out there.

R--My purpose in being there was to set up what was called the Cape Coral

News Bureau. And handling the publicity and any media relations. Eileen

Bernard was already there doing the Cape Coral Sun. And doing whatever

Connie & Bob Finkernagel and Peggy tanfield wanted her to. And it was

getting to be quite a load. So we set up a system for handling everything

from hometown releases to any kind of release that would have an

an opportunity to get into any major newspapers or some good weeklys in

out marketing area.

D--When you say hometown releases what are you talking about?

R--Well, like if somebody wins a tournament or somebody's name was in the

Cape Coral Sun we would send it back to their hometown so there was

quite an opportunity to do that. We could've done even more than we did.

If we had had the time and manpower. So, as it was, we, for about the

eight years that I was there we averaged better than 100,000 column inches of free

publicity year in newspapers, mainly in our marketing area and in maga-

zines. And some broadcast television. But at the same time, with the

help of Berneice Freibrg in Baltimore we set up a visiting media pro-

gram. I can't think of what we did call it now, but we invited senators,

real estate editors, they got involved in area that we wanted to get into.

A lot of outdoor writers, too. And we'd fly them down and entertain

them. And of course the main purpose was to try to give them ideas for

news stories and for columns. So we got a lot that way. We'd take them

to Cape Coral and the Golden Gate and to River Ranch and Remuda Ranch.

And we had some of the top writers and photographers in the country

come down.

D--So it was your job as head of the news bureau to generate or to get out

news stories that would involve Cape Coral and would be printed in news-


papers throughout the country, basically as news which would mean that

Gulf America wouldn't have to pay for advertising.

R--And it also carries a lot more credibility than newspaper advertising. A lot of

those papers, people looked up to those who had their bylines on them.

Especially the personal columns, like the outdoor columns and so on. One

good example was that when I arrived there they had been able to get,

one of their problems was that their biggest marketing area was Cleve-

land, Ohio at the time and they had been able to get good publicity in

the Cleveland >Press but they had never been able to break into the Cleve-

land Plain Dealer. And I became acquainted with Jewel Dean who "he real

estate editor of the news press and he told me one day that the execu-

tive editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and his wife were coming down

to vacationand would I be interested in meeting them. I said that I

sure would. So we arranged a couple of charter fishing trips with

them and they were just great people and it just happened on the first

day out that the king fish were running. So we got into a school of

kings and I guess that we were able to catch like 128 or 130 kings and

they were really impressed then. So, not only did we get into but on

his editorial page he did a personal one that was always a picture in

the paper itself. So we had two editorials in there. One of them

praising the new communities in Florida and talking about Cape Coral

and talking about the sport fishingout there too. So....

D--That's good. About when was that?

R--It would still be in the sixties. I can't remember the exact date.

Some time after that he retired and the Sunday editor named Bill Ware

took his place. Bill also came down and he and his wife retired and

bought a home in Cape Coral.

D--Were there any particular difficulties with setting up a news bureau?

R--WE11, of course some of the difficulties in trying to get favorable


publicity was that sometimes there was some unfavorable publicity that

you sort of had to try to overcome.

D--fhat do you mean?

R--Well, later on when Gulf American got into problems over the hard sell

and sales tactics and that sort of thing. They had methods that they

used in the beginning that I had no control over and that Cape Coral

would really get off the ground and I don't too many people were dis-

appointed when they bought and when they paid for their land. When we

moved there they were just under 3,000 people, I guess and you could buy

a riverfront lot then for eight or ten thousand dollars down on the south

end in the yacht club area. And I'm sure youcan't do that today.

D--I'm positive. How would the news bureau try to counter the bad publicity

that was going with something like that?,

R--Well, we got, I was not the public relations director of the whole company.

I had to work through other people, in ways that I couldn't. That pro-

blem would go up to those in the Miami office and Connie Mack and particul-

arly Bob Finkernagel. in Cape Coral. So, we simply had to do our best

to overcome it with good publicity. Although there was specific things

that we did do, were called on to do and then when the company did change

hands I put together a plan for public relations for the whole comapny through

Bob. On what good public realtions for that company should be.

D--That was when GAC took over?

R--Right. NOw after we got going eventually, we were on the third floor on

that fourth story building, the Gulf American building in Cape Coral.

And had about half of it or more. We had our own photo lab, for one

thing. And at one time had three photographers that served in the phote

technician lab. And two writers with newspaper experience, Sue Jones

who later became Sue Rowburn and Vince Smith who is now the golf editor

of the news press. And they had Eileen who was the publications editor,


mainly and put out the Cape Coral Sun. And we also had a publication editor

Jerry Scheme -who put out an internal publication called Impact.

But also did other things as well, and helped entertain visitors, all

these media people. And we had, we set up a mailing list to the com-

putere which was on the fourth floor above us for mailing list of all

the newspapers and publications in the country and we could break it

down according to areas, according to dailies, the publications and

the size of the publications. According to the types of editors we

wanted, like if we wanted all the religion editors on the weekly papers

in Ohio we could arrange it.

D--So when you came out with a news story that would fit those categories

you would punch them into the computer and it would pull out those

addresses and send that information just to those people.

R--That's right, If we wanted to sort of pinpoint or blanket a certain area

or certain type of editor. Another thing we did too, there was always,

there was a trend then anjd I suppose a lot of them are still doing it.

Of p.r. firms putting up flashy letterheads for news releases and it was

almost a joke. And if you've ever seen one of those a lot of them got

canned before they got opened. And so for newspapers, you just generally

then used newprint about letterhead size and used that for copy paper.

So, I came up with the idea that we do the same thing there so we bought

newsprint that size and typed it to make it look like it came right off

one of the reporter's desk, of she newspaper instead of being a flashy

production from the p.r. firm.

D-So, it would at least get read by the editor?

R--Yes. The editor would give it more attention and very often it went in

as is. Most of them would do inquiries and do another story, but many of

the smaller papers would put it in as is. Would set it up the same way.

So we did alot of things. But it was also our task to publicize a lot


of the events that we had. Like the Cape Coral Intercollegiate Golf

Championships every year. And we would invite twenty universities and

for a while forty universities and we would use the Golden Gate golf

course as well as Cape Coral from all over. And that got to be quite

an affair for sixteen or eighteen years. A lot of who became pros would

win the tournament. In fact, Steve Melnich holds the Cape Coral Country

Club record, it was a 64 that he shot in one of those tournaments. Bob

Murphy won it and Hubert Green, Andy North. The only time that it was

ever in the south, the NCAA tournament was held in Cape Coral.. And that

year the co-champions from the University of Texas, Ben Crenshaw...

And then we had intercollegiate tennis tournaments and some sanctioned

seniors tennis tournaments. When I first went there we had the Miss

Florida World contest, which is part of the Miss World thing. And

Larry King used to m.c. that. That would be in the late sixties. I went

there in '64 and it was going on then. It just started. And then at one

point we were picked for the sight of a movie. You may have already

heard about it. The Fat Spy.

D--Yeah, I heard it was one that everybody pretty much hoped wouldn't make it.

R--Phillis Diller, Jack'E.-Leonard, Ryan Dunlivy, and a group called "The Wild

Ones," Christopher Jordon, just before they came down here he married

Richard Burton's ex-wife. The one he divorced to marry Elizabeth Taylor...

So the London Daily-Express was there and they used our photo lab and

we got a lot of publicity out of it. I can't think of all who was there

now. We had a lot of fun with Phyllis Diller. They brought one of Henry

Ford's Model T's over and some other pictures and so on. Jayne Mansfield

was in it. I was at the airport one Sunday to meet Phillis Diller and she

came in from celebrating her son's wedding and was still celebrating when

she got there and gave me a big hug and a kiss and Bill Marler, my


photographer didn't get that picture and I said next time I"went out to

meet Jayne Mansfield, if you miss this welcome you're going to be looking

for a new job. So he got a picture of it, of my welcome. She shook my

hand instead of giving me a kiss, well, anyway. The movie was produced

and it was shown, but it kind of bombed.

D--Were you responsible for making up some of the different promotions or

were they already thought up and you were just responsible for making

sure that they got covered properly?

R--Well, it worked both ways. Bernice in Baltimore would dream up some

ideas and Bob Finkernagel did a lot of it. Then the P.R. firm office.

D--Was that Paul Venzi?

R--Paul Venzi in Baltimore, right. The P.R. firm, Woody Kepner & Associates

would come up with something and then later we dropped them and we wound

up with a couple of financial P.R. firms in New York.

D--So, in other words, Gulf American would hire a firm to do all their

promotional schemes?

R--Well, to do some of them. And most of it was in house. Most of it was

dreamed up in house and worked on in house. And they contacted a lot of

people in the Northeast and Bob contacted a lot then we came up with

some of our own ideas too.

D--Did you come up with any ideas?

R--Oh, heavens, Yes. But I can't think off hand of any spectacular ones.

I would come up with different ways to publicize events that we were

holding. And special interviews and with a lot of the visiting people

we would do a lot of interviews or a lot of photography for them.

Special photography for them. We'd wind up on the cover of several

magazines, Holiday Inn magazines. My own kids were models for the layout

in House & Garden magazine, So, we wound up in all sorts of them. Bob

worked in several deals, and Bernice, with various companies to do their


commercials, use Cape Coral as the sight of them for their commercials.

And there were some special things. I remember Hank Williams, Jr. was

there one time for special show. And then I had dinner with him at

the Country Club. This was before he got into the accident, and so on.

And then another time we did this special up at River Ranch with Buddy Greco

and it had a kind of Western motife. The Ranch was kind of set up that

way and the location for it.

D--Who were some of the other people you interviewed or did photography for?

R--Well, sometimes we got called on to do things that were hardly publicity

or wouldn't be today. For example, my wife and I were asked to go to

Miami and meet and bring back to Cape Coral and entertain for a week

the mother and sister of President Marcos of the Phillipines. So we

were taking them for a week. -And part of it to keep them from coming

to Port Charlotte because they had brought property up here. And then on

Sunday before the write-up they'd turn them over to the sales people,

they sold them over 100,000 dollars worth of property.

D--Was it Frank Odle?

R--Frank Odle, right. Frank and I think he won a trip to Europe in addition

to the commissions off of it. So we had quite a time. They brought a

body guard and we kind of joked about the bodyguard they brought with

them because he probably weighed about 90 Ibs. And then they found out

he was an expert on martial arts in the Far East. That he was running

around taking pictures too, all the time. We had an enjoyable time.

His mother was a master of education, was a teacher. And his sister had

seven children, as we did. And I had been to the Phillipines for nine

months. In fact I was telling them about being there and going alone into

an Moro village. And they just shuttered at that becuase the Moro's and

the Phillipinos never get along. And the Moro's were muslims and were

headhunters. So they were very aghast. But we had a good visit. And then

there was Will Rogers, Jr.

D--Back to the Marcos. Who suggested that you take them and entertain

them and stuff? Was that something that came down from Bob Finkernagel?

R--I think probably Bob and Connie, or both. They worked so closely together.

D--Your suggestions from one of the people you talked to?

R--Oh, I remember John Cameron Swazy was their once. In fact, the photographers

and I dreamed up a little trophy. for him an outboard motor with a

watch on it, because of his Times T.V. commercials. And then we had a

later on another Seminole Indian Chief was in my office.

D--Tell me again about Bill Bowlegs.

R--Well, this is not connected, of course with Cape Coral. It was when I

was with the Miami News.

D--Throw it in there anyway.

R--In fact, I was on vacation from the Miami News when the editor, called

me to do a special hurricane edition in a couple of weeks. I put

it together and one of the things that I did was interview Billy Bowlegs

and asked him about some of the old stories about how they detected

hurricanes by watching the sawgrass or whatever, he said, "That's just

white man's story. Nothing to it." And so I asked him what he did to

protect his tribe, when the big hurricane in 1926 hit. And so many people

in that area, mostly migrant workers were drowned. And he said he wasn't

even with them. he was in Belle Glade with some white friends.

D--Did he say anything from back in the time of the wars and stuff?

R--No, he didn't. Well, we got into some of that at first and this being

a hurricane edition, it was kind of focus on the storms and that sort of


D--You mentioned several people that were involved in the news bureau. You

mentioned Vince Smith was a writer, Elieen Bernard, who edited the

Cape Coral Sun, who else?


R--Sue Jones, Sue .Roper now.

D--She was a writer?

R--She had been in Key WEst Daily paper before that. And Vince had served

on papers that were in the Pittsburgh area and Philadelphia. And then

had been a golf writer, and was very good. And that helped him produce

what we wanted to produce. Because we wanted our articles to be in news-

paper style when they reached a newspaper desk. So Vince really helped.

D--Was there anybody else who worked in that office?

R--Jerry Shomp did. He did releases as well as the publications and he had

written about the John Birch Society and then became converted and did

a book that McIillan published.

D--Do you Imow the name of it?

R--Birchiism was my Business, was the name of it. Peggy Tanfield didn't stay

there much too lI-'*: after I left. She went out west.

D--What did she do?

R--She was pretty much a general p.r. person. Because in those days there

were not tool many people there to do a lot of people to do the work that needed

was done in the area of p.r. And there was customer relations and comm-

unity relations that were done. In the beginning there were hardly any

stores and no bridge and dirt roads. The company spent a great part of

the time trying to satisfy those that were there and would go out of their

way, considerably, in most cases to make them feel at home and make it work.

D--Peggy would help a lot with that?


D--Was there anybody else in your office? A professional photographer?

R--Well, I had three photographers. I forget the name of the one who was

there when I arrived. Bill Mahler. And he probably would have stayed

there except his wife wanted hin back in New Jersey. And he was very

good. He had come from Mercury Motors. And later had Edddle Farroll,


Dick Wylie and Bob South. Bob was the son of the Souths that were one of

the first businesses, they ran the industrial park. His dad was on the

first city council after we had the city and later died as a result of
of a motorcycle accident.

D--Wylie, how does he spell his name?

R--Wylie, and later he was on the police force.

D--I remember seeing that name somewhere.

R--And he was on the police force.

D--So, that is pretty much the news bureau and then Connie Hack and Bob Fin-

kernagel were above you?

R--In the table of organization that was baloney. One thing I was m.c.'ing

one time and Connie Was there I said, "Well, I'm just over Connie Mack."

Because his office was directly below mine. So he understood that as a

joke, I hope. Both of them got along very well.

D--Tell me a little bit about them.

R--We used to joke about them. McGillicutty and Finkernagel could be for the

law firm or a comedy team.

D--What did each of those men, what did Connie Mack contribute to.the organi-


R--Well, of course, other people can tell you better about what he did. In

one area, of course, he handled a lot of problems and people with problems.

And in some cases he would ask me to handle a few of them or to take over.

Most of those people were just legitimate questions and problems to be

solved. Connie was very good at smoothin things over, very diplomatic.

I would run across to the store where he was negotiating for the con-

pany and the Rosens for the Dolphins.

D--Tell me a little bit about that.

R--I don't know the real story on that.

But I know that he had it in his hand and decided not to go with it.


D--Tell me a little bit about Bob Finkernagel.

R--Well Bob is a real excellent manager and a very good p.r. person. Very

good at receiving ideas and seeing that they were carried out properly

and followed through. And one thing that I liked about him and after

I was there a while and they saw that I could do certain things and that

I was dependable they would both feel comfortable in turning certain

projects over to me and that they would be carried out. Or if they

were gone for two or three days I could make a decision which made me

feel good. That they trusted me.

D--So your job was more than just telling about the promotions, your job was

also to carry some of them out.

R--Yes. Of course Paul Sanborn did a lot of that. If you talk to him,

you'll find that out. He actually did the legwork & overseeing the events them-

selves. First of all the Yacht Club and then the Country Club. He was

really director of community relations, I guess they called him.

D--When you came to work for Gulf American was there any doubt that Cape

Coral would be a success?

R--Nobody ever thought about it not being a success. And it was like, espec-

ially this group that I was working with. It was like one big happy

family, you know. And we just had a great time. It was a very exciting

time, too. To be there and watch it happen, to be a part of it. And

watching it grow. Everytbhe you turned the corner you would see a new

building going up. A building you hadn't seen the day before.

D--You knew the Rosens?

R--Yes, a little bit. I'didn't know them like Bob or Connie did.

D--Tell me your impressions.

R--Well, I say it's a little difficult because I saw them mostly at a dis-

tance or at different functions or meetings or something at that time.

Jack would come up and just shake hands with me I guess because he knew


me when I was in Baltimore. Except for one or two functions where he

didn't come to Cape Coral. And I try to remember, one time they had a

banquet where their mother was there. And one of them could tell you

about the banquet (Mack or Finkernagel) and she said it was the first

time she had ever seen Cape Coral and toured it. She said she was just

flabbergasted because she couldn't imagine them building a city, T couldn't

even get them to clean up their room. But !-Lonard, of course, is the one

that I saw the most of. He held forth at Miami at the 79th street

office down there. He was over more frequently. But they did make an

effort to produce everything that they promised. And a lot of difficul-

ties were caused by the salesmen exaggerating certain things to make a

sale. But all in all it was quite an exciting project.

D--Generally, the people that worked for Gulf American had faith in what

the Rosens were doing?

R--Oh, yes. Not everybody was completely happy with everything they did all

the time, but they knew it was going to work. At least they did when I

was there. There may have been some there earlier that wondered.

D--Now you stayed with Gulf American until they were taken over by GAC.

R--After that. I was there during the change over and that's when they

started moving most of our operations to Miami and I just resigned.

D--Ihen did it become apparent or when did it start in the wind that the

Rosens were going to sell out to GAC?

R--Well, again, your best source would be Bob Finkernagel and I guess

Charlie Hepner, too. But there early o0i the difficulties with the

installments and sales corps. And then as those problems grew it became

apparent that there was oing to be change in order to try to get away from

some of those problems and start fresh. And that's how it happened, I guess,

when they came down from Allentovn. What used to be General Acceptance Cor-

poration became GAC. And it fit because we were the same initials. So


then they took over and they got into difficulties and of course they

were a great management team, but they knew nothing about the land sales

business, and development. But they had savings and loans and insurance

companies elsewhere. And, as I recall, they started selling those off

to try and keep the community development business going and finally

it all went.

D-From your experience, you mentioned that you suggested to them how to

promote stuff better?

R--I have a copy of a plan that I put together that suggested how to

approach public relations in general. It was specific and a general

outline of how to handle it. About ten pages.

D--How receptive were they to that?

R--Well, not too receptive because they brought in their own team and had

their own ideas about how to handle public relations and I don't think

they really wanted to hear from people who were already in place so much.

Because I think they wanted a new kind of image and they had some ideas

about how to accomplish that. It may or may not have worked, but I think

that was the feeling.

D--Did they begin to inleediately, once they took over, begin to fire peo-

ple or was it a gradual thing?

R--It was more of a gradual thing. Again, Bob could tell you about that.

D--In your position, did you still have quite a bit of influence?

R--Not as before. Well, in the news bureau, yes. But we weren't as impor-

tant in the scheme of things. In couple of areas as we were before.

But I had no interest in moving it all to Miami and taking all them.

D--1hen did you quit?

R--'71, I guess. Late '71 or early '72. It was the next year I got in-

volved in politics, again. Sometime in '70 I took a leave of absence

to run for the state senate. I needed to make it plain the fact that


we need single member districts because we were represented by senators

from another coast, Palm Beach County was in our district. And we were

outnumbering 11 to 3 by voter registration so I knew there was a chance

that I could win. Except I got all the endorsements of all the newspapers,

Miami Herald, and Palm Beach Sentinel and Channel 20 in this area. And I

carried this area, 70-80%. And then had a voice in the other two senate seats

in the general election, one a democrat and one a republican because of what

we did in Cape Coral and Lee County their vote won by some margin. And Phil

Lewis was the democrat and Tom Johnson was one of my opponents that he

supported. And he won. So, we faired pretty well and wound up getting

single member district.

D--What happened to some of the other people as GAC took over? Gulf American

people. Did you just kind of loose touch of where everywhere was at?

R--Well, of course, I lived in Cape Coral until the first of September.

Most of us stayed there, I'm aware of, but many of them are gone. Some

of those that we talked about.

D--In your news bureau did youever do anything with the other Gulf American

properties? In other words, were you involved in promoting them also?

R--Right. We had made a couple of trips out to Arizona and one was with

Bob Finkernagel, maybe two with him. And...

D--This was in the Gulf American days?

R--Right. Well, no, in fact, that was after because we used Hayward Wills

plane and had meetings with people in Tucson and Phoenix and UNogales to

explain to them what we were doing. And that was Rio Rico. Most of mine

was with Barefoot Bay on the other coast. It was a mobile home development

near Melbourne. And then of course Golden Gate and River Ranch and Remuda.

And we took a lot of people out fishing and hunting and skeet shooting.

Judy Borrows had a series of outdoor things on television, reruns are


going on now. And we had them at Remuda Ranch for fishing and skeet

shooting. And we had them at River Ranch for hunting. And then they

had 1XLn Wesson of Wesson Arips, used to be Smith and Wesson with them, who

came down and did some things. There were three or four magazines with

pictures and a new prototype of a gun he just developed. In fact, he sent

me a presentation case with one in it. Number 13, a .357 Magnum with

interchangeable barrels.

D--Some people have said that Gulf American never really intended for Golden

Gate and River Ranch and some of these other to ever be like Cape Coral.

To ever be with the housing subdivisions. They were just intended to be


D--You were telling me a little bit about Golden Gate.

R--You were asking about if there intentions were todevelop communities and

it was my understanding that it wasthe plan and in fact, River Ranch had

set up models of manufactured homes, not like regular mobile homes. And

starting to sell them about the time the real difficulties started. And

then they tossed the idea of Poinciana. I did quite a lengthy report

in several phases on Poinciana up near Kissimmel

D--Was that a housing subdivision also or was that mobile homes?

R--Oh, it was ; housing, it is with a golf course. It is functioning

now. Of course, there were problems of selling the land at Remuda Ranch.

Most of it was under water. They talk about Cape Coral being swampland.

D--Do you feel like Gulf properly represented the land? Do you feel like it

was the type of thing were people just were buying it and then just com-

ing back?

R--Well, at Remuda I'm not sure it was presented in a sales presentation.

But one of the things that we talked about when people would come in and

we would take them down there and fishing down there in the 10,000 Islands. We'd

tell thet that what they bought really gave them a membership to the Remuda Ranch


inn. Two big inns.

D--Where were they located?

R--Out of Naples all the way to Miami, I forgot the distance now. It must

be twelve, fourteen, sixteen miles. It's right on the Tamiami Trail on

either side of it as you go to Miami, the south side.

D--It's that big hotel?

R--Spanish style with a huge lobby. Ray Meyer did all the interiors on that

and it has a beautiful big lobby. A huge lobby, two or three stories high.

You could walk right around it. And employee docked outside on the one

on the southside. A canal through the Ten thousand islands leading to the

Gulf. And in the lodge itself plus hotel rooms on the outside. Around a

swimming pool. And then inside it had a complete exercise room.

D--So, it was never meant to be built on?

R--They sold it in lots but it could never be Cape Coral or Golden Gate.

D--In other words, if anybody ever saw it they would never have any illusions?

R--About building on some of that property, no. They would never dream. But

they were assured that by buying a lot they would have a membership in the


D--Is that still operating today?

R--Well, it's changed hands, but somebody is operating it. It's a big hotel.

In fact, at one time, I think the Sheraton owned it. Maybe they still do.

Oh, and at River Ranch we had some, two or three, national trap and skeet

tournaments. In fact, at one time, they had Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

there. Sort of honorary chairmen of it. And in fact Bill Mayler and I

and someone else went out and at night. So we went to dinner, Roy Rogers

and I and Bill Mayler and I guess the manager. I didn't know it, but Roy

Rogers finished third one time in the Grand Nationals as a skeet shooter.

And he had something like 499 out of 500, so he missed like one. And the

gun he was using he had bought from Clark Gable. He said they were out

shooting one time and he started cussing this gun and said anyone

who wanted it could have it, so he bought it from him. That was

the one he was using and I know of one time they were shooting, I forget.

And one of the targets came up broken in two pieces and he shot both

pieces before they hit the ground and the photographer said, "I thought

you always did that with mirrors." lie really was a good marksman. I had

an enjoyable time with him.

D--Was that still in the Gulf American days?

R--Yes. ANd we entertained another time, we had some news writer people

coming down from Kissimmee. on a house boat. A writer from C -

Manatee Junior College, I guess. And I have one of his books here Golden Geyser

And then another writer and then Eddie Kantor won the Pulitzer Prize.

And we had a great time. We took them both on down to River Ranch. And

plus playing the guitar and singing every folk song of any nationality

that's ever been written. Some of his own inventions there. Same not

for family entertainment. Really had a good time with him. I don't lanow

if they profited much with that venture though. He, Kantor, wrote a lot

of other things, Best Years of OUr LIves is one of them. Academy Award

winning movie. But he died about ten years ago. Oh, this one tie he

had the National Circus Saints and sinners was there because Ollie Schmidt

who-was at that time Natonal Secretary moved there and thenhe became

national president and formed a chapter there called the Connie Mack Tent.

And they had one in Washington.

D--Where was this?

R--In Cape Coral. One in Washington and Miami and Las Vegas and Pittsburgh

and various other places.

D--What was this?

R--Well, it's really a fun organization that raises money for charity and

began years ago to raise money for destitute circus performers. That


sort of thing. And they always have a roast every year. They do it in

Washington and especially have a good time and in New York. So, we had,

and I became the Roastmaster for them. We roasted people like Guy Lombardo

and Bob Newman who was then a Yankee who went to the Kansas City Royals

and a Hall of Famer.

D--Was this in Cape Coral?

R--Cape Coral. Yes. And then Senator Ed Gurney, later Watergate. And in

fact I had him down for the Chamber of Commerce banquet speaker one time.

I introduced him there. Let's see. Who else? There were several other

celebrities for that and I can't recall who they all were now. They

were congressmen, like Skip Batalis. And then several others like Sherrif

Wanika and D'Allesandro, the state's attorney and a couple of the judges

and that sort of thing. In fact, I went down to the Rod & Gun Club to do

one along with Judge McGiver, D'Alesando and Wanika. Fundraiser. Anyway,

so they had a few of those. And published the national magazine which

was put together every month,

D--I have a whole list of people here, well, some of these you may not even

know or know anything about. You knew Charlie Hepner?


D--Tell me a little bit about him.

R--I don't really know anything about him, personally.

D--What was his division in the corporation?

R--Well, first he was like in charge of marketing and then later became

president and I guess, I think he was acting a president when GAC took

over. Connie can tell you more about that, or he can.

D--Did you ever know, some people have mentioned Milt Mendelson, early in

the corporation?

R--I only saw him once. They tell you all the stories about him, but one

particular one the original Surfside Restaurant caught fire and all they


went through that night trying to get it put out. They called the fire-

truck, the volunteer fire division. And it took a while to find them

and get them down there. And when they tried to hook up the hose to the

fire engine on the corner, the connections didn't match. And then when

they didn't get it hooked up, there was no water and they had to call

Bob Parmal&e who ran the water plant to try and get it turned on or some-

thing. Oil, in the meantime when they were tryingto find him, they ran

down to one of the canals and started taking water out of one of the

canals. There was no filter and it got clogged. They finally went around to the

Nautilus Motel and got water out of the swimming pool, to put out the fire. Mean-

while the place is burning down. Oil, Milt Mendelson told me that he got

one of the hoses and run putting it on his shoulder. And went running

from the door of the surfside restaurant and the hose ran out and he fell flat on

his back. So that's why Milt Mendelson made me think of the fire thing.

D--I guess.

R--A lot of interesting things there.

D--Did you know Dick Crawford?

R--Oh, yes. He was one of the first people that I met when I got there.

I think was about the first one.

D--I understand he did a lot of, he started the Cape Coral Breeze.

R--Right. Community relations kinds of things f6r Bob. And I guess the old Surfside.

where they had the post office and everything else he had games and things

there and then started our little community newspaper called the Breeze.

And he was Mary Wiestein took me around to meet him that first day over

there at the Breeze. Hanging out talking about how he'd like to get rid

of it. lie finally wound up, I guess, selling it to a friend of Bob

Finkernagel's and Dick wound up running it after Bob left the company

and then they sold the newspaper t6 0 dn Newspapers in Welling, ,West'j :,

turned it into a daily. They were going twice a week and they made it


every day. But again, I can tell you more about that.

D--Did you ever know Tom Weber?


D--Tell me about him. Do you happen to know where he's at?

R--Well, last I heard was just very recently,I think Connie was telling me,

or was I telling Connie? I guess Connie was telling me that he stopped

by a few months ago and said that Leonard had talked him into coming

to Tennessee on a condo. project he was involved in. And was in trouble. Tom said

he was about to lose his tail on it and I guess he did. Anyway, Tom was helping him

which was supposed to be for a matter of days, and it wound up months or

something like that. He was a fine and grand person, Tom was. He was a

professional at what he did.

D--You think Connie would know where to get in touch with him?

R--OI, Connie might because it hasn't been too long since Connie has talked

to him. He said he hadn't seen him for a long time.

D--That's the first lead on finding where he's at. Nobody seems to know.

R--He could tell,you a lot of things because he had so much to do with the land

preparations and the big tree monster that they brought in.

D--What's that?

R--OH, we did a few stories, although today it would drivethe ecologist crazy. Oh,

it was a giant massive machine with a huge, real heavy, wh'eei six or eight

feet in diameter and I don't know how wide. And you run it through a

forest and it would just knock the trees down and chop them up. And it

had two big wheels in the back because of the size of it, but it was

immense. And the one time it led from one place to the other. It

was trying to keep line and he came to the driver of it, came to a big

pool and they had to go around it and in doing so he lost his bearings

and wound up with that great big tree monster getting lost. in Goldenbate Estates

And you know, you could see from the air for miles and miles away. But he man-


aged to lose himself in it.

D--That's interesting.

R--It looked like he was trying to cut himself through to the Fakahatchee

strand where the ranch was.

D--Was Gulf constantly purchasing more land all the time?

R--Well, a lot of the time I was there, in fact, when they owned the two

mile strip or whatever it is next to Bonita Beach, it extended south of

Bonita Beach. Or do they call that Barefoot Beach?

D--In my mind, I think that's what that was called.

R--I don't know what they call that now, maybe something else. And that

development called Barefoot I3ay or something like that. I don't know.

D--i'as there a sense that Gulf was ever going to be finished with these

things or was there kind of the idea that "Well, if we sell all lots in

Cape Coral, we'll just add more land."

R--Oh, I just assumed that I'd be working for them the rest of my life. I

never thought about anything else. I didn't think it would be only eight

years. I thought they would just keep on going.

D--Any other stories or anything you know about from Gulf American, the


R--I really can't think of any right now. Talk about Tomd Weber and I recalled


D--Did you know Gwen McGinn*?

R--Sure. She worked there for them. She was also a doll collector. She had

a tremendous collection of dolls. We did little stories on that at times.

D--So, you would look for any kinds of stories that you could?

R--Yes, get the nune out in the paper.

D--I've got one question that I wanted to ask you. I heard that the Rosens

were philanthropists and in some ways they donated to quite a few charities

and stuff like that. Did you know of any?


R--Yes. But you know it was a shame because I can't recall any of those.

I'm sure Bob Finkernagel and Connie could tell you more about that because

they handled a lot of that kind of thing, I think. And they did quite a

bit. In fact, I remember, we used to have two planes that we could use.

Joe Gibson was a pilot. And very often they used him to fly to Golden

Gate of River Ranch or something, it would save time. And Connie would

use Bob to fly to Miani. But they hada girl there who had leukemia and

she had to go to Miami for transfusions and all because you couldn't do

that in Lee County at the time and I made the plane available to her like

every two weeks. So whatever day she needed)it we had to work around it

and so did Connie and so did Bob. That was her plane for those days.

So the business would take a back seat as far as the plane was concerned.

D--I understand that the Rosens were art collectors, too.

R--Oh, yes. In fact, that's one of things our gallery in the building on

79th Street in Miami. And that's why we had the Marcos over there to

show them the gallery. In fact, we had a little reception for them over

in the art gallery. And then brought them over on the plane to Cape Coral.

And we got pretty good mileage, publicity from that.

D--Do you think that, this may be conjecture, do you think that the Rosens

were more interested in art or more interested in waht they could get

from it?

R--I don't know. Charlie IHepner could tell you more about that. It was

quite a collection.

D--Oh, one other question. Was there any sense of us and them, particularly

with the Rosens being Jewish, and so many of the people in the organization

being Jewish. Was there ever a sense of us and them.

R--No. I mean, you know, I'm sure they would make jokes aboutah Irishman like me,

but we never felt it to be a racial thing or anything like them kind thing at all.

It was all one big happy family. We were all working towards the same

thing and trying to do the same thing. At least, that was my feelings.


There may have been others for some reason. I wasn't worried about


D-Just basically the Gulf American employees, people like you were really

building something great.

R--Oh, yes. And they may not have had that in mind when they started but

when I got there that was the feeling.

D--Maybe one last question. I talked to Ed Pacelli and he was telling me how

the very first year or second year, I asked him why there were almost no

black families in Cape Coral. And he said, "Well, originally there was

caucasian only clause on their sales contract." Was there a good effort

to keep it pretty much a white coianunity or did you know anything about


R--I don't think there was any concern there and I didn't know about any

restrictions on that at the time. I don know, and I was telling my wife

the other day, about the salesmen telling them about it. They got a

black family to come in on the highway and they would take them to lunch

with their family and they would come in and take a tour. Or if they

bought property up north and came down to look at it there were jokes.

They would drive them way out to Burnt Stone road & take them down to one

of those lanes and take them out there and start showing them the property

and tell them to be careful for the snakes out there, a few alligators,

and that kind of thing. But I'm not even sure that those are not, apocry-

phal sftAs. In fact, I know a couple of them very well.

D--Where was that welcome center at?

R--There was one in north Ft. Myers. I knew exactly where it was. Near Pine

Island Rcad and 41. And it seemed like their was one on South 41. Yes. Oh

Tom, at Ft. Myers Beach, was in charge of that program for a long time.

D--And he did what now?

R--Ie was sort of in charge of that VIT program for a long time. It was


handled in the Cape Coral area.

D--What did VIT stand for?

R--Very Important Tourist. Joe Miller was involved and may have been the

one to draw up the plan and I think Ray Meyer was involved in that or

the flight program when it started off. Ray could tell you more about

that. The little things. I had very little to do with sales. And I

guess he could tell you more about Cape Coral Gardens.

D--I'm setting up an interview with Gunther -Przystawik.

R--There were like seven different things there.

D--Who was the director of that? Was there a director for that?

R--Once it got started the person who ran it all was Rosen who was

not related to the Rosen brothers. Mary Lou was her name. Oh, Mary Lou (Kentrick)

worked in there too with him. Very closely. She could tell you all

about the gardens.

D--lho's .iary Lou?

R--You had her naie on the list. And it suddenly had like all the features

and something and they had the Garden of Patriots and what did they call

the hall? The Garden of Patriots had busts of all the Kennedys. and Mt.

Rushmore. And then it had the Iwo JIma. I can think of the guy, the

survivor of that, who was here, Rene GagRoD and he died about a year

aoe and I went down there for the dedication. And Secretary John Volpe from

Massachusetts, the Secretary of Transportation came down and did a dedica-

tion. And then of course, we had the porpoise show out there and then

the rose gardens and then the rain forest. YOu would walk, through there

and it would mist and plants were hanging and all kinds of stuff. Various

animals and birds. It was a two and a half acre lake that the waltzing

waters sat in and it was beautiful. We had Bob Hope there to dedicate
the AMVETS Carillon. The national organization. And the Rosens

came over for that one. And the porpoise show. I was there when they

/ 26A

brought the first porpoises in. Someone in Ft. Walton Beach trained them.
Brought them in on the D.C.3. Had them tranquilized, very interesting.

D--Do you know of anyone else that might have, seems like there was just

a lot of pictures and documents, pictures particularly. Any idea of who

might have a lot of pictures.

F--I used to. And of course we had lots of them in the news bureau, and I

guess they all went to Miami, but I had them and I tossed most of them

away in moving. They were 26 years until September. And just got rid of

them all. I was going through the files to see if I could find anything

but there was really nothing much. Some of these other people might tell

you and you might ask for pictures of their own.

D--That's oneof things that I'd like to include and that's pictures. Because

it staggers people's imagination to see how big the place was.

R--And there was just such good art on so many things because we had our own

lab going all the time and telling them to produce it all in black.and white.

And so I don't know. They must all be in Miami, a company file. But some of

these other people might be of help.

D--Just out of curiosity, and you are not under any obligation to say, what

does a news bureau chief make back in 1964?

R--Let me think. I'd say between twelve and fiteen thousand dollars. And there

were a couple ment who worked there for less than ten. And bear in mind, I had

been chief copy editor of Miami News. I also moved my family out of Miami.

And, well in fact, the county commissioner in '72 we were paid $11,000.

D--I remember those days. We didn't get very much. One question that I forgot

completely about and I want some input on. What do you think was the

relationship between Gulf American and the County Commission during the

time they operated. Was it kind of a love affair, a love/hate?

R--They got along pretty well. Mack Jones,who recently died, was the County

Commissioner, I guess just before I got there in the early days of it.

L. 1 27

He worked closely with them. Then it was Bruce Scott. And Bruce, of

course, was a developer himself at Pine Island and Matlacha. And I'd

say they worked pretty closely.

D--So, basically the commission basically supported whatever they wanted to


R--Oh, yes.

D--Anything else?

R--No,.I'm sure there is all kinds of things that I'll think of after you


D--Well good. Thanks a lot for the interview.

R--Okay. You are welcome.