NAPLES — There are plenty of reasons for Bostonians to visit the Naples area. There’s the weather, the golf, the beaches, and, in spring, the chance to visit the training camp of the Boston Red Sox in nearby Fort Myers.
And, as a part-time resident, I’ve found that someone wearing a Patriots or Red Sox cap or pahkin’ his car is usually greeted with a smile instead of a sneer, especially so in the condo complexes and golf communities in sprawling East Naples.
John Sorey III, mayor of Naples, said southwest Florida has long been a haven for Midwesterners, but he started noticing a strong Bostonian presence in the last 20 years or so.
“It might have been the traffic or overcrowding on the east coast [of Florida], or the Red Sox, but people from the Northeast just started finding their way here,” he said.
There’s no better example of the ties that bind the two regions than St. Patrick’s Day.
As Mayor Marty Walsh and city workers scrambled to clear snow from the South Boston parade route for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston on March 15, a large group of volunteers from the Naples St. Patrick Foundation Inc. was setting up for the 39th annual Naples St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event that Sorey said drew an estimated 30,000 spectators to downtown on March 14.
“It’s our biggest parade of the year,” he said. “Bigger than the Fourth of July or the Christmas parade.”
On parade day, we set up beach chairs along Fifth Avenue, a mecca of upscale dining and shops. We enjoyed a parade that organizers said was the largest in its history, with about 140 separate groups and participants, including 16 high school marching bands from Lee and Collier counties, Irish dancers, bagpipe bands, politicians, stilt walkers, and floats.
Strengthening the ties to the Boston celebration were alumni from many Boston-area colleges who march annually, including groups from Boston College, Stonehill, Merrimack College, and the University of Massachusetts Boston. Later, they could be found at receptions all over the city.
The St. Patrick’s pipeline runs both ways. In 2014, band members from Palmetto Ridge High in North Naples marched in the Boston parade, accompanied by Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller.
Hiller is an unabashed fan of all things Boston, including the food and the sports teams, and makes several visits to the city each year.
“It’s my favorite city in the US by far,” she said.
As ties between the Naples area and Boston have strengthened, some of those who have left Boston to make their home in Naples are making a difference, and boosting the reputation of Bostonians in general.
Bob Cahners of the Boston-based Cahners publishing family, a noted philanthropist, moved to the Naples area 20 years ago and became involved in many community causes, including serving on the board of trustees of the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children.
On March 9 of this year, Cahners dedicated Pam’s Porch at the Rabb Cottage, one of the shelter’s seven transitional cottages, in memory of his wife, Pamela, who died in March 2013. He had previously made funding possible for one of the cottages.
“Bob Cahners has been a wonderful ambassador for the Shelter for Abused Women and Children for over 15 years,” said Linda Oberhaus, the executive director. “In addition to being an original member of the shelter’s board of trustees, he supported our capital campaign to build a state of the art domestic violence center in Naples.”
Harold Weeks, a Milton native and retired Brockton fire captain who moved to Naples after retiring and now leads the Collier County NAACP, was honored last August with the James V. Mudd Fellowship medallion by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.
He also serves as a mentor for the Boys and Girls Club, a vice president for the Friends of the Collier County Museum, a volunteer for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and a legal guardian for a young adult with cerebral palsy in Miami. He’s also on the steering committee for Opportunity Naples, a community effort to develop a new economic development strategy for the county.
The ties that bind Bostonians to their Red Sox also bind them to the Naples area, located just a few miles south of JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
“Red Sox fans . . . are important to the success and atmosphere at JetBlue Park,” said Zineb Curran, director of corporate communications for the Red Sox. Curran said approximately 10 percent of the tickets sold there go to fans with a residence in Naples-Collier County. “When taking into consideration that most fans list the billing address of their primary residence up north, we estimate the true number to be closer to 25 percent.”
Needless to say, the weather can be quite pleasant. When I left for Boston on March 31, the Gulf waters off Naples were 80 degrees. In early June, Boston Harbor was still a turn-you-blue 52. Average high air temperatures range from the mid-70s to mid-90s, and average lows from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, depending on the season.
That makes it an ideal year-round area for golf, and the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce has declared the area “The Golf Capital of the World,” with the second-highest number of golf holes per capita of any community in the country. There are nearly 90 private, semi-private, and public golf courses in Collier County.
That didn’t escape the attention of avid golfer George “Gig” Runey, a Hanson native, and his wife, Christine, who was born in Whitman.
The couple has lived all over the country, but when it came time to retire, the Runeys, both 64, decided to buy in the Naples Lakes golf community in the East Naples area, and now split their time between Florida and Bourne on the Cape.
“We had been coming to the area and renting for several years before we decided to buy two years ago,” said George Runey.
The area boasts a cultural vibe that resonates with Bostonians, according to Hiller and Sorey. National theater tours and major musical acts stop at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers and Artis — Naples, home of the Naples Philharmonic and the Baker Museum. There are several local theater groups and plenty of free events, such as concerts at downtown Cambier Park .
“We were advised years ago by a consultant to keep the arts in the downtown area, and it’s one of the smartest things we did,” said Sorey.
Collier County also boasts an extensive network of parks and fitness centers.
Sorey said there is one very major difference between his job and that of his counterpart Marty Walsh: “I didn’t get one complaint about snow removal the entire season.”
Rich Fahey can be reached at email@example.com.