Thirty-five years ago, a Londoner came to the U.S. for a better life. Dave Rees ended up in New England, meeting his future wife Mary, but yearned for the one thing the British city lacked: sunshine.
“He always wanted to live in the Sunshine State,” Mary said.
In 2010, his wish came true, and the couple moved to Anna Maria Island.
“He kind of took me dragging and kicking,” she said. “I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Two months after relocating, Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer. He would die of it less than a year later.
Her daughters, Paula, Tracey and Sharon, would come together that Christmas to buy her a memorial plank on the Anna Maria City Pier. Mary said they wanted to have a place for her to visit her late husband.
The following Valentine’s Day, a Sunday, Mary found crews placing Dave’s plank on the pier. “Symbolic,” she called it.
“Forever and a day love David W Reese 1949-2011,” the carving read.
She visited it every Sunday after church, until Hurricane Irma destroyed the centenarian pier. City commissioners voted last week to tear down and rebuild the pier, and it may not reopen until 2019.
Mary doesn’t know what will be of Dave’s plank, or the 999 others sponsored as part of a centennial celebration. Neither does Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.
The year the Rees’ moved to the island, both The Islander newspaper and the City Pier Restaurant sponsored 1,000 planks with carved messages for anyone who wanted one ahead of the 100-year celebration.
Each plank cost at least $100, and more for mementos that exceeded the character limit, according to Islander publisher Bonner Joy.
Before Irma hit in September, Murphy said some of the boards weren’t in good shape.
“Some of them were deteriorated because water sits in the carving,” he said.
He said he’s “trying to save those planks the best (he) can.”
Nearly 30 emails and several phone calls have been made to Murphy’s office, asking what will become of the planks.
That’s why he’s turning to the public for input, hoping to have a decision made by the end of the year.
Ideas can be sent to the mayor’s email address at firstname.lastname@example.org. Murphy indicated that the city’s website would also have an online form that could be filled out.
A suggestion from Mary Rees: make benches out of the memorial planks to be placed on the pier.
“I would want to see it replaced if possible somewhere on the new structure, because that’s my go-to place on Sunday,” Mary said. “I don’t want to stop going to the pier.”