Thursday, May 24, 2018

Danny Mootispaw Gets a Hand Up, Part 2

Lowe’s Comes on Board


Danny’s Newest Best Friends: Helpers pose for a photo as construction begins. Ladies from Justin’s Place (left), Lowe’s managers (top) with more Lowe’s personnel and their kids (right). E.J. Hoffman, Stephanie Earnhart and Danny Mootispaw at top center. Photos by Barry Gwinn

Danny’s Newest Best Friends: Helpers pose for a photo as construction begins. Ladies from Justin’s Place (left), Lowe’s managers (top) with more Lowe’s personnel and their kids (right). E.J. Hoffman, Stephanie Earnhart and Danny Mootispaw at top center. Photos by Barry Gwinn

In the winter and spring of 2017, Cleve Smith had done everything he could in Goodland to drum up some interest in getting some help for Danny to repair the porous and rotting roof of his boat. Lots of offers came in, but none could overcome the logistics problem of getting the materials out to Danny’s boat. And then in March 2017, Cleve made a pitch to the folks at Lowe’s Home Improvement Store in E. Naples. (See “Danny Mootispaw Gets a Hand Up, Part 1,” 1/5/18, coastalbreezenews.com.) It was a long shot.

The “Fish Camp,” freshly-painted with paint donated by Sunshine Ace Hardware.

The “Fish Camp,” freshly-painted with paint donated by Sunshine Ace Hardware.

Perhaps it was fortuitous that until recently, Lowe’s tagline had been “Let’s Build Something Together” and that Cleve’s livelihood had been based upon his amiability and knack for getting people to do things. At any rate, HR Manager Stephanie Earnhart was impressed with Cleve’s presentation, and succeeded in selling the project to Store Manager E.J. Hoffman. An appointment was set up for store officials to meet with Danny on his boat. In early April, Cleve took Earnhart, Hoffman, and Installation Manager, Brian Jasco out to Danny’s boat, which was then anchored near the Goodland Bridge.

Stephanie Earnhart, E.J. Hoffman and Brian Jasco arrive with another load of lumber.

Stephanie Earnhart, E.J. Hoffman and Brian Jasco arrive with another load of lumber.

“We started by talking about what it was Danny was hoping to do and ended up talking about various pieces of Florida history, especially concerning the 10,000 Islands area,” Hoffman said, “The thing that struck me the most about Danny was the fact that he never played the part of a victim. He simply takes what life has handed him, without the bitterness and negativity that would overcome most people. He is, quite possibly, one of the kindest souls and most interesting persons either of us has ever met, and it was impossible to not want to help him.”

At Cleve Smith’s home, Danny’s boat awaits the Lowe’s work crew. Sea Tow provided a free tow from Goodland Bay.

At Cleve Smith’s home, Danny’s boat awaits the Lowe’s work crew. Sea Tow provided a free tow from Goodland Bay.

As a result of the meeting, Hoffman agreed to bring out a crew to tear down the rotten superstructure and build a new one. “We were amazed at how well the fiberglass hull had held up,” said Hoffman. Accordingly, both labor and materials would be furnished by Lowe’s. Lowe’s already had a team of construction experts who they used in their charitable Heroes Program, which focuses on K-12 public/charter education and community projects. Danny would not have qualified for this program. “Since this was an individual that needed help it was decided that we would fund this ourselves [and do it on our own time],” said Hoffman.

View of stripped down hull prior to reconstruction. The Lowe’s crew was amazed at how well the fiberglass hull of this old Navy officer’s diving barge had held up.

View of stripped down hull prior to reconstruction. The Lowe’s crew was amazed at how well the fiberglass hull of this old Navy officer’s diving barge had held up.

The problem still remained as to getting all materials and personnel out to Danny’s boat in Goodland Bay. Anticipating this, Cleve Smith told them that he would arrange to have Danny’s boat towed to a vacant slip and dock behind his house. Taking Cleve at his word, Hoffman agreed to proceed with the project. And there the project languished while Cleve and Earnhart played phone tag. Finally in mid-June Earnhart called and said that they would be able to come out on June 28 to do the job. “She was really excited,” Cleve said, “and told me they would be able to complete the project in two days.”

Danny confers with one of the Lowe’s managers. The Lowe’s crew consulted Danny throughout construction.

Danny confers with one of the Lowe’s managers. The Lowe’s crew consulted Danny throughout construction.

Construction crew at work.

Construction crew at work.

Towing Danny’s 40’ boat and docking it behind Cleve’s house would be tricky and required finesse. Sea Tow agreed to do the job at no cost. The boat was to be towed past my house, and on the morning of its arrival, I was out on my dock poised to capture it all on camera. Then, my most regrettable camera malfunction occurred. Cleve and Eric McCormick, the son of the local franchise owner, were in the wheelhouse of the Sea Tow boat, all smiles. At the end of a 25’ tow rope was Danny’s ancient fiberglass boat, looking the worse for wear, with Danny sitting on the bow atop his ramshackle superstructure. He stared straight ahead, as if into the future, and never gave me a glance. My impression was that there was a great deal of emotion going on inside his head. It was a moving scene for me.

Work crew put finishing touches on Danny’s boat at the end of the second day.

Work crew put finishing touches on Danny’s boat at the end of the second day.

On June 28, the crew, who normally would have had this day off, arrived from Lowe’s with a rented truck and a load of lumber. Roofing materials were donated by Amherst Roofing of Naples. They began by tearing down the superstructure, and began construction that afternoon. By the evening of July 29, the job was done. Six managers plus a few customer service associates from Lowe’s showed up. The store manager and assistant store manager took charge. All the managers were versed and experienced in construction. Some brought their kids along.

Danny, working on the interior. This is the only photo I have showing Danny smiling.

Danny, working on the interior. This is the only photo I have showing Danny smiling.

Danny, a pretty fair carpenter himself, had provided three pages of handwritten plans and specifications for guidance. They were crucial to the planning and construction. “Danny was involved in all aspects of the planning and design,” Hoffman said, “Any time a question arose, Danny was asked what he would like before we moved forward.”

Danny’s boat awaits painting following the completion of construction.

Danny’s boat awaits painting following the completion of construction.

By the afternoon of the first day, the area behind Cleve’s house had been transformed into a bustling construction area. It became even more so when a group of young ladies wearing pink shirts arrived to help. They had come out from Justin’s Place in Naples and were thrilled to be there. Justin’s Place was opened in 2010 by St. Matthew’s House as a long-term recovery program for youth struggling with alcohol or drug abuse. Stephanie Earnhart’s daughter, Morgan, was a graduate of the program and, caught up in the excitement, wanted to give some of the girls in the program a chance to participate. About seven of them did. “I feel blessed to have been part of Danny’s boat project,” Morgan said, “Not only for Danny’s sake, but to be able to watch women in recovery experience what it feels like to give back. It is beautiful to see how much giving back to the community can help everyone involved.” Janel, a resident of Justin’s Place, summed things up for the group: “The look on [Danny’s] face made it all worth it. I would love to be able to do that again and help more people in the future. So many people have helped me get my life back together. It was nice to be able to help someone else for a change.”

Boat in current anchorage, at the end of a mangrove lined creek. It was towed here by Cleve Smith for shelter against Irma. There was no major damage to the boat in the storm. Photo by Danny Mootispaw

Boat in current anchorage, at the end of a mangrove lined creek. It was towed here by Cleve Smith for shelter against Irma. There was no major damage to the boat in the storm. Photo by Danny Mootispaw

Danny enjoys lunch on his new open air rear deck. Photo by Barry Gwinn

Danny enjoys lunch on his new open air rear deck. Photo by Barry Gwinn

After the Lowe’s crew left, Danny’s boat stayed behind Cleve’s for the rest of the summer, during which time Danny built tables and shelving for the interior, cut windows in the front and sides of the cabin (He has plans for a skylight), and painted the boat with 10 gallons of paint donated by Sunshine Ace Hardware, which also threw in a two burner cook stove. Residents from Goodland and Marco Island donated a lot of money and stuff, including $1,750 in cash (used to buy additional materials), to help Danny get back on his feet. There were literally dozens who were contacted by Cleve Smith, most of whom contributed in one way or another.

When Irma was bearing down on Southwest Florida, Cleve took it upon himself to tow Danny’s boat into a narrow creek deep in the mangroves for safekeeping, where it remains today. Danny still lives there. When he completes his renovations, he plans to return to an anchorage in or near Goodland Bay. People first noticed Danny’s boat missing back in June 2017, when it was brought to Cleve’s. I told them that Danny was OK and that I would soon write an article about it. This is it.

I will never get used to this. It has been one community-wide effort after another down here in Goodland, each time coming to the aid of one of our own who had fallen into desperate straits. I have never lived in a place like this, and never will again. As for Danny, stoic and steeled against the cruel hardships which have come his way, I have only seen him close to tears twice in our association – once, when a Collier County judge’s bailiff paid for his boat registration out of her own pocket (“This Judge Has a Big Heart,” 10/27/16 at coastalbreezenews.com), and the other, when everyone came out to help him. We are all richer for having known him.

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.

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