Blonde haired and tanned, Richard Reisinger certainly looked the part of a beach guy when he visited Marco Island for the first time as a 21-year-old in 1987.
What started out as a weekend visit ended up as a lifetime of adventure for him and his brother Paul, who have worked less than a mile from each other on the shores of Marco Island’s 3.5-mile crescent beach for the ensuing decades.
The Reisinger brothers have become institutions on the south end of the beach, between The Charter Club of Marco Beach and The Eagle’s Nest.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the sons of foreign service workers, who grew up in such far–flung areas as the middle east, the far east and London, allowed wanderlust to enter into their decision to work on the beach they’ve grown to love.
“I’m the second oldest of four children,” Richard Reisinger said. “Paul is the youngest. There’s 4 years between Paul and myself. I’ll be 54 in October and Paul’s about to turn 50.
“Both of our parents were in the foreign service—the diplomatic corps. Paul was actually born in Okinawa, Japan. I was born in the United States but moved when I was 4 or 5 months old. We were in Southeast Asia in the early 1970s. We were in Tehran, Iran—my mom, my sisters, Paul and I were actually evacuated in 1975-76. We came back to the United States and waited for my father to come back. I absolutely, unequivocally remember that. Prior to that, we were in Northern Thailand, on an Air Force Base. I have memories of that still ingrained. Kind of hard not to when you watch B-52s coming into the Air Force base as a kid.”
“My earliest memories are of Iran and the dog we had,” Paul said. “And the little yellow motorcycle I pushed myself around on.”
“Yep, yep,” Richard says, nodding his head in agreement.
Richard has always played the role of big brother to Paul. He loves throwing good-natured barbs at his little brother. But he’s always there if Paul needs a hand. Say Paul gets overrun with business at Paul’s Beach Rentals, in front of The Charter Club of Marco Beach. The next thing you know, Richard shows up with his golf cart loaded down with umbrellas for his little brother—along with a barb or two about how he had to bail him out.
Richard considers himself lucky that he got to spend his entire high school career in the same high school in the U.S. Paul’s high school years were more challenging as he switched schools in London.
“I had actually graduated from high school and tagged along on the move to London just for fun,” Richard remembers. “I had a position at the embassy for the state department. Which sounds impressive, but really, I was just a mail boy. But still a wonderful opportunity. It was a lot harder for Paul because he ended up going to a number of different high schools.”
Paul acknowledges his challenges adjusting but is upbeat about his experiences.
“I enjoyed London,” Paul said, “once I got used to it. I struggled at first, but once I got used to the environment, I got to really enjoy it.”
“After coming back from London,” Richard said, “I just wanted to spend a little time traveling around the United States. Settle down with a career that would potentially keep me in the Washington, D.C. area. I think one of the great things about growing up overseas, and living in different environments, even though I enjoyed the heck out of every place we lived, I think it gave me—and probably Paul as well—an appreciation for this country that a lot of people don’t really have—through no fault of their own.
“Growing up overseas increases your love of this country. I was going to travel around, discover a lot of different states. I was in Fort Lauderdale and came over here for what was supposed to be a weekend. Went out fishing in Morgan River down in Cape Romano that Sunday afternoon. Kind of a tropical wave kind of October day. The person I was fishing with offered me a job to kind of run the pool deck at the Hilton. I’d just been in Lauderdale and was really anxious to leave Florida until I came over here. I was going to ride out winter and head home in the Spring. That was 1987.
“It’s funny, I never made a conscious decision to stay here. The weekend just turned into a season, turned into a year, turned into another year. Funny thing is, I’m not a beach guy, as much as I’ve been doing it. I really prefer the mountains. Marco, the 10,000 islands, now as a father of four, is what I appreciate the most. That my kids share my enthusiasm for the nature down here, the Everglades and the ecosystem. That’s certainly what’s kept me down here.”
Paul’s introduction to Marco Island came when his brother invited him to work with him on the beach. It was love at first sight for Paul.
“I was working construction in the Washington, D.C. area, and I discovered Marco,” Paul recalls. “As soon as I discovered Marco, I realized this was where I wanted to live the rest of my life.”
Things didn’t go so well between the brothers during Paul’s first move to the island. Round 1 went to brother Richard.
“When I was 18, I came down,” Paul said, “and Richard and I got in a fight. He sent me on a plane back home. It was more like a wrestling match than a fight. He outweighed me by about 70 pounds. He had the upper hand on me there. I was supposed to come down to the beach and help him break down one afternoon at the Hilton. I took a nap and I slept in. He came home that afternoon and he was pretty upset. He got me on the first flight back that he could.”
“I thought I sent you back on a bus,” Richard quipped.
“No, no, it was a plane,” Paul remembered.
“A bus would have been a better way for you to go,” Richard teased.
Though that first brothers’ reunion was a bit rocky, big brother came up with a scheme to get his little brother back by his side.
“Basically, after that first attempt that didn’t go very well,” Richard recalled, “it was in the latter part of 1992, I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come back down here? We can work our tails off through season.’ We both enjoy hiking and camping and things along those lines. I think that was the idea when I talked to Paul in 1992. We kind of worked together. We worked as many hours as we could. We saved as much money as we could. The old carrot on the stick was to do a trip out west. We were able to pull that off. With the money we made that one season we took off. Went out for about four months in the summer of 1993. Did about 23,000 miles across this country. I think it was within a couple of weeks of that trip being completed that we sat down and started planning a second trip that took us to the Arctic Circle in 1995.
Paul remembers the brothers’ trips out west with zeal.
“It was without question the most incredible experience,” Paul reflects. “The places we saw. The hikes we climbed. What meant the most to me was actually being confronted with a challenge. And no matter what it was, no matter how difficult or strenuous the hike might have been, how long, or how much effort was required. There was nothing we couldn’t do. That is what I got from those trips. There’s really nothing—if you put your mind to it and put one foot in front of the other—by the time you reach that peak—there’s really nothing like that. That sense of accomplishment. It’s not even just the mountains. It was the canyons, the glaciers. And just the experiences we had with wildlife.
There was one wildlife encounter the brothers will never forget.
“Bears,” Paul remembered. “We had a bear take a nap right next to us in Kenai Fjords National Park. We had the whole park to ourselves. I got up out of the blue. I heard a bear walking towards us. And, inexplicably, Richard opened his eyes. He said, ‘Dude, what’s up?’ I go, ’Sh…’ just like that,” Paul said with a quiet, quivering delivery. “’There’s a bear, he whispered.’ And sure enough there was a bear. We heard it walking around. And it laid down a couple feet from us.”
“Five feet from our heads,” Richard said. “It started snoring.”
“We heard it snoring,” Paul confirmed. “We couldn’t move a muscle for four hours.”
“Paul had the pepper spray, I had the buck knife,” Richard said. “I was ready. I was going to defend my brother.”
“We were waiting,” Paul said. “We were always told, if a bear comes to your campsite at night, there was a reason it approached you. So, we were waiting.”
“Kenai was magic,” Richard said. “Absolutely magic.
“A couple of weeks later we were hiking in Denali National Park. It was really remote; high grizzly bear density. The first half–mile of the hike we saw three or four. The second day we were coming along and rounding the corner I saw what I thought was a bear cub. For the record, I did take Paul and put him behind me.”
“Turned out it was a porcupine,” Paul said.
“I genuinely thought it was a bear cub and I was going to save my brother from the momma bear,” big brother Richard said. “But those quills can be dangerous, too,” he joked, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. That was my first and only porcupine ever.”
“We saw an arctic wolf on that road going up,” Paul remembered. “There’s one bus that takes you up into the center of the park. There’s a campground that most people go to. We had applied for a backcountry pass. It started raining and we were trying to get our rain gear on. Richard had taken his boots off. No sooner had a guy in the front seat said, ‘Look at the size of the grizzly bear,’ the bus driver stopped and said, ‘Stop 11, get out!‘
“Richard was trying to get his boots on and he couldn’t do it. The bus driver actually threw Richard’s backpack off of the back of the bus. He said, ‘You guys have gotta get out now!’ Sure enough, there was a grizzly bear right there. Fortunately, the bear went this way and we went that way. The bus driver thought we were afraid to get off of the bus because of the grizzly bear. I’d say the bear was within 100 yards of the bus.”
“I didn’t have my pants on or my boots on for my first grizzly bear,” Richard quipped.
Paul was 23 and 25 and Richard was 27 and 29 during their two western adventures.
“We were younger men,” Richard mused.
Back on Marco Island, the brothers devoted themselves to building successful careers on the beach that has become like a home for both of them.
“When I first came over from Fort Lauderdale, I was Dickie the towel boy,” Richard recalled of his first days at the Marco Hilton. “The opportunity that came up originally was to run the pool. But the company that ran the pool also ran the beach services. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the pool, but when the first opportunity on the beach came up, I jumped on it. That was 1987, before waverunners. Before ATVs. We used to manually set everything up. I think we had Prindles and The Charter Club had Hobie Cats. I don’t think anybody’s dumped a catamaran as much as I have. I haven’t dumped one now for about 25 years.”
Paul remembers Richard dumping him on a catamaran.
“That was my first sailing experience,” Paul remembers. “I was on the bottom and he was up top flying the hull and he went a little too far; flipped. He came down on top of me. I kind of somersaulted into the water. I didn’t realize that with catamarans, that it is not the end of the world if they flipped.
“I just like to practice my righting technique,” Richard joked. “I was very proficient in righting a catamaran.”
“Just after Hurricane Andrew I moved down here,” Paul said. “Started at Radisson on the beach in 1993. In 1994, October 1, I started working for Dave’s Beach Rentals at The Charter Club of Marco Beach. Dave saw that I had a good work ethic and he offered me a job. I worked for him for 5 years, and I bought this business from him in 1999.”
Paul renamed the business Paul’s Beach Rentals.
“I had been at the Hilton forever and ever,” Richard remembered. “I was the director of recreation there. Enjoyed it tremendously. As a subcontractor and working in-house, I must have been there for the better part of a decade. But the number of hours you tended to put in, in management, in the hotel industry, I think once my daughter was born, I began to look for alternatives. I switched over to the timeshares and was able to reduce the number of hours I was working per week. When you’ve got kids, there’s nothing more important than being able to spend time with them. So, I’ve never regretted that decision. I’ve been almost 20 years at Regency Watersports.
“I’ve been at the Charter Club for 26 years,” Paul said.
Ironically, the Reisinger brothers ended up marrying sisters.
“I met my wife, actually, before Paul and I did our Alaska trip. Came back and after having spent four months in a tent, I was desperate for female companionship,” he said with a laugh. “After the trip, we continued dating and got married. I believe Paul actually met my wife’s sister at the rehearsal dinner.”
“That was the first time I met her,” Paul confirmed.
“I do think it should be stated—and clarified,” Richard joked, “that I got married first, so it wasn’t weird when I did it. He married my wife’s sister.
Richard and Tishia have four children. Sister Tara and Paul have three. Both unions have produced twins.
“Obviously nothing was done by design,” Richard said. “But it worked out absolutely perfectly. My daughter and his twins were close in age. My son and his son were really close. My twins and his youngest have always gotten along incredibly well. So, it’s been wonderful to watch. Had we done it by design it couldn’t have worked out any better. It’s been incredibly awesome.
“I took the position at Regency Watersports just to free my schedule up, so I could have more time for my kids. What I didn’t anticipate, I wasn’t aware of it back then, was the nature of the clientele at the timeshare resorts. You do get to know people on a different level than you do in the hotel business. People tend to come back every year, or several times every year. So that was one of the huge benefits I didn’t anticipate. It’s been something that I’ve been able to enjoy and truly cherish. It’s been wonderful. It’s truly extraordinary.
“You go back to hurricane Wilma and Irma, just the number of people who reach out to you before a storm and after a storm. Offering to help out. I had one guy who was coming down and wasn’t able to come for his week on Marco, but he was in Orlando. He asked if he could bring me anything. They had more supplies there than we did here. I said, ‘If you’re coming down, could you bring some D–batteries and some citronella candles, because where I live in the back end of Collier Seminole State Park, the bugs are pretty tough. There was none of those things to be found here. The next day he shows up at the beach and had bags full of citronella candles and batteries. I asked him where he was staying. He actually went out of his way, drove down all the way from Orlando, to drop this stuff off, take a look around Marco, and headed back to Orlando. Just extraordinary stuff.”
“Same thing,” Paul said. “Just incredible how generous the people here at The Charter Club of Marco Beach have been to me and my family over the years. The relationships that you develop, like Richard said, the people come down year after year after year. You see their kids grow up; they watch your kids grow up. It really is overwhelming how generous they’ve been to me and my family.”
“Paul, do you have any kids working for you whose dads used to work for you,” Richard asks his brother. “I’ve had two of those situations come up over the last year or two. Quite often I don’t think about how long I’ve been doing this,” he said with a laugh. “But when you get situations like that, you hire a kid whose dad worked for you, it’s like, holy moly.”
“I’ve had a lot of brothers work for me,” Paul said, “but I don’t recall any fathers and sons.”
Richard has weathered three major hurricanes on Marco Beach, Paul has dealt with two.
“The two that really have impacted me the most were Wilma and Irma,” Paul said. “For Wilma, the resort was closed for 15-16 weeks. Just coming out here every day, setting up the beach and not making anything day after day. It was very disheartening. But it’s times like that that make you appreciate when you’re busy. You tend to take it for granted when you’re rolling and everything is going well. It’s situations like that that really make you appreciate what you have.
“Just one storage box was destroyed during Irma, but I found every side, all the doors, the roof, in different spots along the beach. I was able to pop it back up. But yeah, nothing else moved, incredibly. That beach hut’s been there since before Wilma.”
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate,” Richard said. “Two major hurricanes between Wilma and Irma. Andrew was a scary one. That was my wakeup call. Before Andrew, it was always exciting with a hurricane. You wanted it to get bigger and get stronger. Come closer. For the excitement. Being young and dumb. Then Andrew came through and that was unequivocally my wakeup call.”
“Mine was Charlie,” Paul said. “It was supposed to hit Tampa as a Category 3. Then the power went out. And you discover it hit Tampa as a Category 4. Mom was with me and the family. When they say it sounds like a freight train; it sounded like a freight train. Just waiting for the roof to blow off. Really scary situation. We had four hurricanes that year.”
The brothers agree that another source of satisfaction comes from the harmony among the beach vendors on Marco Island.
“It’s not just between Regency Watersports and Paul’s Beach Rentals,” Richard explains. “It’s also with Marco Ski and Watersports. You go up to Fort Myers Beach, the concessions fight among each other a lot.”
“There’s camaraderie,” Paul agrees. “When we have storms, everybody’s in the same boat.”
“Everybody comes together,” Richard said. “Whether it’s a situation on the water, whether it’s a boat in distress. A catamaran from the Charter Club or the Marriott. A waverunner down from Regency Watersports or one of the other concessions. I think this is really a fantastic situation because everyone looks out for each other around here.”
“True story,” Paul concurs.
“We had a terrible situation with Scotty Labuzienski in 1996,” Richard recalls with sadness. “Like Andrew was my pivotal moment for hurricanes, having Scotty pass was pivotal. There isn’t an employee I’ve hired since then that I don’t tell them about that story.”
Scott Labuzienski was a popular young man who was working part-time at two beach concessions during the fall of 1996. He was called out to help a waverunner in distress. He never returned alive. The beach vendor he was working for that day failed to enlist the help of his fellow beach vendors. Labuzienski’s body was found days later washed up on an island south of Marco.
“Marco Ski and I discussed it after that to make sure there would be no lack of communication,” Richard said. “Ron Hagerman was in charge of Marco Ski at that time. That was a situation where we got together. We all work together, coordinate and communicate. Knock on wood, there hasn’t been another incident since 1996. Hopefully, that trend will continue.”
Richard Reisinger harkened back to the day Labuzienski went missing at sea.
“I very rarely stay on the beach for sunset,” he reflected. “But that was one of those days, a November front had come through. The wind was blowing east. It was blowing around 30 miles per hour. It was one of those sawtoothed horizons. I actually packed up the beach that night, oblivious that Scotty was out there. That’s what really angered me about the concession Labuzienski worked for. They never asked for my help, or Marco Ski’s help or anybody’s help. By the time the Coast Guard got involved it was too late. But, honest to goodness, the truth is, every employee I’ve brought on since, from the Hilton to Regency Watersports, that’s one of the things I hammer down.
“It’s one of the very few times I was upset with management at the Hilton. I was having a heck of a time finding a beach manager. I wanted Scotty to be my beach manager. I was incredibly frustrated that they wouldn’t let me hire him. It was particularly haunting after he died. That if I had him over here it would have never happened. That was one of those things that sat with me for the longest time. He was a terrific, terrific young man. Terrific kid. He actually tied himself onto the wave runner’s seat for flotation and tried to swim in. The gulf temperature was in the mid-70s. The water temperature doesn’t have to be 50 degrees to kill you. The important thing is, that happened in 1996, and in 2020 it’s something I still preach. All the beach vendors get along incredibly well. It’s one of the aspects of this job that I like. I wouldn’t want to work at a beach that’s cutthroat.”
Richard and Paul have enjoyed working with many fine individuals over the decades. One stands out.
“One of the true pleasures has been working with the honorable Anthony ‘Smudge’ Smith on Tigertail Beach,” said Richard.
The popular Smith, known to friends as Smudge, moved to Marco Island from East London and has a strong accent. He has run the Tigertail Beach concession for years. Recently the county made the contract untenable for the vendor.
“It’s been such a depressing situation watching his battles with the county,” Richard said. “I remember the first day Smudge came onto the island. I remember the first day he came to work on the beach. He had a $500 Cadillac, didn’t have any paperwork on it. Didn’t have any insurance on it. We were cruising down Winterberry about 50. A Collier County sheriff came up behind us. We made a turn. No turn signals, no brake lights. I thought, ‘We’re going to jail.’ Finally, he pulls us over. First thing he says is, ‘Where you from?’ Ten minutes later he says, ‘Well, you’re going to need to get a license. You’re going to need to get insurance. And you’ve got to get those taillights fixed. And you need turn signals. Love your accent. Welcome to America!’ Those were the good old days before incorporation.”
Without a doubt, as far as characters on the beach, Smudge, from Tigertail was such a pleasure. This year has been depressing. He was one of us on the south end of the beach, but he went over there. It was kind of like Paul when he came to the Charter Club. Smudge always liked Tigertail.”
Richard and Paul recall another beach worker with a strong accent.
“Cousin Larry,” Richard recalls with a smile. “Louisiana Larry.”
“He was a character, that guy,” Paul chimes in.
“His horse,” Richard remembers. “When he bought that horse in Golden Gate. He came home. I said, ‘What’s the name of that horse, Larry?’ ‘Blackie,’ Larry said. ‘I named her Blackie cause she’s all black.’ Whew! Oh, geez.”
“Cousin Larry was solid gold,” Paul remembered fondly. “A real good guy.”
Richard remembers sharing a sailboat with Larry. They kept it anchored just off the beach.
“There was a couple of years we had that 25’ Cal,” Richard said, “like a 1967. I’d anchor it off the beach. Get up in the morning and swim to the beach and go to work at the Hilton. And call that a day. Good stuff.”
The decades working together on the beach have been like a dream come true for the Reisinger brothers. The two have touched many lives and have certainly made many vacations more special with their hard work and genuine customer service.
“Testament to that is that we’re taking off on vacation as a family 26 years later,” Richard said. “One of the silver linings of this Coronavirus thing is that we found ridiculously inexpensive airfare. We made the reservations back in March. We had no intention of making the trip. It was almost just for fun since the airfare was so inexpensive that I decided I’d book a trip, heading back out west. Doing some of the things Paul and I did. Utah, Colorado and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. About a month ago I realized I might be able to pull it off. So, I’m incredibly excited. I don’t know if I ever looked so forward to a vacation. Taking my youngest children and my wife. And just a couple of weeks ago in a conversation with Paul I threw out an invite. I said, ‘Hey, the airfare is still pretty cheap.’ I didn’t really think that he was going to take me seriously. But he did. So, a trip that I was already excited about has blown up even more so because Paul and his family are going to come along. So, we’re going to spend almost 10 days retracing some of the great spots we’ve done together. And we’re bringing our wives and children with us. It’s something I really, really, can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to.
After carving out an hour in their busy schedule, duty calls for the Reisinger brothers. A tourist approaches Paul and says, “We have a boat at 10 o’clock. We signed up for a small boat. Can we switch that to a big boat?”
“Let me see what I can do,” Paul offers. And Paul heads south and brother Richard heads north to attend to his piece of heaven on Marco Beach. And the beach brothers carry on the tradition that has made them fixtures along the shores of Marco Island.