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Family atmosphere contributes to employee longevity

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 15, 2022

Chris Strine

The family atmosphere at The Breeze is one of the many reasons the newspaper company has numerous employees that have been a part of the team for well over 15 years.

“We have a lot of folks that have been here a lot of years. We have some new folks that have added some new fresh ideas. We have always had longevity in our employees, which goes to show that people that are here really take pride in their work and they don’t think of it as a job,” said Denise Carrillo, manager of Accounting and Human Resources.

She said the nice part of The Breeze is it has a group of folks, all of whom all shine in their respective areas of expertise.

“I can balance my checkbook, but I can’t make an ad pop, or sell an ad, or get up at 2 in the morning to throw newspapers,” Carrillo said. “It’s a well-oiled machine of different folks that are not coworkers, but family. It is a fun group of diverse people with diverse skill sets. We are not all the same cogs in the wheel, but we all work well together.”

The Breeze family has witnessed weddings, babies added to team-member families and parents turning into grandparents. She said with the Breeze Newspapers being family owned, that family feeling can be felt from the very top to everyone who works for the company.

Susan Dato began working for The Breeze on Oct. 31, 1989. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PISTELLA

Carrillo herself just celebrated 20 years of working at the Breeze.

“It is certainly a family feeling and it is run that way,” Carrillo said. “We do take pride in our work, whether it is one of our products, or a commercial print job. We are here for the community. We are here to make sure the community news, whether it is the school board meeting, or city council meeting, are well covered, so everyone knows who is voting for what, what’s on the agenda, what’s fun, or happening on the weekend. The community can count on us to see what is going on.”

Among The Breeze’s longest tenured team members:

Mary Francis Cutaia

The Cape Coral Daily Breeze became the second job for one dedicated employee in the late 1970s, teaching her everything she needed to know to fulfill her duties.

Chris Strine began working at The Breeze in January 1982. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PISTELLA

Mary Francis Cutaia moved to Cape Coral in 1973 and attended Caloosa Middle School as an eighth-grade student while the school was an “Open Classroom” school with no individual classrooms. She then attended Cypress Lake High School with split shifts at North Fort Myers High School.

“The Cape didn’t have a high school, so it was split between North Fort Myers and Cypress. If you lived north of Cape Coral Parkway, you went to North Fort Myers, and south of Cape Coral Parkway, you went to Cypress,” Cutaia said. “The 11th and 12th grades went in the morning till around 12 and the ninth and 10th graders went in the afternoon. It was that way all four years I attended.”

While a senior student at Cypress Lake High School, she worked at a local print shop, Arthur’s Printing in the Cape, a job she got through a business class. Her responsibilities included everything from answering phone calls to stapling book- style jobs. After she graduated, she was offered a job by the Cape Coral Daily Breeze accounting office manager.

“Fred Cull, publisher, called me on the phone and hired me with no experience,” Cutaia said, laughing.

She began working at The Breeze on July 19, 1978 and did billing for advertisers, all done manually on a typewriter.

Scott Kelly joined the Breeze Newspapers team as a pressman in 1988. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PISTELLA

“I can’t remember when we got our first ‘computer’ . . . wasn’t really a computer, more like a ‘posting machine,'” Cutaia said, laughing again.

The then-accounting manager, Jeannie Ondrejka, taught her on the job, and she took an accounting class at then Edison Community College. Ondrejka continued to teach Cutaia general ledger entries and accounts payable and eventually payroll.

“I learned everything here at The Breeze,” she said. “She left The Breeze and Scott Blonde was hired as accounting manager in August of 1983.”

Cutaia continued to work until March 1986 when she had her first baby.

“Scott Blonde called me in December 1991, offered me a part-time position doing payroll only,” she said.

Mary Francis Cutaia began working at The Breeze on July 19, 1978. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PISTELLA

This eventually led to a full-time payroll and accounts payable position in 1992.

Cutaia remembers the fast pace of those early days with the press and production working day and night.

Some of the fondest memories were when The Shopper classifieds were a popular stand-alone paper.

“I remember on deadline day the line of customers waiting to get their ad in and the ladies working would be hustling,” she said.

The Breeze holiday parties were also memorable, as she always had fun with her coworkers.

Another highlight was when the press and pre-press production moved to the new facility in Fort Myers on Jetport Loop. With the move, the accounting department, advertisement sales and creative services moved into the renovated press area.

“When Scott Blonde, my boss (accounting manager) was promoted to publisher, that was so well deserved. We worked together since he was hired in 1983,” Cutaia said.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Saturday Farmers Market also hold a special place, as it was rewarding to hear people share how much they loved the paper and looked forward to getting it.

“Since I worked in the administration end, hearing people in the community tell you how much they loved the paper really let me know I worked somewhere it mattered,” she said.

Although the paper now prints two days a week with daily news now online, Cutaia said The Breeze remains the same, as it still provides readers with the news they are looking for and stories that make it a community newspaper.

“Working at The Breeze has been wonderful. It’s always been a ‘family’ and we have a lot of long-term employees, so that should tell you something,” she said.

Chris Strine

Nearly 40 years later, one Cape Coral Breeze employee continues his career at the paper.

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to help keep residents of Cape Coral informed about what’s happening here, in their community, their hometown,” Breeze Editor Chris Strine said. “How we present the news has changed over the years, from strictly a print product to, in more recent years, an online news product and in print. But our goal has always been the same: Provide the news that people want and need about what’s happening in their own backyard.”

A native of Ashland, Ohio, and graduate of now Ashland University, Strine first started his journalism career as a part-time sports reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette before becoming a full-time sports reporter and then assistant sports editor. 

After moving to Southwest Florida in 1980, Strine began working at The Breeze in January 1982 in the production department, which was then run by manager Ron Metz. Throughout the years he left the company twice, but always returned.

“My first job was ‘proofing twofers’ for the Lee County Shopper,” he said. “Classified ads at the time were buy-one, get-one and we called them ‘twofers.’ I worked in the production department for nearly 20 months, eventually as assistant production manager.”

While working in production, Strine did everything from typesetting, to paste-up, to making photo mechanical transfers and plates for the press.

His position changed when he became the city reporter, sports editor, then managing editor from May 1984 to January 1989. His third stint at the Breeze began in March 1989 when he was the editor of the Sanibel-Captiva Islander newspaper, and then became managing editor of The Breeze, then a six-day-a-week daily.

“All told, I have worked at The Breeze for 38 years and six months,” Strine said.

Although he has written a variety of stories on various subjects, both in sports and news, two columns when he was the editor of the Sanibel Islander always stay at the forefront.

“One was about the ‘Sanibel forest’ that my youngest daughter always admired when she was little,” Strine said. “The ‘forest’ was actually just the then-thick rows of pines that lined and hung over Periwinkle Way that created an almost magical treat for her when we drove through and under them on the way to the Islander office.”

The second, “Growing up in a day,” was another highlight.

“It was about my son Paul David and described how he went, in a matter of just a few very short days, from a Cape High School graduate, to a soon-to-be soldier headed off to U.S. Army Basic Training as he started his military career,” Strine said.

The Breeze has changed over the years. When he first started, the paper published five days a week with the production staff, print crew, editorial staff, as well as management, accounting and couriers, which were all needed to get the job done.

“We then added a weekend paper, publishing on Saturday. We had no internet, the news we provided was in print, first as an evening paper — ‘chicken dinner journalism,’ my first publisher Fred Cull would always say — and then as a morning publication,” Strine said. “And, in addition to The Breeze itself, we were also publishing the Pine Island Eagle, Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer, Sanibel-Captiva Islander, Island Reporter, North Fort Myers Neighbor, Lehigh Citizen, Gasparilla Gazette and others. Our press was humming, and it still is, except today, it’s busy with our core products and the addition of commercial jobs. We’ve expanded and downsized over the years, but we still continue to work to get the news on the streets, and now, thanks to the internet, online daily.”

The fondest memories over the years are the people he has worked with, as Southwest Florida has always seemed to be the training ground for the news media. He said people came to learn the business and then eventually took that skill set to move on to larger papers.

“The Breeze has been no different. We’ve had great reporters and editors, but it’s not just the editorial staffs that have made The Breeze special to me. It’s the people in all the other departments, too,” Strine said. “And, I met my wife here.”

The Cape Coral community has also changed since Strine first arrived in the area from the development along the major streets and roadways to the unbelievable number of houses that are popping up everywhere.

“It’s fun looking through our archive photo files seeing what Cape Coral looked like in its early years and then comparing those to what you see now. It’s been amazing to watch, and will continue to be because it doesn’t seem like growth is going to stop here, ever,” Strine said.

Susan Dato

For more than 30 years Susan Dato has been a dedicated employee for the Cape Coral Breeze filling two different positions over the years.

Dato moved to Cape Coral and began working for The Breeze on Oct. 31, 1989, as she had worked at newspapers before.

Her first position was in production before moving to legal ads, where she is today.

“Everything was done by hand . . . ads, copy, color,” Dato said of when she first started at the paper.

When Dato worked in production for eight to nine years, all of the newspapers were put together by hand. She said they cut the photos for the ads and then placed copy on them with borders.

“The copy was given to us on sheets and we would cut them to fit on the pages,” Dato explained.

Once everything was placed on the sheets, it then went to the camera to produce negatives of the pages.

“Then from the negatives, they made the plates, which the press got to print the paper,” Dato said.

Now most everything is done on the computer, including the legal ads for which she is responsible.

She said they had a lot of good times in production. Some of the fondest memories also include the “good people, pot- luck meals, caring co-workers.”

Dato said it has been a “real good team to work with.”

Scott Kelly

In 1988 Scott Kelly joined the Breeze Newspapers team as a pressman.

“The biggest change for me over the years was learning a new press, then moving our printing to Fort Myers,” he said.

As a pressman, Kelly started printing at the Del Prado building on an 8 unit V-15 Harris print. He said ink and registration was manually set by hand.

“We now have a DGM 24 unit press that prints 48 pages vs. 16 on the old press. The ink is now set by computer. We also now do ultra printing, for glossy pages,” Kelly said.

Over the years, the friendships with many good dedicated people, are his fondest memories.