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City of Cape Coral celebrates 50 years of incorporation

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 18, 2020

Former Lee County commissioner Bruce Scott, center, participates in the re-enactment of the signing of the city’s incorporation papers during the 50th anniversary celebration of incorporation Aug. 18 at the Public Works building. With him are, from left, State Rep. Dane Eagle, County Commissioner John Manning, former mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz and president of the Cape Coral Historical Society Gloria Tate. PHOTO BY CHUCK BALLARO 

In 1970, Cape Coral had little more than 10,000 residents and much of Del Prado Boulevard was still a dirt road.

Still, those residents voted to become a city, and Aug. 18, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of that historic election day with the city holding a re-enactment of the signing of the municipality’s incorporation papers.

Current and former city and county officials, a few of the founding residents of the city, and even the county commissioner who signed the original document that day, were in attendance for the 35-minute event that told the story the road to incorporation and looked forward to the next 50 years.

Gloria Tate, president of the Cape Coral Historical Society and a former Cape Coral City Council member, remembered the issue of whether to incorporate was a very contentious one. In the end, less than 300 votes out of more than 4,200 cast made the difference.

The papers were signed once a mayor and city council members were selected. However, they were not signed by then-governor, Claude R. Kirk, Jr.

“There was never an official signing. It wasn’t signed by the governor. We have signed papers from 1984 from the secretary of state where they finally recognized it,” Tate said. “There isn’t an official date when it was incorporated that we can find yet.”

Among the people there that day was Bruce Scott, who was the county commissioner who swore in the city’s first mayor and city council in 1970 — Paul Fickinger, who the new council tapped as the city’s first mayor, Cleo Snead, Chandler Burton, Robert South, Gordon Berndt, Lyman Moore and Casey Jablonski.

“Gulf American came and bought the land, but when there got to be a few people here, there were things that Gulf American shouldn’t have been doing and there was a lot of tension,” Scott said. “The only way to cure it was incorporation. People like to be in control of themselves.”

The city signed the official papers when Joe Mazurkiewicz was mayor, and he was among the four who signed during the re-enactment this August, along with Scott, State Rep. Dane Eagle and Lee County Commissioner John Manning, who was on the city council at the time Mazurkiewicz was mayor.

“Fifty years is but a moment in history. Where Cape Coral was supposed to be is almost a reality today,” Mazurkiewicz said. “That destiny was for us to be the Queen City on the Caloosahatchee, the largest city between Tampa and Miami. We are the powerhouse of Southwest Florida. If we ever figure that out, we will run Lee County.”

Tate had hoped for a bigger golden anniversary celebration, but because of regulations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the re-enactment was attended only by invitees. Residents, though, could watch the event on the city’s local access station, Cape TV and on Facebook Live.

“We’re here to recognize the efforts of many residents who helped us toward incorporation. Today is election day, just like it was 50 years ago on Aug. 18, 1970, when citizens came together to vote to incorporate,” Tate said.

Also speaking were Mayor Joe Coviello, new City Manager Rob Hernandez, county commissioners Brian Hamman, John Manning, Frank Mann and Cecil Pendergrass, as well as Scott, whose speech got cut off when the sprinkler system went off, Eagle and Mazurkiewicz.

Eagle and Hamman were born and raised in Cape Coral, and both spoke of how amazed they are of the growth of Cape Coral, now approaching 200,000 residents.

“Southwest Cape was like the outskirts of the north Cape. We would go next door to our friend’s house and it was the only other house,” Eagle said.

“The first mayor I ever heard of was Joe Mazurkiewicz and the first councilman was John Manning when I was 2,” Hamman said.

Mann’s remembrance was when his father bought Cape Coral land from Gerald Moody before the city existed. He had a ranch and bunkhouse there as well as one square mile.

“He paid $40 an acre for it. When people asked why he sold it, he said it was $325 when Gulf America bought it,” Mann said. “We were here when Cape Coral was born.”

“Cape pioneer” and business leader Elmer Tabor was 18 when the city was incorporated. He said it was exciting when that happened.

In some ways, not much has changed.

“A lot of people did not want the responsibility of running a city and many did,” Tabor said. “The challenges the city had in growing up are the same ones today, and that’s our success.”

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