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They left their mark: Named city parks

60th Anniversary: A look back

By TOM HAYDEN - | Jun 13, 2022

Cape Coral City Councilman Tony Rotino is at center in this photo of the groundbreaking for an annex to the Tony Rotini Center, added in 1981.

The Cape Coral Yacht Club is one of 39 parks in the city system, with seven more community and neighborhood parks on the way. A look at how many of the other parks got their names:

Burton Memorial Park

J. Chandler Burton was elected to Cape Coral’s first city council in 1970, winning the District 3 seat over Coy Norris with 2,824 votes. He became the city’s second mayor, following Paul Fickinger in 1973 and served until 1974. A resolution naming the park on Northeast 3rd Terrace for Burton was passed on Dec. 10, 1979. The resolution said, “It is fitting and proper that the City of Cape Coral show its appreciation and gratitude to Cape Coral’s second mayor for all he gave, by giving his name to that ballpark facility located at Nobility Homes, Cape Coral.”

Bernice Braden Park

Located on both sides of Cape Coral Parkway at the foot of the bridge and nestled along the banks of the Caloosahatchee is this beautiful, 10-acre linear park, which was recently landscaped. Braden, also known as Bernie, would have been proud of this little gem because she was a jewel of the community.

Braden died in 2010 at the age of 85, but what she accomplished is still talked about today. Born in Indianapolis, Ind., Braden and her husband, Earl, moved to Cape Coral in 1962. She worked for original developer Gulf American Corporation before starting her own realty agency, Bernie Braden Realty. She later worked for Raso Realty.

Braden served on the Cape Coral City Council from 1989 to 1993. The park was named for her in 2007.

Giuffrida Park

The city’s first neighborhood park, located on Northeast 4th Street, is named for Nick Giuffrida, who started the Nobility-Pointe Corale Homeowner’s Association. The park was named for Giuffrida but not before some heated debate. Myrtle Wilson, who succeeded Giuffrida as president of the homeowner’s group, came before council asking the park to be renamed from Nobility Homes Park. Council members said they did not approve of naming the park after a living person, and a state law also mandated the same rules. But after the discussion, council voted unanimously to rename the park on Dec. 3, 1979. The park is currently going through a makeover as part of the GO Bond referendum.

Horton Park & Boat Ramp

This gem of a park and popular boat ramp, with stunning views and easy access to the Caloosahatchee, is named for the city’s first voter-elected mayor, Herman Horton. In January of 1974, Cape voters decided to have a separate election for mayor after four years of the council deciding the ceremonial head of the city. In May, Horton won the election. He served until November 1975. During his term, council banned smoking at meetings, moved municipal offices into a new City Hall complex and celebrated the end of tolls on the Cape Coral Bridge. The September 1977, resolution naming the park and boat ramp for Horton, said: “It is, therefore, fitting and proper that the City of Cape Coral show its appreciation and gratitude to Cape Coral’s first elected mayor for all he gave, by giving his name to that park facility located at the east end of Everest Parkway.” The resolution named the facility S. Herman Horton Memorial Park.

Jason Verdow Park

The ball fields and playground that many families enjoy today honors the life of a young boy, who was kidnapped and murdered at just 9 years old.  Jason Verdow loved baseball and was a member of the Cape Coral Yankees Little League Baseball team. The third grader at Caloosa Elementary School also enjoyed golf and fishing. The son of Helen Hubbard and Walter Verdow was kidnapped from his school bus stop and murdered on March 5, 1976.  Arthur Goode III was convicted of Jason’s murder and executed on April 5, 1984.

The field on Southeast 27th Street, where Jason used to play for the Yankees, was renamed Jason Verdow Memorial Park not long after his death. It is the oldest baseball field in the city and has been home to the Cape Coral National Little League.

“He was the perfect child. I know you’re thinking this is what all mothers believe. But in Jason’s case it was true,” his mother told Florida Weekly. He loved baseball. He was sweet. He was an angel, an absolute angel.”

Jim Jeffers Park

Jeffers did not live in the city long, but what he accomplished will always be remembered. Jeffers moved to Cape Coral in 2001 and was elected to city council in 2005. He also served on the city’s budget review committee and on advisory committees for the Cape Coral Community Development Block Grant Program and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Jeffers built a legacy of committed public service of over 30 years before moving to Cape Coral. He was named the Handicapped American Citizen of the Year in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and the Outstanding Young Citizen of Chicago by the Jaycees in 1979. Then Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer named Jeffers the Administrator of the Year in 1993.

Jeffers died in 2006 at the age of 60. The 18.7-acre park in the northwest part of the city opened in 2007.

Joe Stonis Park

Stonis loved his trees and advocated for nature for nearly 30 years in Cape Coral. He became the city’s landscaping and beautification expert, tirelessly pursuing his passion of preserving open spaces in the city. He founded the Cape Coral Beautification Association, a group which planted trees and advocated for more parks. The city recognized his efforts by naming the 7-acre park for him in 2008. He celebrated his 100th birthday at the park named in his honor, according to then historian Paul Sanborn.

Koza/Saladino Park

The park is named for Joe Koza and Vinny Saladino who created the Little League Baseball programs in Cape Coral, building an atmosphere that inspired fun, talent and a place for families to watch their children grow.

Koza passed away last August at the age of 95. A Navy veteran, Joe retired from the post office in Newark, N.J., and moved his family into Lee County in 1966. He owned a lawn maintenance business, drove a school bus, and later became coordinator for the Lee Transit System. Then, Koza and Saladino started the baseball programs. In 1993, the city built a new baseball park that became home to Cape Coral American Little League Baseball and named it after the two men.

Paul Sanborn Park

No one knew more about this history of the Cape than Sanborn. His deep knowledge of the community was constantly sought. He gave speeches and provided the hidden stories that always drew amazement from those who listened. Sanborn passed away at the age of 93 in 2017, but he carved a legacy and history that will not be forgotten.

Born in Nantucket Mass., and a radio operator and gunner on a B-24 bomber in WWII, Sanborn moved to Cape Coral in 1962. He quickly became involved in city groups, including the Rotary Club of Cape Coral, Cape Coral Hospital Board, Cape Coral High School Task Force, Lee County Mosquito Control and Cape Coral Methodist Church.

He worked in marketing for the community’s first bank, Cape Coral Bank and Trust, as well as managing the Cape Coral Golf Club and Cape Coral Yacht Club. He helped bring the NCAA golf championships to the club in 1972.

The city named the park for him in 2008.

Rosen Park

This neighborhood park and boat ram off Southeast 15th Terrace is named for the founders and developers of Cape Coral, Leonard and Jack Rosen. The brothers bought land for $678,000 in 1957 and began carving out 400 miles of canals and turning swamp and farmland into a community. Utilizing Gulf American, Cape Coral grew from the ground as Rosen flew prospective buyers into the community on small airplanes to a landing strip on what is now Del Prado Boulevard. From there, came the first eight homes in the Yacht Club area. Now, almost 200,000 people live in an area originally marketed as “A Waterfront Wonderland,” and land once known as Redfish Point.

Strausser BMX Sports Complex

The home of BMX motocross since 1977 and the Men’s Fifty Plus Softball League since 1987, is named for Charles Strausser, who served almost 10 years on the city council, representing District 6, from 1983 to 1993.

Tony Rotino Center

Over several decades, the Tony Rotino Center at the Yacht Club has been the home of events for hundreds of organizations. Anthony “Tony” Rotino emersed himself into Cape Coral and its people. He remains the only city council member in its 50 years to serve for 16 straight years from 1978 to 1994. He was a member of Kiwanis, the Italian American Club and the Volunteer Fireman’s Association.

“I served with Tony on city council for 10 years. He was  a true public servant who loved to help people,” former mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz said.

Rotino passed away on Dec. 22, 2009, at the age of 95. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., he retired from Ford Motor Company and moved to Cape Coral from Sheffield., Ohio, in 1975.

He made only $1 a year as a councilman, but the time he spent with residents, listening and helping, was worth much more.

William “Bill” Austen Youth Center

The place where children and teens play, learn, develop friendships and find mentors symbolized the life of William Joseph Austen. A U.S. Navy veteran, Austen spent 34 years in law enforcement, the final 18 with the Cape Coral Police Department retiring as a major in 1997. He led the development of the Youth Crime Intervention Program and played an important role in starting the Do The Right Thing program.

He passed away at the age of 61. The youth center was dedicated to Austen in 2003 for his commitment to children and service to Cape Coral.