As he puts it, “We were relatively poor. Not middle-class, but poor.”
When he was a child, he went to work with his father. Back then, you didn’t iron carpet to join them at a seam, you used to whip them. Sew them together with surgical needles. Work became a habit that has lasted his whole life.
He grew up hearing his mother’s admonishment, “We may be poor, but you better be clean and you better do well in school.”
When he was a freshman in high school, Michael fulfilled her order by winning a scholarship to St. Bede’s Academy, a monastery boarding school and junior college. For the next six years, he learned independence and responsibility, along with Greek and Latin. He also had his own bed for the first time.
“I wasn’t stuck between my younger twin brothers anymore,” he said. I was thrilled.”
He graduated with a two-year degree, and went to work at a junior high school as a teacher in a parochial school system. While teaching, he continued his own education.
When asked how he met his wife, he laughs and says, “That’s a cool story.”
The relationship got off to what could kindly be called a rough start. Michael was assistant director at an overnight summer camp for children with disabilities. Ann was an applicant for an open position as a girl’s counselor. There were three people in charge of hiring, and they voted on the new female counselor. Ann managed a 2-to-1 victory.
“I voted against her,” he admitted.
Once they reached the camp, Ann convinced the other female counselors to “boycott” Michael. In return, he assigned her morning rifle range duty. It meant early mornings spent face down on dew-soaked grass, day after day.
While this did not endear them to one another, when a friend of his bet Michael that he wouldn’t ask her out, Michael won the bet and Ann surprised him by saying yes. For their first date, he took her to the same movie that another friend had taken her to the week before. She didn’t tell him.
The following year they returned to the camp as husband and wife and lived in the infirmary.
Michael eventually received a Masters Degree of Health Professions Education from the Center of Educational Development at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago and became an Administrative Associate Dean at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and Acting Dean of Allied Health.
He later became a medical group administrator and consultant, flying across the United States, Mexico, and Canada. For over 40 years he advised doctors on creating group practices, consulted with architects planning new facilities, and helped in the dissolution of group practices. He also taught medical students the financial practicalities of running a practice.
Over the years, Michael and Ann have had three children, one son and two daughters. So far they have eleven grandchildren. His daughter, who lives on the island, is mother to six of them, all seven years old and younger.
“You’ve probably seen them, the Parent kids,” he said proudly. “Every year my wife makes the Halloween costumes for the adults, and this year they were the Super Parents.”
Coming from a large family, with children being born over a long period of time, has led to some interesting situations. Several of Michael’s younger brothers are uncles to nieces and nephews who are older than them. In turn, some of Michael’s nieces and nephews are younger than his grandchildren.
When he retired, he found that he couldn’t just relax. He and his wife were always on the go, often flying to Florida to help with the grandkids. Two and a half years ago, he and his wife decided to move to Florida full-time, so that they were closer to the family.
“We love Florida. We don’t even mind the summers,” he joked. “Our other children and their children come down for spring break and summer vacation.”
In his spare time, Michael landscapes. Every now and then, he returns to his former consulting profession, advising architects on building surgical centers and other medical facilities.
Even with the grandkids, landscaping, and events with the Friends of Boca Grande Community Center to keep him busy, he still had too much time.
Until last year, he worked at Royal Palm Players. He was talking to Marta Howell, Executive Director at the Library, about his restlessness. She mentioned the opening at the library. That’s when he began at Johann Fust.
His first job was to wade through boxes of old papers, collected upstairs since the library’s founding in 1949 through to last year. There were minutes of board meetings, taken by Pansy Cost.
“There were records from when Mr. Amory bought and had the church that sat on the site moved to make room for the library,” he said. “I’ve got all of the old titles, stamps, everything for every piece of the property. It was very interesting.”
There were pictures of Papyrus I and II, the old library boats. Invoices, receipts, notes - the list goes on and on. The entire history of the library, unorganized, undocumented, and collecting dust for over 60 years.
The task was monumental. It took over three months, but eventually he wrestled the trove into order. After that task, being part-time administrator of the library became a breeze.
When you ask Michael about the library and its contents, awe and pride fill his voice.
“I just think that the Johann Fust Library is a jewel hidden in plain sight.”
He smiles as he tells stories of people who have been visiting the island for decades finally discovering his jewel.
“It’s amazing how many people come in here and say ‘they’ve been here for 20 years and never knew what was in this building,” he said.
The treasures include a page of the Gutenberg Bible. Another page, this one from a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, inked in 100 B.C. on papyrus. The smallest book in the world, which can only be read with a magnifying glass. The shell collections from the DuPont family and Mr. George Melissas. The garden with its statues. The shell fountain, a replica of one in Stockholm. The covered loggia. And with his landscapers eye, the plants that grow and bloom in the courtyard year-round.
These are just a few of the things that can be found at the Fust Library.
And Friday, Jan. 13, the library is holding an open house. That’s the newest project that Michael has been working diligently on.
“It started as a ‘thank you’ to our volunteers who have been dedicated to this place, and who have kept it running smoothly,” he said. “It has just sort of grown. We were hoping to get some new volunteers. My hope is to get people who have never walked in the door, people who have always driven by, to come in to get acquainted with us. To see how beautiful it is, and to learn about the resources we have.”
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