“My dad always used to say to me that friends are the best thing you have. Only here, on the island, friends are family,” said Andrew Amen, Bud’s son. “He was genuine and would give the shirt off his back to anybody. He would do anything for anyone.”
While there is a lot that could be said about his life outside Boca Grande, everything from meeting Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson, to being invited to one of JFK’s inaugural balls, what he loved most in the world lived within the walls of a house on Pilot Street. His wife, Mona, his children, Angelique (Magi) and Andrew, and his two big roly-poly Labrador retrievers, Ben and Jerry. And the part of his life that he loved the most started with, and in, Boca Grande.
It is only fitting that he died in the place he loved so much, in the living room of that house where he and Mona spent many hours together before she passed away in 2011.
Originally from a little town called Clayton, Ill. he was the son of Irvin H. and Eileen (Maus) and brother to Ada. He went into the Navy directly after high school and served in Korea, eventually becoming an admiral’s aide at the Pentagon. After leaving the service for only two or three years, he had a change of heart and went back in, only this time he joined the Air Force. He was a stenographer for the Air Force for a few years before he got out in 1961.
After leaving the military he worked for the J.P. Morgan family in New York City as a butler, and from there found work with the Engelhard family of Canada, New Jersey and Boca Grande. It was his first visit to the island, and the year was approximately 1963.
It was there that he met Mona Sinclair (nee Bijold), originally of Grand Cascapedia, Quebec. She was married to another at the time, but the two immediately became good friends. While she was a personal assistant to the family, Bud was their driver and butler. After Mona’s husband passed away, she and Bud became closer than ever.
Bud’s mother, Eileen, and his mother’s husband, Ray Maus, came down to Boca Grande to visit Bud and also fell in love with Boca Grande. They had just sold a bar in Peoria, Ill. and decided to settle down here on the island. They opened a bar on the south end named the Albatross, where Boca Bay is now.
When Bud quit his job with the Engelhard family, Mona stayed on and traveled back to Canada with them.
Angelique, Bud’s daughter, said there is quite a story to go with what happened next.
“He immediately missed her, and drove to Canada from Florida in a black on black 1962 Cadillac convertible to ask her to marry him,” she said. “They got married in August of 1967, but he was working in Nantucket for the Morgan family again, and she stayed in Canada to work for the Engelhards. When Mona became pregnant not long after, at the age of 37, Mona left her job with the Engelhards and stayed with her family in Quebec, Canada so she could stay in bed and rest.
In October of 1968 Angelique was born, and not long afterward the family moved from Canada to Boca Grande. They lived in an apartment over The Temptation, and Bud worked at the family business anddid odd jobs on the island. He had a painting business, shuttled people back and forth from the airport, bartended, and started a career at the Boca Grande Post Office that he held for more than 30 years. Andrew was born in 1970.
View More images >>By that time Bud’s mother and her husband had started a new business across the road and down from where the Albatross had stood, a little place called the Laff-a-Lott. The business took off immediately, and while there was much fun to be had working at a port bar, there was also some adventure to go along with it. Angelique said she well remembered her grandmother keeping a shotgun behind the bar, and occasionally having to fire a warning shot or two up in the air to calm her patrons.When Bud’s mother retired from work and fell ill, Bud took over the family business. He was a well-loved character behind the bar and, being generous to a fault, he started an “I.O.U.” program for his customers.
“He would have I.O.U.s in the register from tarpon fishermen, beachfronters, just random people who didn’t have cash on them,” Angelique said. “He would send out invoices for bar tabs. He truly enjoyed being behind the bar and really wanted the place to be something special ... and it was. Everybody on this island has a Laff-a-lot story ... everyone. There was something that drew them to the place, and it helped that it was the bar that stayed open the latest. I remember when I was little, laying in bed late at night and listening to the cars pass by as they headed to the south end.”
At the same time, he was still working at the post office, and helping Mona with the family catering business.
“Mom and Dad were always catering, and Dad would literally survive on no sleep,” Angelique said. “He survived on maybe two or three hours a night sometimes. When season was big, all they would do is work.”
In 1973 Mona, Angelique and Andrew took a trip up to Canada to visit family, and Bud made a momentous decision. He purchased a house, without telling anyone else in the family. Upon their return, what a surprise it was.
“Mom knew he was going to buy one, she just didn’t know it was that one,” Angelique laughed. “It was the old Boca Grande Hotel’s golf clubhouse, which had been turned into a duplex when the hotel was destroyed. It wasn’t in good shape. When we first saw it, there it sat, vacant, with a toilet in the front yard. But Mom was cool about it. Over the years we filled it with furniture from beachfront homes, things that people were getting rid of but were still perfectly good.”
After a lot of work and some additions over the years, it became the house on Pilot Street that became synonymous with the Amen family, and where Bud lived until he passed away.Angelique remembers times when she was a child when her parents would host after-after parties at their home.
“They would cater a party, and afterward people would come to the Laff-a-Lott,” she said. “Then, after everyone left there, we would have another party at our house. I remember coming downstairs at 3 a.m. one time, and a certain senator picking me up and taking me to find my parents.”
And then there was the dancing. Bud had spent time as a ballroom dance instructor, and he and Mona used every excuse to cut a rug. Being a dapper, good-looking man the ladies all loved, his dance card was always full.
Bud and Mona ran the Laff-a-Lott until the early 1990s. He then worked for the Parks Service with Reggie Norman for many years. When Reggie retired just a few years ago, so did Bud. Mona’s health was failing, and while Bud never wanted to stop working, it was just that time. Time to slow down.
Angelique said memories of Bud will never fail to provide images of him teaching the kids to swim in the Ames family pool in the summertime (he was a caretaker there), and cooking breakfast for her and Andrew after church every Sunday.
“He didn’t go to church with us, but he would cook waffles when we got back,” she said.
Angelique and Andrew have, of course, grown up, and Angelique now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. Bud was able to visit with them several times, and loved it.
“He was able to spend some real time with us then, especially with the grandchildren,” she said. “They were always so busy when we were kids, it was nice to find projects around the house to do together. Once, when I came down here on a visit, we were putting a back deck on the house at Pilot Street. I can honestly say Dad was more impressed with my ability to swing a hammer than with Andrew’s.”
But her favorite memory of all was watching her parents dance. It was, she said, when they were at their happiest, and the world would melt away to include just the two of them. When she passed, a part of him died as well. His dance partner, his French-Canadian bride, the elegant, beautiful Mona was gone, and he missed her until his dying breath.
Beth Perkins, a good friend of Bud’s, said the same thing.
“He missed his Mona so much, he was just waiting to be with her,” she said. “You couldn’t have met a kinder soul than him, he was incredible. Bud Amen was a man who could make anyone look good on the dance floor. His hair was always perfect, he was always smiling, he was always positive, and sweet, and he was my Bud. I just loved him.
“He and Mona were super-special people who will be truly missed.”
A celebration of life for both Bud and Mona will be held at the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse Beach on Friday, July 12 at 11 a.m. It is only fitting to hold the gathering so close to the places where the couple lived and worked together for so long. A get-together will be held at South Beach just after the beach ceremony. Everyone is invited.
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