Cortez commercial fishing leader Thomas “Blue” Fulford dies at 83

CORTEZ — Thomas “Blue” Fulford, who proudly championed the commercial fishing industry his entire life, and served as a leader in the tight-knit Cortez community, died March 28, 2015, at home. He was 83.

“He was one of the old-school gentlemen who worked really hard. They believed in what they did, they believed in their families, and in the community. A whole culture is disappearing,” said Karen Bell, owner of A.P. Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish Co. in Cortez.

During the early 1990s, Mr. Fulford battled a state constitutional amendment to limit marine net fishing.

Despite his passionate opposition that the amendment would “virtually annihilate a whole culture which has played an important role in our state’s development for 200 years,” the amendment passed. As he had predicted, Florida’s commercial fishing industry took a major blow.

“Dad was a unique, like Cortez is unique as a village. He was a Christian first. That made him understand that we are here to get along and help one another. He was very thankful to have the life he did,” Larry Fulford said Thursday.

In addition to his community leadership, Mr. Fulford also became a statewide leader, helping found the Organized Fishermen of Florida in 1967, and serving as president and executive director.

He also helped found the Cortez Historical Society, and served on the Stone Crab Committee, and the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, Inc. (FISH).

Notably, in 2000, FISH bought 95 acres between Sarasota Bay and Cortez Road to preserve it from development.

“It’s a jewel for Manatee County. It’s one of the very few spots that are left the way it was when I got here,” Fulford told the Herald at the time.

Mr. Fulford’s involvement with civic projects was a life-long trait.

“Any time he could get involved and help, he did,” Larry Fulford said.

Mr. Fulford was born into a long-time Cortez fishing family April 17, 1932. His grandfather, Willam (Captain Billy) Fulford, came to Manatee County with his brothers Nathan and Sanders in 1882, and were among the first to buy property in the Cortez area.

Mr. Fulford’s commercial fishing career was interrupted, but not destroyed, when he lost a leg during a fishing trip.

Later, he learned to make cast nets, and sell them for prices ranging from $100 to $250.

“I really try to make the best and most durable cast net they can buy anywhere,” Mr. Fulford told the Herald in 2008.

Mr. Fulford, who was a member of the Church of Christ for 65 years, is survived by his wife, Wanda; sons Larry of Venice and Paul of Idaho, daughter Terrie Cannon of Bradenton, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Arrangements were by Brown and Sons Funeral Home and Crematory. A private service for the family will be held.


James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.

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Published in: on April 6, 2015 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thomas “Blue” Fulford

Thomas ”Blue” Fulford, 83, of Cortez, FL, died March 28, 2015. A lifelong resident of Cortez, Florida, he was a self-employed Commercial Fisherman, he was a lifetime member and founder of the Organized Fisherman of Florida (est. 1967), where he served as president and executive director until 1978 and he was a member of the Church of Christ for 65 years. Survived by his wife Wanda of Cortez, FL; sons, Larry of Venice, FL and Paul of Idaho; daughter, Terrie Cannon of Bradenton, FL; 3 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. Services will be private for the family. Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory 43rd Street Chapel in charge of arrangements. Condolences to

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blue Fulford now a legend


CORTEZ – Like a number on a baseball jersey, the Cortez nickname “Blue” will be retired after the passing last Saturday of Thomas Rollan “Blue” Fulford Jr., 84.

The Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Famer was known for turning a phrase, as in, “Florida voters swallowed the net ban propaganda hook, line and sinker.”

He could command attention in a room full of shouting fishermen by tapping his cane on the wooden floor.

And, most essential of all, he was a commercial fisherman, a good one, they say.

Fulford’s legacy is knotted into the history of the Cortez fishing village like the mesh in one of his handmade nets.

He learned to fish as a boy by watching his uncle, Tink Fulford, later passing it on to his sons, Larry and Paul.

Fishing allowed his family to eat during the Depression, since Cortez bordered the Kitchen – Sarasota Bay. Fulford used to say that Cortezians had fish and grits for breakfast, fish and grits for dinner and leftovers for supper.

He attended the 1912 Cortez schoolhouse, and was active in its conversion to the Florida Maritime Museum.

Too young to serve during World War II, he fished, grateful that he would not lose an arm or leg in the service. But tragically, a fishing accident cost him a leg in 1987.

He went right back to fishing.

The gill net ban

When he was inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2004, he thanked Providence and spoke of being humbled in the company of “the elite of Manatee County,” then said that there was one thing that would have been even better – the reversal of the commercial gill net ban.
In 1994, voters passed a state constitutional amendment eliminating gill nets, used to catch mullet, a Cortez staple, forcing fishermen, including Fulford, into other occupations.

Fulford opened Cortez Quality Castnets, which he operated from a shed in back of his home, where he could watch the mullet jumping. His business card labeled him a “dispossessed net fisherman.”

He maintained for the past 20 years that the net ban was wrong, saying that more fish have been killed by red tide than by commercial fishermen. He called fishermen an easy target, saying their activities are more easily regulated than polluted runoff, mangrove destruction and other causes of fishery declines.

He served as director of the Organized Fishermen of Florida (OFF), advocating for significant fishing laws that were passed, including reserving fisheries regulation to the state rather than local governments.

He served as the first president of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage – FISH – which has used funds from the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival for 33 years to buy 95 waterfront acres east of Cortez village as a preserve to build up fish stock.

Each year at the festival, he demonstrated making and mending nets, mourning the loss of the knowledge of net making and net fishing, and the loss of pristine coastline to development.

Last of his kind

With his passing, Cortez village mourns the loss of one of the last members of his generation, said Mark Taylor, who worked on one of Fulford’s boats for several years.

“He was a pillar of the community and a good fisherman,” said Taylor, who followed Fulford as state president of OFF.
“He was a very colorful person in Cortez and a persuasive speaker,” said Linda Molto, who worked with Fulford at FISH.

“I am going to miss him,” said Capt. Kathe Fannon, whom Blue called “Kitten” ever since she was a child. Fannon’s father, Frank Tupin, fished with Fulford, but had a doctor’s appointment the day Fulford lost his leg on the boat, she recalled. “My heart is so broken.”

Fulford will be remembered at one of his favorite events, the Cortez Community Picnic, on Saturday, April 11, at 11:30 a.m., at the Few-Miller dock on the Cortez waterfront. No other services are planned.

He was known to sing at the picnics with his pal, Cortez harmonica player Wyman Coarsey. Last year, he and his wife, Wanda, sang a duet in the video production “Gone Fishing for Old Florida: Voices of Cortez,” which aired on the WEDU series, “Diamonds Along the Highway.”

Most people think that Fulford got his nickname because of his very blue eyes.

But Fulford said the name was a result of his mother making him recite the rhyme, “Little boy blue come blow your horn.” He did it so often, “People would say, ‘Here comes little boy Blue,’ ” he recalled a few years ago.

A grandson proudly bears his name, carrying on the heritage of the unofficial mayor of Cortez.

But there will never be another “Blue.”

Published in: on March 31, 2015 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Charlotte G. Campbell Pagono

Charlotte G. Campbell Pagano, 61, of Okahumpka, died March 19.

She was born and raised in Cortez, then moved to Leesburg after she was married. In 1986, she moved to Okahumpka.

She attended Whitney Baptist Church in Leesburg. She was a homemaker and enjoyed spending time with her husband, children and grandchildren. She also enjoyed gardening and flowers.

A service was held March 25 in Leesburg. Arrangements were made by Beyers Funeral Home and Crematory. Condolences may be made online at

She is survived by husband Anthony H.; sons Tony L. and wife Melissa, John W. “Peepers” and wife Megan of Groveland; daughter Penny S. Pagano-Crites and husband Phillip of Groveland; mother Mercedes Campbell of Bradenton; brothers James Wayde and wife Mary Campbell, John Floyd and wife Flo Campbell of Cortez; sisters Ann Skinner of Arcadia and Faye and husband Bob Grubb of Fruitland Park; grandchildren Dustin, Dalton, Tayton Vincent, Sydney and Allysa and many nieces and nephews.

Published in: on March 31, 2015 at 7:55 am  Leave a Comment  

A memorable shopping trip to Beall’s first store in Bradenton

I appreciate the Herald coverage to the 100 years of the Bealls department stores. May I suggest that you solicit memories of our shopping days at that first V Dollar Limit Store?

Please give credit to those who spent years working at that store.

I am now sharing one of my shopping trips, the first time that I bought something with the money I had earned working my first job for two weeks.

I was hired by my uncle to take care of his 3-year-old son after the birth of the second baby.

A woman from Bradenton rode the bus to the Cortez village to bathe the new mother. Those were the days when mothers stayed in bed for 10 days after a birth.

My first job required entertaining the 3-year-old, opening Campbell’s soup to feed him and washing baby diapers. This was the first time I had washed diapers on a rub board.

I enjoyed my first job. When Friday came at the end of the two weeks I got my pay. On Saturday, with that money in my purse, my mother took me to shop at the V Dollar Limit Store in Bradenton, where I spent the total amount on a dress.

I can still see that dress. It was off white with lavender, blue, and green designs on it. I spent all that I had on that lovely dress.

I was so proud of me for working and being able to buy it myself.

Are you saying that I was not wise for spending all I had? To me it was worth all I had made from that job. That whole one dollar ($1), I spent at the downtown V Dollar Limit Store for a dress in 1937.

Mary Fulford Green


While editors pick the Letter of the Week, readers select the Letter of the Month by voting online at at the beginning of each new month. Nominations are posted there for review.

Published in: on March 14, 2015 at 8:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Cortez Residents honored at fishing festival

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 8:12 am  Leave a Comment  

William James Lipke, Sr.

William J. Lipke, 79, of Cortez, passed away at home on Feb. 10, 2015, in the presence of his children and grandchildren after a long battle with cancer.

He was born on Jan. 28, 1936, in Battle Creek, Mich. He graduated from Howe Military School in 1954 before relocating the family business to Bradenton. He continued to operate Riverside Products until his retirement in 1998. He was a long-time member of the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge and a Sahib Temple Shriner.

He is pre-deceased by his wife of 38 years, Gwen A. Lipke, who passed away at home in 2004.

He is survived by his sons, William J. Lipke, Jr. of Bradenton, Dr. James A. Lipke of Charleston, S.C., and Robert Lipke, of Bradenton; and his daughters, Rose Lipke and Julie Guthrie, of Cortez; 10 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren. A private service with family will be held on Monday, March 2, followed by an informal gathering of friends and family at the Swordfish Grill in Cortez at 5:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, a donation can be made in his name to Tidewell Hospice of Bradenton.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Anna Maria Island, Cortez get tourism funding approvals


mjohnson February 23, 2015


By MATT M. JOHNSON Bradenton_Herald

The freight schooner "Lettie" is one of the many ship models on display at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez. The original "Lettie" was built in 1913 at the

Fogartyville Boatworks on the Manatee River. File Photo-GRANT JEFFERIES /Bradenton Herald GJEFFERIES@BRADENTON.COM |

MANATEE — Up to $382,000 in tourism tax money could go to preserve the history and enhance parks on Manatee County’s barrier islands and Intracoastal Waterway communities this year.

The spending was recommended during a Monday meeting of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. The cluster of projects coincided with new mayoral administrations in the cities of Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, as well as a groundswell of interest in county history.

Council Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh, was particularly enthusiastic about boosting the county’s historic profile.

"I’ve said this before, when I moved here many years ago, I miss the history," she said. "So for us to be working and really trying to improve our history here in Manatee County, I think it’s so important because I think it’s who we are."

Chief among the proposed expenditures is about $180,000 for a Florida Maritime Museum expansion to remodel Cortez’s historic Burton Store and Pillsbury Boat Shop. Other funds would go toward building a boardwalk in Holmes Beach, remodeling the entry to the Anna Maria Historical Museum, and clearing invasive vegetation from Gulf Front Park in Anna Maria. The Manatee County Board of Commissioners will decide whether to approve the funding at a future meeting.

Budgeted to cost more than $1.2 million when finished, the maritime museum project will create more room for programs, collections and its boat-building and maritime skills program. The tourism money would also partly fund construction of an outdoor pavilion at the museum’s 3.8-acre property.

Amara Nash, museum supervisor, said the work falls in line with the county goal to promote tourist visits. In 2014, the museum drew more than 7,200 visitors to the working commercial fishing village

"Part of the beauty of Cortez is that it is the Cortez that it was at the turn of the century," Nash said. "Preserving this history and these buildings within the historic district is a source of pride to Cortez and Manatee County."

The tourism funds come out of a 5-percent tax on overnight accommodations. They can be spent on a variety of tourism-related expenses, including capital projects. The county collected more than $10.4 million from the tax in 2014.

Elliot Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said preserving unique places not only makes for a better tourism experience, but attracts the attention of tourism writers and publications. That publicity, he said, is important.

"Travel writers are looking for something unique, something new, something nobody else has," he said. "All of these initiatives are all of the above."

The second-largest funding request approved this week is for $100,000 toward building a boardwalk through the Grassy Point nNature Preserve in Holmes Beach. Mayor Bob Johnson made the funding request. The city has committed to matching the funds with $100,000 from its own coffers.

In Anna Maria, about $77,000 in tourism money would go toward clearing part of Gulf Front Park. In his application to the TDC, Mayor Dan Murphy said the park’s sand dunes along the Gulf of Mexico are overgrown with Brazilian pepper and cactus, and are inundated with garbage, including tires. The city will match TDC money and use the funds to clear and replant the dunes.

The smallest request was $25,000 to remodel the entry to the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum. In the application for the funds, Anna Maria Island Historical Society Board member Jonathan Crane said sprucing the entrance will make the museum an attraction that may convince overnight visitors to stay through the occasional spate of bad weather on the island.

"Sun, sand and fishing may be the draws, however, all visitors want a change of pace, particularly on cooler or more rainy days," he wrote.

All funding recommendations made by the TDC came on unanimous council votes.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Fishing Festival on Radar
Fishing festival on radar


Seafood and art attract schools of people to the
Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.


CORTEZ – Grouper groupies, get ready for the 33rd Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 14 and 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the historic Cortez fishing village.

Enjoy music, dancing, nautical art and crafts, a marine life touch-tank and more, topped with plenty of fresh seafood and culinary options for land-lubbers.

If you love grouper all year around, not just on Valentine’s Day weekend, the festival is tailor-made for you with its theme, “I’m a Grouper groupie!”

Grouper is highly prized for its flaky, pure white flesh. A uniquely local Florida seafood, about 80 percent of all the grouper harvested in the U.S. comes from Florida’s west coast waters; about one-quarter of that comes across the docks in Cortez. So, if you want to learn more about grouper or sample it fresh, the festival is the place for you.

There really are a whole group of groupers; more than 160 species worldwide. The stupendous goliath grouper commonly grows to 500-600 pounds – the state record is 680 pounds. But these giants don’t reach the dinner table; they are protected as is the more tropical Nassau grouper.

The most common grouper found in restaurants and markets is the red grouper, followed by gag and yellowedge. Some of the other types landed for food include black, scamp, yellowfin and snowy grouper.

People often ask “Which is the most delicious?” Some old-time anglers have their favorites, but as the young folks say, “It’s all good.”

Not only are grouper good to eat, they are fascinating creatures. It may be hard to believe, but they change sex during their lives. During the early part of their lives they are females, but as many as 10 years later they turn into males.

Learn more or just enjoy them at the festival.

Admission is $3, with children under 12 free. Proceeds benefit FISH, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, to restore the FISH Preserve east of Cortez village.

Head west toward the beaches on Cortez Road to the entrance at the Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W.

Offsite parking is available at G.T Bray Park and overflow parking is at 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W., Bradenton (turn east off 59th Street onto 33rd Avenue Drive.) or at Coquina Beach with a shuttle bus to Cortez ($2.50 round trip). Free expanded parking is east of the village off Cortez Road, a five minute walk from the gate. Pay parking is available in the western part of Cortez village.

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival


Published in: on January 19, 2015 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment