Estero’s resident historian, Marlene Fernandez, has lived in Estero for 64 years and hopes to pass on a love of local history to the next generation before she fully retires as chief archivist for the Estero Historical Society.
She’d like to see someone teach a course in Estero history. And she’d like to educate a person or two on the area’s pioneers and their legacy.
“Estero has a very rich history,” Fernandez said. “People need to be more aware. We need a younger generation to be involved.”
Fernandez and Maryann Weenen, a past president, make regular visits to the Collier House (circa 1906), now referred to as “the cottage,” which serves as the society’s headquarters and is located in Estero Community Park. Next to the cottage is the Estero Creek School (1904-1927), which was also relocated to the park in 2009.
By appointment to groups of six or less, Fernandez will gladly share her knowledge of a place she’s known since 1956. Her husband’s grandparents, Mary and Antonio Fernandez, were among Estero’s first settlers in 1899.
For the past 20 years, people like Fernandez and Weenen and a handful of other avid local historians have been preserving and sharing Estero’s historical highlights to anyone who may be interested. Like Fernandez, several of the old-timers have family connections to Estero’s first settlers.
While 2020 marks the Estero Historical Society’s 20th anniversary, a planned celebration had to be postponed. However, the society will open a Museum Gift Shop this month. The grand opening will be Nov. 29 from noon to 2 p.m. at the cottage in Estero Community Park.
One person who has caught Fernandez’s passion for sharing Estero’s history is the society’s new president, Gail Langner, who is also after-hours chairperson for the Estero Chamber of Commerce. Langner has a number of ideas for an organization that could use a boost in its online and social-media presence.
“I feel great where we’re going,” Langner said. “We’re looking to increase membership and participation. The Bonita Realtors Association has asked for a history of Estero. It would be great to have an ongoing relationship with schools, and it would be great for the children to learn Estero’s history. I’d also like to initiate a temporary exhibit or traveling exhibit and improve our working relationship with nonprofits.”
Fernandez said Pinewoods Elementary and the Estero Village Council have expressed support for creating curriculum to educate local children about Estero’s history.
Estero began its population boom in the late 1980s, picking up major steam in the 2000s. The Village’s current population is about 35,000, which is 13,000 more than the population in 2010.
Langner and other Estero Historical Society board members want to introduce all these new residents to Estero’s old ways. Heading into the 2020s, the society’s goals include:
- Signage on Corkscrew Road for the society’s historic buildings and headquarters in Estero Community Park.
- Greater web presence, including putting the gift shop on the historical society’s website (com) so visitors can see local authors’ and artists’ work.
- Incorporating Estero history into Village of Estero and Lee County schools initiatives.
- Raising money to keep the cottage and schoolhouse in good shape.
“All not-for-profit organizations are having a very difficult time with funding,” said Rosalyn Gula, a longtime volunteer.
Fortunately, Langner said a former member of the historical society left a substantial gift in her will. In addition, the Estero Walmart, under manager Evan Stellmacher, has donated $4,000 in funds to update the society’s website, improve technology and enhance historical society programs.
Langner said the global pandemic “has taken the wind out of our sails,” but the Estero Historical Society will schedule events and celebrate its 20th anniversary when it’s safe to do so.
The museum gift shop will be open from noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and currently accepts cash only. Check the historical society’s website for more details on upcoming events and opportunities: www.esterohistoricalsociety.com.
By Craig Handel