Category Archives: People

Operation Open Arms Southwest FL Helps 1,999th Member

Wink News, April 21, 2012

Operation Open Arms is helping the 1,999th service member in the seven years of the non-profit group. Alana Dent, a Navy Airman, took a limousine ride from SW Fl. Intl. airport to her mother’s house in Fort Myers. Dent is home on leave for 5 days.

“I am so happy to see family and friends and to ride in a limosine! I have never ridden in one before,” the 20-year old Dent told WINK News.

Her mother and brother greeted her at the airport, and all took the limo home.

“Pretty cool. I could get used to this,” said Dent’s mother, Christina Drake.

“I think it is wonderful that people remember our service-members and help them with special things when they come here on leave,” said Drake.

Operation Open Arms founder, former Marine Capt. John Bunch, was travelling out of state on Friday. But he told WINK News: “I thought we would have gotten to 1999 service-members before now. But the end of the military presence in Iraq and the draw-down in Afghanistan, is slowing things a bit. However, we will continue to exist, because there will be service people coming back home on leave for as long as we can see into the future. It has been a long and at times, hard 7 years. But we will keep going.”

Open Arms has provided 95 weddings for service people, as well as hundreds of free hotel accomodations, meals, and fishing excursions in the Gulf of Mexico.

Navy Airman Dent goes back to her home base in San Diego in 5 days, and then will deploy on a medical ship in the Pacific for the next 6 months.

Pine Islanders Pitch in For Soldier’s Wedding

Operation Open Arms Organizes 94th Wedding

From the

Operation Open Arms is granting another couple’s wish in April by taking care of a soldier’s wedding, which is the organization’s 94th wedding since 2005.

“Operation Open Arms is a network of individuals and businesses who extend every possible act of tangible kindness to our troops who risk their lives for our freedoms,” Operation Open Arms Founder Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch said.

He said in a recent USA Today poll, real estate values, the economy and how much 401Ks might be worth seem to preoccupy the psyche of most Americans.

“The relative concern for the well-being of our troops even stands behind the great political divide which keeps our country from being greater than it already is,” Bunch said. “However, there are still many Pine Islanders who chose to make a real difference.”

Some of those businesses and individuals include the Tarpon Lodge, Bert’s Bar, Sandy Hook, Jay at Bubba’s Roadhouse, Gerald Butters, Lisa Benton, Elaine McLaughlin, Maxine and Steve Woodard and Capt Chris Stanford.

The wedding for Matthew Welch, from Ashville, N.Y., and Haley Kibble, from Findley Lake, N.Y., will be held April 4 on the island.

By planning a wedding at no cost to the couple, Bunch said it provides them with the opportunity for a down payment on a house or to put money away to start a family.

Each Operation Open Arms wedding is worth a minimum of $15,000,

Bunch said. Operation Open Arms must pay for many things such as cake, limo, tents and the venue.

“But any time everyone chips in, the results are always magical,” he said. “Our troops have never contributed a dime. The first OOA wedding was all about my refusal to accompany a Marine to the Lee Courthouse and be his witness. In two days a full service wedding was provided.”

Jenifer Welch’s nephew Matthew, who turned 18 in October, is currently in training due to his planned deployment to Afghanistan on June 6. Matthew is a 12B Combat Engineer in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Welch said she has lived on the island for 10 years and Matthew’s grandparents, Bud and Dawn Welch of Bokeelia, have lived on the island for 16 years.

She said she has become friends with her nephew’s fiance on Facebook and has come to know her pretty well through their online communication. Once the engagement was announced, Welch said her nephew said they wanted to have a courthouse wedding.

Since Welch is a notary she asked them to get married in Florida.

“It turned into something way more than I expected, which is wonderful,” she said of Operation Open Arms helping with the wedding. “I thought it was going to be something that we would take them over (to Cayo Costa) on our personal boat with her parents, his parents and grandparents and do the vows and then go to dinner.”

A number of people came forward through Operation Open Arms to help with the wedding, along with the Women of the Moose providing the decorations and flower arrangements.

“It is kind of neat how it is all coming together,” Welch said.

The wedding started off with six people to witness the ceremony, which has grown close to 30 people now.

Welch said she used to work for Make A Wish Foundation, so she wanted to focus on the couple’s wedding day instead of Matthew leaving in about a month to Afghanistan. She said it is all about thinking positive about the wedding and not the outcome of him leaving for a year.

“They are very excited,” Welch said about the wedding plans. “We only communicate through Facebook. I send them bits and pieces of what people are doing. They are shocked at how much everyone is doing.”

She said they have made a lot of friends through the planning of the wedding.

“Everybody is offering to do something,” Welch said.

The couple is flying into town on April 1 for the wedding.

Since Haley’s dream is to have a beach wedding, the couple will most likely get married at the tip of Bokeelia on the beach, if they cannot make it to Cayo Costa due to the tides.

Annie Wenz will provide the entertainment for the wedding, Bubba’s is catering the food and Tarpon Lodge is providing a two-night stay for their honeymoon. The Matlacha Hookers also donated a large tent for the festivities.

“A special thanks is hereby extended to the new Madam of the Matlacha Hookers, DJR, for providing a critical level of support for this wonderful wedding. Thank you all for making such an enormous difference in the life of a U.S. soldier from Bokeelia who is being deployed to Afghanistan,” Bunch said. “You are all heroes in my eyes.”

About Gerald Butters

Gerald Butters is an acknowledged dignitary in the communications industry. His career spanning more than 40 years, included appointments as president of NTI (Nortel’s US Subsidiary), chairman of the board of AGCS ( a joint manufacturing venture of AT&T and GTE), president of AT&T’s Network Systems Global Public Networks Development and Manufacturing divisions, president of Lucent Technologies North American marketing, sales
and services units. While at Lucent, he formed the Optical Networking Group and became its first president.

Butters influential thought leadership on Optical Technologies has been recognized in journals and Wikipedia as “Butters’ Law of Photonics”. Butters is also a co-founder of a scientific and philosophical group, which is attempting to understand and predict, undiscovered intersections of Optical and Computational science. Butters retired from Lucent in 2000 as senior vice president marketing and technology. He continues active industry involvement as a limited partner in Venture Capital firms, board membership in private and public companies and as a technical advisor. Extensive reference information about Butters can be found at the ZoomInfo ( website.

Butters is a co-founder of Double Black Diamond Partners.

Butters is a Fellow of the prestigious International Engineering Consortium, and has lectured at Universities in Asia, Europe and North America. He has given Commencement addresses to graduating classes of Vanderbilt University, North Carolina State University and American Sentinel University. He was awarded the Mississippi University for Women gold medal for helping to bring distance learning to rural Mississippi high schools.

Butters served on the Board of Trustees-Fisk University, Board of Directors of ANS {a not for profit corporation} formed by IBM, MCI and the University of Michigan,which provided the high capacity backbone for the original Internet. Also, Boards of the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Junior Achievement of Peel County, Junior Achievement of New York City, Rider University Business School, the AT&T Foundation, and Advisor to American Sentinel University,
Internet2, the US Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation initiative on advanced Sciences for American Universities.

Parrot Key Grill Helps OOA Recover from Arson’s Fire

From the Fort Myers Beach Periodical the Sandpiper January 2012,
Parrot Key Caribbean Grill and Big Game Waterfront Grill Give a Helping Hand to Operation Open Arms

Parrot Key Caribbean Grill and Big Game Waterfront Grill of Fort Myers Beach gave a helping hand to Operation Open Arms this week by donating $1,000 in gift cards to be used in assisting service personnel. Operation Open Arms had been storing their donated items at the Pine Island Chamber until a recent fire that completely destroyed the Chamber office.

“When we learned of the fire last week we called Captain John Bunch, the head of Operation Open Arms and offered our donation”, said Justin Hall, Operations Manager for the two restaurants. “We are proud to support Operation Open Arms and give back in to our U.S. Troops who are visiting our area. I would encourage all of the restaurants in the area to participate with us in this worthwhile endeavor!”

“Parrot Key is a great place to come and enjoy the waterfront view, have a fantastic meal and leave the real world behind for a short time! We feel honored to share a little piece of our paradise with these service personnel and their families”, says Brian DeMartinis, General Manager at Parrot Key.
Operation Open Arms, a nationally acclaimed military outreach program founded in 2005, is a network of business owners and individuals in Florida who work to provide eligible service personnel and their families with a no cost combat leave vacation. Local businesses have worked with Operation Open arms to help over 2,000 service personnel here locally and have donated the goods and services for 90 weddings. “The thing that makes Operation Open Arm such a success is a core group of 100 businesses that have joined together to support this cause and Salty Sam’s is one of our largest contributors”, said Joseph Fossella, Advisory Board Member.

About Nancy Neely

Looking back at my life as a computer educator in Michigan and my life here in Maryland, service to others and the natural environment is a recurring theme. As a 16 year old, I found myself Saturdays, at a Ladies’ Retirement Home, rounding up surprised women, to take them shopping. More recently, for the past 7 years, I’ve traveled countrywide, building with Habitat for Humanity. Besides the fun of hammering away at a framing nail, it is rewarding to work side by side with an excited, new homeowner who, often enough, is moving from substandard housing.

Additionally, in Maryland, I have devoted time to a life long passion…the preservation of nature through various restoration projects with the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is another organization with whom I’m currently working to preserve our treasured rural landscape in the six Eastern Shore counties. During summer months, I am privileged to volunteer as crew with the Sultana Project, a group who, on a replica merchant tall ship built in Chestertown, educates the public about the Chesapeake Bay and it’s ecological challenges. In recent years, I’ve also volunteered with the Chester River Hospital Center and Kent County Hospice.

Service to others and our natural environment continues to be my life passion. I am so pleased to be able to help Captain Bunch establish Operation Open Arms on the Eastern Shore and honor our Maryland soldiers on leave.

Mourning a Loss: Daniel Beougher

The family of Daniel Beougher mourns his loss during a press conference on Monday, Dec. 10. Lauren Beougher shares thoughts on the loss of her husband, Army Sgt. Daniel Beougher, who lost his life in a Dec. 8 hit-and-run accident.

Following the death of an Iraq war veteran who died in a hit-and-run crash in North Fort Myers, Captain John “GiddyUp” Bunch was determined to strengthen current state legislation, making it a misdemeanor to lend a vehicle to a person with a suspended driver license. He approached Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, asking that a one-year license suspension, with the possibility of jail time, be added to the law.


Operation Open Arms – A Pine Island Treasure

This letter appeared in the Nov 1 2011 edition of the Pine Island Eagle. We whole heartily agree with Ms. Knez – Southwest Florida and Pine Island people are the lifeblood of Operation Open Arms and generously give their time and talent to our active duty service members.

To the editor:

My husband and I moved to Pine Island in August, 2010. Since then, one of the most redeeming qualities we have noticed in “islanders” is their care and concern for others in the Pine Island community. There are many benevolent organizations on the island whose members dedicate their time, money, blood, sweat and tears to those in need, and most do so on a voluntary basis. One such organization came to my attention recently through an article in The Eagle a few weeks back. It was related to a young man in the military who was assigned overseas to one of our U.S. Embassies. Although from what I can tell (researching government websites and regulations), paid home-leave provisions exist for civilian and military personnel, eligibility is related to length of service and other factors. For whatever reason, the young corporal had to pay his home-leave airfare out-of-pocket. His overall airfare cost was substantial, and pretty close to the amount he nets in a month. I was very disturbed by the fact that this young man, who guards and protects the embassy and its officials, was burdened with such expense. The organization that was soliciting donations to help offset the corporal’s travel expenses was Operation Open Arms. At the end of The Eagle article, I was surprised to see that Operation Open Arms had an address right here in my own backyard – in Saint James City.

Being a skeptic by nature, I went to the Operation Open Arms website to learn more about this organization. I learned that Operation Open Arms started with one fishing captain providing a free fishing trip to a service man who only wanted to go fishing while on combat leave. The fishing captain, John “Giddyup” Bunch, provided that fishing trip; and since 2005, from what I can tell, has done some pretty amazing things for our armed forces. According to the website, the mission of Operation Open Arms is “To provide U.S. Service men and women visiting Southwest Florida every conceivable benefit during their two week combat leave or return from a foreign duty station.” The mission is dependent upon tax deductible contributions and donations for things like free limo service, lodging, restaurants, fishing charters, golf, tennis, bowling, kayaking, biking, emergency dental care, and a cutting edge approach for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I also learned that Operation Open Arms has paid in full for 82 U.S. troops’ weddings, complete with limos, lodging and all the trimmings. Cost-free vacations to our lovely Southwest Florida area have been provided to over 1900 troops around the nation.

Our military men and women put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our nation and preserve our freedom. Combat takes a hefty toll on our service men and women, and to have an organization that provides a cost-free way for them to depressurize and “unwind,” is a true blessing. Operation Open Arms should be commended for the wonderful things it has done, and continues to do for our men and women in uniform. This organization only further supports my original assessment of Pine Island – a place where people care and are concerned for others. To donate or learn more about this worthy organization visit the website at:

Judy Knez


About Joseph Fossella

Joseph FossellaMr. Fossella is currently President of Clean Skies, LLC, a company committed to the sustainable development of projects in the Energy field, including LNG, Alternative Energy and Synthetic Fuels. Clean Skies also provides consulting services to Engineering and Construction companies and other related industries.

Mr. Fossella has over 35 years of experience in the Process Engineering and Construction Industry in Sales, Marketing and General Management & Leadership roles. He has been responsible for creating new markets by expanding “Core Competencies” of the companies he has worked for. . Mr. Fossella has played a key development role in forming collaborative relationships through joint ventures, alliances, consortia, subcontractor and other collaborative relationships with partners, competitors and regional firms. Mr. Fossella has in-depth knowledge of the contracting industry with a special focus on scope and risk allocation amongst the participants to reduce overall costs while maintaining performance responsibilities.

Mr. Fossella is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and holds a Master’s Degree from New Jersey Institute of Technology. Along with his wife Mary, Joe lives in Estero and in addition to his consulting business he is active in community service groups.

About Elaine McLaughlin, Senior Advisory Board

Elaine McLaughlin Elaine McLaughlin currently serves as part-time executive director for the Friends of Florida State Parks and as the sole employee for the organization. Having served two terms as President and one as Past-President, McLaughlin brings understanding the challenges and opportunities facing the statewide Friends and the Florida state park system.

McLaughlin also continues to be affiliated with the University of Florida department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management and continues to assist cities and counties with tourism strategic development.

She gained experience as a tourism leader for the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Visitor & Convention Bureau. She held this position for over 12 years. Twice named as one of the leading women in tourism by Travel Agent Magazine, McLaughlin led the Bureau in innovative programs that integrated city, county and state parks in the development of nature preserves and recreational areas. By focusing on nature-based tourism, the Bureau was able to grow the economy of the county.

In 1995, McLaughlin represented Florida at the White House Conference on Tourism and for over 6 years served on the Florida Commission n Tourism and the board of Visit Florida Inc, The first person in Florida to achieve the prestigious Certified Destination Management Executive, she also served as President of the Florida Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

About Kathy New

Kathy New was born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. She met her husband on a cruise ship in the fall of 1982. They married eight months later and have been residents of Lee County since 1986. They share their St. James City home with their rescued English Setter dog (Maggy) and Himalayan cat (Knotty).

Kathy brings a diversified background since she left the snow skiing mountains of Beaver Creek, Colorado, where they (husband Mike) worked as Property Managers overseeing five luxury homes. In the fall of 1986, Kathy & Mike discovered Lee County after listening to “Paul Harvey” on the radio. Paul stated that Lee County was the second fastest growing county in the United States (just below Las Vegas). They chose to settle on Pine Island since Mike drives a boat daily to the barrier islands where he builds custom homes.

Since earning her Associate Degree in Specialized Business, Kathy has worked nine years in the Administrative/Property Management field; seven years in the Health care Industry; and seventeen years in the Marketing/Sales/Promotion’s industry. She continues her consulting (Kathy New’s Marketing & More) evolved after her six year tenure with the national Nielsen TV Ratings.

Kathy continues to support not only our local community, but national and international programs through her “very dear to her heart” charitable organizations (Rotary, 2009-2011 Club President & member since1993), and with Operation Open Arms.