October 8, 2014
It was fish, fishing and a marriage that brought Gina Poppell to Pine Island from the Florida Keys in 1971. And it was a friendship forged through the fishing activities of husbands that led her to work for the U.S. Postal System on May 30, 1980.
Last Tuesday, Sept. 30, Poppell retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 34 years of service, 18 of those as postmaster at the Pineland Post Office. Many local residents stopped by on her last day to enjoy cookies and say farewell. Hugs and well wishes were extended by many, including Pineland resident Karen Andress who said, "Gina was an excellent postmaster, friend, confidant and counselor. She will be sorely missed."
The friendships made at the Pineland Post Office were special to Gina, too. "Knowing 90 percent of everyone who came through the door made working here special and unique" she said. "I've watched children grow from being just tall enough to see over the counter to being grown with their own children."
The Pineland Post Office was established in 1902 under Minta Martin, daughter of Thomas Moore Stafford, a Civil War veteran who lost his orange groves in North Florida and moved to Pine Island to start over. Until 1917, the Post Office was located in a small building on an Indian shell mound across from where the Tarpon Lodge is situated today. Some mounds were torn down to use as road fill in 1917 and the Post Office was moved eastward along the new road. However, in 1924 or 1925, a storm washed it away completely. Ruby Vance Gill was the postmaster at the time and built a new Post Office next door to her home.
It was this building where Poppell opened the Post Office door, on her last day, to assist Barbara Painter, who was bringing a box of avocados to ship to relatives in Connecticut. Painter has used the Pineland Post Office for 22 years and remembers when Poppell took the reins.
Many residents remember that Poppell opened the Post Office only three days after Hurricane Charley wrought havoc on the area by using a portable boat port-a-potty, a rate chart and a non-electric scale.
Poppell's family was not able to be there for her final closing of the Post Office gate. Husband Steve, a commercial grouper fisherman, was heading into the gulf, and all four daughters were working. In retirement, though, she plans plenty of time with family, in the garden and more time "on the boat".
The Randell Research Center, manager of the Post Office building, is compiling cards, stories, letters and photographs to present to Poppell. If you would like to contribute, please drop them by the RRC offices at the Ruby Gill House next door to the Post Office or mail them to RRC, P.O. Box 608, Pineland, FL 33945.