A large crowd gathered at the American Legion Monday afternoon - Aug. 13 - to share stories of the unforgettable day eight years ago, as well as celebrating that no one's life was lost as the trail of Hurricane Charley shook up the island and left destruction in its path.
Hurricane Charley, initially named a Category 2 storm was predicted to head north to Tampa, before it changed its path, turning into a Category 4 storm headed directly for Pine Island. The eye of the storm passed over the north end of Bokeelia at approximately 3:45 p.m., Friday, Aug. 13. The island experienced winds up to 140 mph, as well as heavy rainfall and numerous tornados during the storm.
The American Legion has held a Hurricane Charley party every year since 2005, due to the impact the facility had on the community during and after the storm devastated the island.
American Legion Auxiliary members Bev Young, Diana Hatley, Linda Lewis, Guylyn DeMeyere, Lucy Avery (back row) Sherry Krchmar and Sally Plummer helped set up the Hurricane Charley party, as well as dressing the part.
Doug Manson said he arrived at the Legion around 6 a.m. the morning of Aug. 13, eight years ago. Around 9 a.m. he said people started showing up at the door and between 10-11 a.m. people began bringing their dogs and cats with them due to the path of the storm.
"I let them in," Manson said - animals are typically not allowed within the American Legion. "We had all kinds of animals."
As the morning hours passed, more and more people showed up at the American Legion because they were either a member or they saw cars parked in the parking lot.
"The place just grew and grew," Manson said, adding that they had about 120 people within the Legion the day of Hurricane Charley.
American Legion Auxiliary Secretary Guylyn DeMeyere said the American Legion saved a lot of lives eight years ago.
"We were all very safe," she said. "Really a salvation for many of us. The Legion really saved our lives."
DeMeyere said in a matter of a 30 to 60-minute time span ,the hurricane jumped from a Category 2 to a Category 4 storm. She said they wanted to leave, but could not get off the island, so they decided to head for the American Legion.
But before they made their way to their destination, her husband traveled up and down their street to encourage all of their neighbors to head to the Legion.
Manson said the next day, Aug. 14, they began serving food for the people of the island. He said the restaurants in St. James City donated their food to them because they could not cook due to the power going out.
Because of those donations, Manson said they were able to cook for a lot of people.
DeMeyere said she remembered the American Legion serving hot meals until they no longer could get electricity.
One thing that stuck out to Manson during the hectic times of Hurricane Charley was the mannerisms of those who came to the Legion for shelter.
"Very well behaved," he said.
DeMeyere said they provided lunch - hot soup and sandwiches - as well as serving special hurricane drinks to celebrate the anniversary of Hurricane Charley last week.
"All my girls donated soap and sandwiches," Linda Lewis, American Legion Auxiliary president said.
DeMeyere said beautiful baskets were also raffled off during the party with all the money going back into the community.
Lewis said the money made during the event went into the auxiliary's emergency fund, which helped a lot of people after Hurricane Charley struck.
Lee and Jerry Congdon joined the festivities Monday because they were thankful to have survived the hurricane.
The couple said they just finished building their house in June 2004, months before Hurricane Charley struck.
Lee said they put up their storm shutters the night before, filled their boat full of water and took any other precautionary measures they could. He remembers the phone ringing at 1 a.m. - a friend of theirs who stayed up to track the storm, filling them in on Hurricane Charley's path.
The couple knew that 1-75 would be wall-to-wall traffic, the gas station would have no gas and the hotels would be filled up, so they agreed that there was no sense in leaving the island.
Lee and Jerry took cover with their cat and dog in the master closet to ride out the storm.
"I will never do it again," Lee said of staying during a hurricane.
She said she remembered looking out into Pine Island Sound and watching the water come up to the shore and then vanishing, which worried her about flash flooding.
Although their home did well during the storm, their motor home suffered severe damage.
"The new building code saved the house," Jerry said. "We think it saved our house."
The couple was without water and electricity for two weeks. They both agreed that the American Red Cross, Winn-Dixie and Bank of America made it possible to make it through the aftermath of the storm, due to the hot meals, water and ice that was provided to them and the residents of the island.
Every year the couple heads to the American Legion on the anniversary of Hurricane Charley because they are thankful everyone made it through the storm.
"At least no one lost their lives," Jerry recalls. "That was incredible."
That day eight years ago left an everlasting imprint on everyone who remained on the island.