Spotlight on Grown up Islanders: Col. Frank Vollmar
Frank Vollmar’s parents, Andy and Georgia Vollmar, made their way to Pine Island when their friend began coming here in the 1940s and he talked them into moving here. By 1957, Pine Island was home to the family, which consisted of his parents, younger sister Sandy and himself.
Vollmar describes the island as a utopia where there was very little crime, in fact, he says houses were not even locked. There were no grocery stores on the island back then, but this didn’t get in the way of living in paradise.
“We had to drive 25 miles to Al’s Supermarket in North Fort Myers,” said Vollmar. “That was the only grocery store besides the ones in Fort Myers. We didn’t have city water, we had to either catch the water in a rain barrel or we had to haul water.”
Most of the time, Vollmar said, they opted to haul water, which meant a long trip into Fort Myers every four or five days to find either pure water to purchase or somewhere someone would let the family fill up its 5-gallon glass containers with city water.
“Back then the water was full of sulfur and iron,” said Vollmar. “It was very smelly and hard on the plumbing. When we first moved here we had no air conditioning. We had screens on the windows, which was pretty miserable, but we survived until we had air conditioning.”
Just before bed each night, Vollmar says the family would roll up magazines and have a mosquito killing party. He also recalls prime fishing common to the island, along with very little crime. In fact, he describes Pine Island as a very honest place.
“We took a bus to school,” said Vollmar. “It was a long bus ride to North Fort Myers. You can get into a lot of trouble in 25 miles on the bus, but we had a good time,” he said of himself and his sister Sandy.
After playing sports at school, Vollmar said, with both parents working, he and his sister often had to hitchhike back home to the island, which could pose a problem, as sometimes there were no cars coming down Pine Island Road for two or three hours. Vollmar said he and his sister had friends in their youth, although they often joked that if they had a dance, all four people from the island would come.
“At one time my father had a citrus grove and my sister and I would pick fruit from that grove and sell it alongside the road — of course we didn’t have that many cars but we made some money. We kept busy. There was always something to do.”
In true island fashion, Vollmar’s father was a commercial fisherman and charter boat captain. Vollmar followed his father and became a commercial fisherman himself when he was young, saying he learned a great deal from islanders.
Two men in particular he describes as heroes; Joe Darna, also known as the “Pompano King,” and Jack Spearing, who he says was a trout expert.
His parents, he said, could see the impending net ban and encouraged him to attend college. He graduated from the University of Tampa in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology. Upon graduation, he said, the Vietnam War was raging and he went into the Air Force where he became an officer and was trained as a B-52 bomber navigator and flight commander. He flew the B-52 for 17 years.
He was also an ICBM missile commander in charge of three 9-story missile complexes. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and returned to the island in 1993. He found his next career very rewarding, he said, as he worked as a charter boat captain for 27 years.
“As far as the commercial fisherman after the net ban, I was disgusted and devastated for my friends,” said Vollmar. “Many lies were told about commercial fishing, i.e., catching dolphin and manatees, which never happened. The fishing did not improve one ounce. Sports fishermen are selfish and we could’ve kept those jobs with regulations. The real problem with fish decline is overfishing by sports fisherman and pollution.”
According to Vollmar, his mother began the first real beauty shop on Pine Island, called Georgia’s Beauty Salon. The building, where she had her big shop, is still at the center, beside the hardware store.
Vollmar is married to Joann (Boyd) and he says he owes a great deal of his success to her for the last 41 years. He also has three sons, Tad, Frank Jr., and Brock.
Growing up on the island, says Vollmar, taught him a sense of responsibility.
“One of my commercial fishing friends in those days used to make the comment that he would ask his dad for some money to go to town or go to a dance and his dad would say, ‘Well, there’s the mullet boat, you go make your own money,'” said Vollmar. “I think it taught us responsibility. We also had good people around us, all the commercial fisherman were great. It’s still a unique place. We still don’t have the characteristics of a big city. I hope it stays that way.”