Soon after the Mackle brothers and the Deltona Corporation bought the 24 square miles that is Marco Island today for 7 million dollars, the new owners of a tropical island decided they needed a beachfront hotel to introduce and host paradise.
The first edition of the Marco Beach Hotel was a two-story affair with two wings reaching out to embrace Marco Beach. The first resort on the beach even though it might have looked like a motel was never ever called a motel—it was always the Marco Beach Hotel. The new and only beachside destination for Marco featured: a deep-water swimming pool, a pitch and putt golf course between the beach and the hotel, and a steak and seafood restaurant that many islanders will always remember as The Voyager. Across from the hotel and what is now Collier Boulevard, was a grass landing strip cleared and maintained to accommodate small airplanes.
Shortly after the Marco Beach Hotel was open, the very first Marco Beach Boy arrived and discovered a new home and a new lifestyle on Marco Island. Gil Nordell was a native to Minnesota and found his way to Marco after spending two weeks in Miami. After traveling through the everglades on Highways 41, Gil crossed over the old and original swing bridge in Goodland and landed his job for the next 43 years on Marco Beach.
After settling in as an employee of the Mackle brothers and the Deltona Corporation, Gil found himself not only taking care of the sailboat rentals and lounge chairs on the beach, but also the swimming pool, the pitch and putt golf course, and just about anything else that might be needed.
This was all part of the “can do” attitude created by the Mackle Brothers and is the spirit of what makes Marco great today.
For a typical day in the busy winter season, Gil would start his morning by raising the umbrellas and opening the pool deck at sunrise. He would then trailer a fleet of Sunfish sailboats down to the beach and raise the colorful sails for anyone having breakfast at the Voyager—and for lessons and sailing rentals later in the day. As the sun rose higher, Gil would rake the beach with the Allis Chambers tractor and then open the golf shack and prepare the bicycle rentals.
As the day progressed, Gil would greet the hotel guests, hand out towels at the pool, rent sailboats, clean golf clubs, vacuum the pool, and rub suntan lotion on any bathing beauty who might need assistance on the beach or the pool.
Later in the day, Gil would tuck away all of the aforementioned equipment and amenities and prepare for an evening of skeleton crew duties.
Of course, during the day, there were gardeners to cut the grass and maintain the grounds, and there were chambermaids, front desk crew, a chef and kitchen staff for three meals a day, and a bartender by the pool that knew every sports statistic and every joke known to humankind.
After the last dinner at the Voyager was served however, and the bartender finished serving the final nightcap, Gil on many occasions would become the manager on duty because everyone but a single security guard went home.
During the day, hotel reservations were taken and some of those reservations and hotel bookings would arrive in private airplanes. If guests and their airplanes were due to arrive after dark and after hours, Gil would be ready. Even though there were no lights on the hotel landing strip, Gil would drive his personal car over a sandy path and park with his headlights shining on the grass- covered runway. The security guard would then park the hotel maintenance truck at the other end of the runway with his headlights shining toward Gil and his car.
After the plane landed, Gil would ferry the guests over to the hotel in his car, jump behind the front desk to check them in, and finally help the new arrivals with their luggage and show them to their room. If the guests were hungry after traveling, Gil would go into the closed kitchen and make sandwiches to deliver room service.
When Frank Mackle and his brothers arrived one day in 1970, they met Gil at the beach and made a statement. “Gil,” Frank Mackle began, “Were going to build the finest resort in Florida next door to where we are standing. Our new hotel will be like nothing else, because we will spare no expense. We’re going to showcase Marco Island in style!”
At the time, Gil’s first version of the Marco Beach Hotel was the only building on the beach with the exception of the old missile tracking station where Cape Marco is now on the southernmost point of Marco Beach.
The new Marco Beach Hotel and Villas opened on December 18, 1971 and Gil at once welcomed the help of Jim Martin and the next generation of the Marco Beach Boys. A few years later, mini golf became the new rage and the new hotel built a custom designed mini golf course in front of Gil’s original swimming pool and the Voyager restaurant.
The mini golf was a big hit and Gil was now in his 70’s and single handedly operating the mini golf, pitch and put golf, bicycle rentals, and playing security guard for the daily dose of interlopers trying to gain access to the private property.
The mini golf course was well designed and almost automatic. When a guest wanted to play the course, Gil would hand out mini golf clubs, balls, and a scorecard. The holes were well marked and numbered, and when the last shot of the course enabled the final ball to fall in the final hole, there was a plastic pipe that led under a concrete slab to a trap where the golf balls could be collected to use again.
As Gil was not Superman, and was like most mortals, he had days off. When Gil was off, every Beach Boy and Girl hated those days. After all, Gil, over the years, had perfected multi-tasking and none of us wanted to fill his shoes when he was not on the property. Gil knew everything and he also knew how to problem solve just about anything.
One day when Gil was off work, catastrophe struck the mini golf course. The golf ball trap became clogged and everyone panicked. The guests were appalled at the sight of all the brightly colored golf balls overflowing. The balls would not go down the final hole and they would not roll down under the concrete slab to the retrieval trap as designed. When the final hole of the course was overflowing with colored balls running amok, everyone knew the hotel had major problems. Something had to be done and it had to be done quickly. The guests were upset that the course had to be closed and all the Beach Boys knew everyone was going to be even more upset when a construction crew was ordered for the following day with heavy equipment and a jackhammer. After much discussion, it had been decided, in Gil’s daylong absence, that the concrete slab that covered the plastic golf ball pipe had to be jack hammered and demolished, and that subsequently, a new slab of concrete would have to be poured after the clogged pipe was cleared and replaced.
The following day Gil arrived for work when the jackhammer crew was almost ready to start blasting away. After asking what was going on, and listening good-naturedly to the engineer with the jackhammer crew explain what had to be done, Gil walked patiently up to the swimming pool with a five-gallon bucket used to collect the golf balls and dipped the bucket into the water. Then, with the construction engineer and the jackhammer crew watching, Gil poured the pool water from the bucket down the final hole and into the plastic pipe where all the trapped golf balls were immediately washed out and collected in the trap as designed.
Gil never said a word to the engineer or the jackhammer crew as they starred open-mouthed. He just calmly collected the wet golf balls that had been clogged from the day before and started raising pool umbrellas just as he did when he was the very first Marco Beach Boy.
Tom Williams is a Marco islander. He is the author of two books, “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder—the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.