Thelma Grace Waite
Feisty, energetic Thelma Grace Waite, known as the “Queen of the
Caloosahatchee”, reigned for years over Iona Cove in south Fort
Myers with a spicy combination of guts and good humor.
“She got that nickname from the customers – she kept them all in
line” said her husband, Mel Waite of south Fort Myers. “Thelma loved
the water and she’d visited all the islands, collecting bottles and
Mrs. Waite died Saturday of complications from a stroke she
suffered in July. She was 73.
A world-traveling Navy seaman, Waite met the Nebraska girl with
the vibrant smile one Fourth of July weekend at a Virginia Beach
watering hole known as the Beachhead.
Although they had never been to Florida, they piled all their
possessions into their handmade dinghy in 1947 and towed it all the
way to Fort Myers. The first night they spent there, a hurricane
hit, but they battled through it and decided to stay.
The couple began working at a fish camp, which they eventually
bought and built into the Cove Marina. Approximately 10 years ago
they sold the marina, although they stayed in their house.
“We built it all up from scratch” Waite said. “Everyone thought
we were nuts when we bought this crappy looking place. There was
nothing here. We had to do it all ourselves. Worked from sun-up to
sundown. “There was nothing but crude equipment.”
He did the dredging excavation and building; she took care of the
books and did all the running and carrying. The marina grew to
include a store, room for more then 40 boats, fishing docks and
Although the two had been keeping company for years, it wasn’t
until a local priest exerted some pointed pressure that they got
“He called us up one day and said, ‘Come down here right now, I’m
going to marry you two!’ So we went – both of us still had our work
clothes on – and he married us right there,” he said.
They couldn’t get away for a honeymoon, so after that, life went
on pretty much as usual.
“We had some real characters working for us back then,” Waite
recalled. “There was one guy who got started in the circus and he
used to walk around the dock with a big snake draped around his
“Another one had tattoos all over his body.” But Thelma had
something to say to all of them. “She was pretty sassy and she’d
tell people off in a hurry.”
The two enjoyed traveling from island to island on their
converted Navy Launch, collecting shells and artifacts. Mrs. Waite
also tamed a wild turkey with handfuls of sunflower seeds. Eagles
also frequented their place, as well as snakes, alligators and
Mrs. Waite enjoyed cleaning fish and was the resident expert.
“She wasn’t squeamish by any means,” her husband said. “She loved
bawdy jokes too – quite a colorful character.”
Mrs. Waite loved to play cards; her favorite game was Spite and
Malice, her husband said.
And she enjoyed a little nip of vodka every once in a while, too.
I remember one time, she and my father-in-law were up all night
playing poker in one of the rental cabins and it got later and later
and finally about 3 a.m., I just got out my .45 and fired some
shots. That broke that up in a hurry. He said, chuckling.
There will be no public memorial service for Mrs. Waite.
Memorial contributions in her name may be made to the Church of
the Ascension, 6025 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, Florida 33931
Thelma Grace Waite
Date of Birth: June 22, 1916
Date of Death: September 9, 1989
Cause of Death: Complications from a Stroke
Occupation: Part Owner of the Cove Marina
Moved to south Fort Myers in 1947
Previous residence: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Survivors include: Her husband, Melbourne Alexander Waite of
south Fort Myers; a daughter, Marcia Koopman of Marblehead,
Massachusetts; a sister, Ancilla Rohrs of Albany, New York; three
grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Funeral home: National Cremation Society, 3596 Fowler St., Fort