Social Citizens Group Honor the Past and Head for The Future

By Cesar A. Becerra

July 8, 2021

Aerial view of Motel Row in Sunny Isles, Fl., 1955

Everyone can agree that The Pandemic did not bode well for social situations. Double that for an older generation going through the pandemic. And so it was that after what seemed like an eternity, the decade old Social Citizens of Southeast Florida, returned with a vengeance at their first and second functions of the amended 2021 season for a luncheon and lecture at The Olive Garden in Aventura and The Thai House Restaurant. On both days the group looked forward as they simultaneously honored the past with a brief talk by former Sunny Isles Mayor Norman Edelcup about the nascent beginnings of Sunny Isles Beach no less than 25 years ago and photos of a colorful mural sponsored by the group was also shared.

Buzzing about with great intensity and ready to get back to normal were 40 fully vaccinated members of the Social Citizens who were eager to get back to their adventuresome pace of bus tours, luncheons, socials and broadway play outings. Director Dennis Stubbolo flitted about welcoming back new and old members alike.

The season though cut in half by the ongoing issues of the pandemic and vaccination rules for gathering would have rendered most groups a death knell but the "Citizens" used it wisely to regroup, re-plan and re envision a future that has new programming already abuzz beginning with a hearty re-launch of activities beginning with a special tour on July 29th to coincide with Miami's 125th anniversary. Speaking of history, The Citizens - with their main offices in Sunny Isles - organized a special reunion of the key pioneers who actually birthed the town of Sunny Isles on the 12th of April, 1996.

"We thought this is the perfect time to make sure we get our story right" feigned Stubbolo who discovered Sunny Isles in 1995 as his firm offered to transfer him to South Florida and adds "we figure instead of just a photo of the group we may as well record their thoughts and details of what they remembered in their respective roles in creating Sunny Isles Beach. One doesn't get that opportunity everywhere in cities that are several centuries old!" And so it was on 12th of April at One Netanya Center that founders Danny Iglesias and Godmother Susan Fried convened with Norman Edelcup for a one and a half hour recording session that was immortalized on both audio and video.

The former Mayor, who hailed originally from Chicago and who served as Sunny Isles Beach mayor from 2003 to 2014 shared a few anecdotes and details about those early days at the luncheon last week. Mr Edelcup, spoke as a true and bold pioneer when he shared the story of how Sunny Isles Beach had dropped in stature by the early 1990's from its original glory as the place to see and be seen in the 1940's when it was the place to be and be seen of all of Florida's beach resorts. "We were the envy of all beach front resort towns until slowly the way american and foreign families vacationed began to shift to Disney's powerful and trendy allure." Slowly a decay began to fall over the area to the point where hotel properties and our sandy sidewalks of Sunny Isles began to be snapped up by hungry developers at below market prices and even prostitutes began outnumbering tourists as its citizenry realized they had to take matters into their own hands.

A push to break away also meant a push to even jettison the name Sunny Isles as Edelcup mentioned in his speech that "The people that did choose to break away wanted to join the Aventura bandwagon." And so with a promise to eventually do just that they initially tabled the Aventure name and incorporated it as Sunny Isles Beach with the promise that in the near future they would vote to rename it. Edelcup added; "It never got brought up formally after incorporation so we kept on with Sunny Isles Beach!" Also on hand at the luncheon was Lewis Thaler the vice mayor and now Vice President of Social Citizens board who piggybacked on Edelcup's assessment and added that to pull away from Dade County was both easy and a no brainer. "You have to understand that we had to do something. We were not being treated fairly even when it came to basic services. We would of course not have any clue of the level of expertise we would have to take on over the upcoming years but we knew it was better than seeing our paradise run amok." And indeed they did. From the allure of the quick buck property owners were susceptible to quick lucrative payouts. It would take years before Sunny Isles Beach saw their population and reputation skyrocket. By the new millenium Sunny Isles had been saved and the community began being known once again as The City of Sun and Sea. It is no surprise that Social Citizens was born (on March 10th 2011) within their city limits and chose to headquarter right next door to City Hall. But director Stubbulo explains that in the future plans are afoot to grow past those boundaries; "Remember when we started we didn't want to be pigeonholed to just Sunny Isles, in fact we are seeing now some of our members are located in locales far away from the beach even deep inland. Which makes sense as our name was purposefully chosen as Social Citizens of Southeast Florida and this upcoming year we intend to grow into that zone by some exciting promotional materials we have planned and tours that stretch from here to Key West."

At the end of the lunches several members like Gloria Ezrin along with Marvin Zubisky wished it to not come to an end. "Now I wish I had planned to stay longer but I'm headed back to New York in a week. But I'm definitely looking forward to the next season!" For a full roster of activities Social Citizens urge newcomers to check out their website www.socialcitizenssef .org and reminds all that with a discounted 10.00 membership (instead of the regular 20.00 a year) this year only due to the cut in programming you are getting a steal of a deal in time for the rest of the season. "It's still the best deal in town!" enthusiastically explains Nancy Leyton who is happy the group is back and firing on all cylinders. "Where else are you going to have an entire year of social outings planned for such a affordable membership!"

The next big activity will be an all day tour celebrating the city of Miami with Historian Cesar A. Becerra on July 29th - one day after the city turns 125 and Becerra releases his 4th book on South Florida History focussing on pioneer co-mother Mary Brickell - and another bus tour on August 25th with Historian Seth Bramson to explore the island and history of Key Biscayne which will include a stop at the lighthouse and lunch at the famous Rusty Pelican. All tours and activities can be booked by calling Nancy Leyton at 305-333-2865