Running his hand through his thick, prematurely white hair, he unrolled a set of drawings and explained how he changed the interior plans of his beachfront condominium to make it more open, create the illusion of space flowing inside and out, and how these modifications took advantage of the Gulf views and breezes.
He was tall, down-to-earth and most memorably, exuding confidence. I was 12, and it was the first time I had met an architect.
My family — my parents and we five children — had fortuitously rented the condo across the hall from Unit 521 the Christmas of 1971, where architect Joe St. Cyr, his wife, Pat, and young son, Joe, were among the first to own a condominium at the Sanibel Moorings.
It was the beginning of a long friendship my family had with the St. Cyrs and I, as a young person, had with the architect who became my mentor and my friend.
When I decided to pursue architecture at the University of Notre Dame, he encouraged and followed my progress. He was known for his great stories and on numerous occasions took the time to share them with me. Early on he told me that Minoru Yamasaki, internationally known architect who would later go on to design the World Trade Center, juried his final project in architecture school.
Joe’s designs made a huge impression, and Yamasaki offered him a job.
As a young architectural student, I hung on Joe’s every word. He was remarkable. He earned enormous respect for his expertise and his enthusiasm for life and work.
By the time I met Joe, he was in his early 40s and already an accomplished architect.
Born and raised in Dearborn, Mich., he set up his own practice there in 1955, only
two years after completing his master’s degrees in architecture at the University of Michigan. Over the next decade and a half, his office grew to 40 or so staffers with Joe at the helm. St. Cyr Architects & Associates designed more than 100 churches, schools and office buildings.
And during the years I knew Joe, he designed countless buildings and private residences on the Islands and the Florida mainland. Among these are The Sanibel Fire Department, Island Water Association, the Robb & Stucky Building in Bonita, Big Arts Original Building & Amphitheater, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and, near to Joe’s heart, a collection of buildings for the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.
No matter how many people pressed him, he would never slow down. At 79, sharp as ever with a lifetime of experience under his belt, he was still taking on new projects.
But then, architecture was Joe’s life. He began working with architects at the age of 13 and was the only graduate of Fordson High School with a major in architecture.
Notably, he became the youngest registered architect in the state of Michigan.
When I would stop by the office, located below his house, he would show me the huge bump on his right finger, a pre-computer result of too many hours and years at the drawing board. He was making a point that I should be prepared for long hours, but emphasized the rewards could be enormous.
Joe believed it was necessary to holistically embrace building construction — not just how to design a building but ensure it was suitable for its environment.
Renowned architect, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller was visiting professor during Joe’s undergraduate years, and he instilled in his students the importance of comprehensive design. “Bucky Fuller,” as Joe fondly referred to him, “insisted on creating a totaldesign.”
That inclusive philosophy of building stayed with Joe throughout his long career.
When he finally settled on Sanibel in 1981, he had already established a reputation for designing buildings appropriate for Southwest Florida.
Joe’s commercial buildings and residences often incorporated metal roofs with deep porches, reminiscent of the early Florida Cracker buildings. Because, he would insist, “form must follow the function.” He didn’t design buildings that were transplants from Michigan, but intuitively understood a very different climate required a very different response.
He insisted I understand that hurricanes were a major factor in designing for South Florida, and took the time to explain that materials and methods of buildings must be able withstand high winds and intense rain. Buildings should be raised up, roofs securely fastened and glass openings protected with real shutters. That was 20 years before Hurricane Charley struck in 2004.
When I was living and practicing in London in the 1990s, I’d stop by Joe’s office during my annual return to Sanibel. I’d bring him photographs and publications of projects I’d recently completed, and he would pore over them.
He was encouraging but appreciated that I was now charting my own course.
When the Sanibel Elementary School was taking bids from architects for the new school, I phoned Joe from London and asked if he would like to team up. He was delighted by the prospect of working together. A week later, he called to say the additional cost of indemnity insurance made designing a school so late in his career prohibitive.
On my next visit to Sanibel, we talked about the lost opportunity of working together.
He opened a drawer and pulled out a pile of drawings — schools he had designed all over the country. Only then did I learned how influential St. Cyr Architects & Associates had been during a time when school design and teaching methods were being radically rethought.
Joe was instrumental in the integration of open plan schools that allowed for flexibility. He also experimented with mobile storage systems of varying sizes and functions.
When I returned to Southwest Florida years later, I had the opportunity to design the new high school for Canterbury School in Fort Myers. Joe took a keen interest in my design proposals and expressed approval that client and climate were considered.
He couldn’t have been more congratulatory and delighted that two short years after returning from England, I was quickly finding my feet here — and taking into account the advice he had given me over the years.
Thank you, Joe, for making a positive and lasting influence on my life and career.
Please know, you will remain in the hearts and minds of those who drive past or inhabit any one of the hundreds of buildings you designed. They remind us of your huge passion and curiosity for life, people and nature.
Joe St. Cyr died Tuesday, Nov. 25, and on that day, Southwest Florida lost a great architect and I, like many others, lost a dear friend.
A celebration of Joe’s life will be held on the Sanibel Causeway at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 4
COMMENTS FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY ON THE JOE ST. CYR, HIS LIFE AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Letter from Family Friend, Fred Fielding:
Dear Pat and Joe, Jr.:
I am deeply sorry I can’t be with you and your family and friends as you pause to celebrate Joe.
We must celebrate Joe, because he enriched all of our lives, as well as the lives of many not able to be here today. People look to one’s works of a lifetime to celebrate and remember them when they no longer are with us. But in Joe’s case, we must also look to our memories and reminiscence, for there we find our real treasures from Joe – his inquisitive mind, his warm humor, his concern for others (yes, even our feline friends) and the love he gave of so freely.
Coming across the causeway last week I suddenly felt the loss and realized that I would not see Joe on this trip, something I had looked forward to on every trip to our beautiful Sanibel for more than 25 years.
But, like each of us, I do have my cherished memories of having the pleasure of being with him – at a Sanibel Moorings board meeting, a canoe trip exploring the canals that taught me the beauty of the island, many fine and fun dinners with Pat and Joe – including Thanksgiving in recent years, serious conversations and joke-filled musings.
And then there was fishing – those who have ever been fishing with Joe know what an absolute hoot it was to be “fishing” with Joe, as he spent time unsnarling lines, wiping down the boat, imitating Dizzy Gillespie, talking about politics and past catches, and yes – even fishing – and sometime even catching.
So, my dear friend Jose’- thank you for sharing and caring. You were the older brother I never had and a dear, sweet and loving friend.
‘Til we meet again, my pal, fair winds and taut lines.
Dr. PJ Deitschel, Clinic Director and Staff Veterinarian at CROW
“We are so happy at CROW to have our piece of Joe and he will be remembered every day”, referring to the new CROW Education Center, to be dedicated in January and the new hospital, still under construction.
Helene Gralnick co-founder of Chicos, and Robert Owens, long-time friend, fondly remembered the kite flying contests Joe organized at the lighthouse in the early 1980s.
Gus Landl – Landl Carpentry
“Joe was not an ego driven architect but incorporated others ideas and made the process fun. He remembered Joe’s fun stories about the Detroit Race track. Joe took a bunch of priests to his box – right next to Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters….”
“We all had such enormous respect for Joe at the planning office”
“Great article you wrote about Joe St Cyr. He was amongst my favorite people as he was frank, down to earth and always focused on the positive. I always looked forward to seeing Pat and Joe around the island and considered it a honor to be a friend of his . He was a deeply caring, loving man who would encourage me to no end and always left me with a smile. I will miss this dear fellow and we were so lucky to have this nourishing spirit grace our community with his heartfelt presence. Joe St. Cyr…such a true Island treasure. “
Steve Greenfield – Sweetwater Plumbing Inc.
I read with great interest your recollection of Joe and his positive influence on you. Having a Plumbing business on Sanibel for the last 26 years gave me opportunity to work with Joe on a variety of projects, and appreciate his talent and kindness.
Joe’s prints, crammed with detail fitted on a single page when most other Architects would use several pages for the same information, were often a challenge to decipher. My question is whether this mind-numbing detail stemmed from great intelligence or simply the frugality of someone close to the depression. Thanks for sharing fond memories.
Victor DuPont – DuPont Builders
I read your article in Saturday’s paper referencing Joe St.Cyr . I had the pleasure of many years working with Joe building many of his projects throughout the Islands . I started on my own in the building business in 1983 when I was twenty-six years old. It wasn’t long after that Joe gave me a chance on a small remodeling job. Over the years needless to say I worked on a lot of those projects you mentioned and many we won’t mention for the privacy of those clients. I appreciate today what I never really thought about years ago, how Joe loved helping young people succeed in this business. I wasn’t the only one.
There were other builders and sub contractors. Joe was a wealth of knowledge and a pleasure to work with. As you know, things don’t always work out as drawn and Joe was always open to suggestions. Never with the attitude “I know it will work”. He was always very fair and said it like it was. I also will miss him very much, but am so fortunate to have had some of his time. Thank you for your time.
Creasha Weglarz, ASID – WEGLARZ design
I read your article on Joe St. Cyr. It was so touching. I always knew of him, but never met him.
I asked Greg to share a of memory of him, as he built two residences for Mr. and Mrs. Ed Berninger, which were both designed by Joe St. Cyr.
Greg described Joe as a very nice man. As an architect, Greg said “Joe was one of the first local architects to understand, and design for the effects of wind loads on architectural structures.”
“Joe St. Cyr’s plans incorporated plywood protective covers and fasteners for windows on his homes. He understood the dynamics of wind pressure changed once a window was broken — for example, the wind pressure could then lift off the roof.”
That was a great article, and so wonderful that you shared those experiences with Ft. Myers.
I read this in the paper yesterday. Great Article! You were very fortunate to have found such a great mentor at an early age. I’m sure you will miss him, as will Sanibel and his beautiful but still practical buildings.
Wonderful column. I wish he could have seen it before he died…..
Gregory A O’Neill
Here is a picture taken October 15 2005 at the dedication of the new fire station on Sanibel. I am on the left and Joe Jr center and Joe Sr right.; Both Joes and I were volunteer firemen on Sanibel, Joe Jr less than Joe Sr and I.
Most notable I think was the Woodbridge fire behind the old 7-11. It was totally destroyed but rebuilt.
Joe Sr and I were on a 2-1/2 inch line in the rear pouring water into the second floor. We had full pressure and it was all he and I could do to hold it!.
Joe Sr was a amateur radio operator as is my son Greg Jr who nowlives in Viera, Fl. They both enjoyed the hobby and Joe would always ask me about Greg Jr.
Joe Jr studied fire safety and last I heard he was a lawyer specializing in fire matters.
It was a shock to hear of Joe’s death and he will be missed.
My wife Claire and I left Dinkins Bayou in April 2007 …
John Goetz, Joe’s weekly fishing partner for over 20 years
“I introduced Joe to fishing in 1987. We had met when my wife Nancy, purchased Pat St.Cyr’s Paper Store (Paper Trader).
We began attending the Sanibel Fishing Club meetings together and started a routine of going out fishing in Joe’s boat once a week, usually Sunday.
We went through three of Joe’s boats and five of his motors over a 21 year period. His last two boats were called “The Quest”.
For the past few years we have been joined by Terry Bredhal and his father in law Norm Miller.
Once a year Jack Bramm from Toronto would join us for a couple of outings. He would be in Sanibel visiting his daughter Lisa and two grandsons.
I’m sure going to miss Joe and our weekly fishing days.”
James Scollen – Owner Scollen Custom Stairs, Inc.
My name is Jim Scollen and I have been building custom stairs around here for over 20 years.
In the 80’s I was building a custom stair for the Dix Family and Joe happened to be the family Architect, unknown to me. The building design did not allow for a generous stairwell but an adequate one would just fit.
The carpenter contractor thought he had several capable men on his payroll already. He got surprised when they visited the roughed-in stair with him and they said “Not me boss, you gotta get someone else. Those turns are too tight for stock bending rail to make and I don’t know what else to do.”
“Hello Mr. Scollen (Don’t you just love it when the conversation starts like that?) I want to meet you on my job soon and get your ideas on a project that needs done.” “When can we meet?”
Once on site I viewed the stairwells they had just looked at a few days before and said “How much of a budget number did you allow for this labor and material item?” “No enough was my response.”
“What do we do now Mr. …….?” “Mr. Scollen will you do this if I pay you everything I have in the budget for labor and make nothing on this item? I will also allow you to sell the material and make that money with no “handling charge.” My goodness Joyce, how often does one hear that.
My answer came quickly and was a yes. I met the customer soon and materials were spec ‘ed, deposited and ordered. My actual work began several weeks later. There were two stairs and I started on the upper one first. Once finished I dug into the ground floor stair which contained the tight turn at the beginning. This stair turned 90 degrees’ Rt and then proceeded to the 2nd Fl.
Here is where Joe comes into the story. He happened by the day I was steaming the rail just outside the building to prebend the rail and stringers for glued lamination the next day. I had a jig built to quickly clamp these parts to help them remember this new shape. I had the steam pot going full force driven by a flat roofing torch and a hot box dripping condensate on the soil under the future pool apron area. Now, Joyce, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a flat roofing torch but it makes a lot of noise. The pot was boiling and I was day dreaming and did not him arrive and announce himself.
He arrived just as I was getting a decent dose of steam into the northern red oak chosen for this stair system. He hung back around a corner and savored the aroma and noise. You see, my little operation had transported him back to his childhood with his father over 40 years before. His father used to build mahogany runabouts up in Michigan somewhere when he was kid. Those boats had red oak steam bent ribs layed in after the mahogany lapstrake boards were hung on molds. The smell of steaming red oak is distinctive. His mind reeled back to those happy days as he stood just out of my eyesight and relished.
I do not know how long he hung back but he eventually walked up and introduced himself and thanked me. “For what sir.” He proceeded to explain this story I share with you now. It warmed my heart to know I had touched a nerve in another through my work. He explained he did not want it to end that day. I knew immediately his sense of right and wrong was strong and I liked him. I think he almost cried while out of sight.
Joyce this has happened a few special times during my life and each time it surprises me. After reading your article celebrating Joe’s life I also feel a certain connection to you through him. Sort of like “if he liked you I would also.”
I was delighted to see your article about Joe St. Cyr in the News-Press this morning. He designed the Villas Wesleyan Church sanctuary in Ft. Myers while I was pastor there. I met Joe in 1984 and we completed the project in 1986. His architectural vision saw a way to blend the new that we needed with our existing buildings. He was accommodating to our financial constraints and adaptable to input from us. His knowledge of the codes for places of public assembly quickly resolved issues with permitting.
His oversight facilitated the project in other areas as well. The result was a uniquely designed building that is very functional to this day. My regret is that I did not have the opportunity to introduce him to our congregation because he was not able to attend the dedication ceremony.
I have a vivid memory of our first meeting at the property. His assessment of the situation and initial idea was an indication to me that the meeting was divinely ordained.
Thank you for bringing to light his influence for good in the community. I look forward to your follow up article.
Daniel Summers – BSSW Architects Naples
My Dad did a few projects on Sanibel with Joe and has fond memories of working with him.
Robert Coscia – SanCap One Source Reality
Thanks for the article in the News Press, Joe and I worked on a number of projects together over the years, I’m very sad to see him go. I guess it’s not good bye, it’s just see you later.
I loved your heartfelt article about Joe.
Below is an e-mail I sent to my friends and family who were also a part of Joe’s life. As I said in the e-mail, it was an honor to be with Pat & Joe at Joe’s bedside during his last days and hours. We talked to him constantly, letting him know how much we loved him and what an amazing man he was.
I will also send you something my Dad wrote. My Dad has been one of Joe’s fishing buddies since 1986:
This Thanksgiving I give thanks to Joe St. Cyr who, at approximately 2:20 this afternoon, passed away peacefully.
I feel blessed to have known him for 22 years and honored to have been included in his intimate passing with my dear friend Pat, Joe’s loving wife of 56 years, and his only son Joe Jr.
In the 22 years I have known Joe, I have watched him in awe as he survived colon cancer (1989) and open heart surgery. In addition, earlier this year he endured more than 30 daily radiation treatments to (successfully) fight prostate cancer and did not miss one day’s work. Most recently he completed another round of radiation in his quest to win the battle against bone cancer, again not missing one days work. I’m sure he would have also survived the bone cancer had this unexplained bleeding in his brain not occurred.
I will close with 2 expressions Joe often used:
“God Love ya!”
“He’s a helluva guy!”
MY MEMORIES OF JOE ST. CYR (mailed to Pat & Joe Jr. from Jack Bramm on Nov 26, 2008)
There are friends
…and then there are fishing friends.
Fishing friends are special.
Joe was a fishing friend and special.
Here are a few fond reminiscences:
Sunday Fishing on the Quest.
This was always one of the highlights of my annual visit. On the Quest, in deference to me, he always played the latest compilation of big band and jazz tapes I had sent him.
And did you know this little-known fact? Joe did his own trombone solos accompanying the music. Somehow, using his vocal chords and lips, he would emulate the authentic sound of a jazz trombone. Cool!
I was always expected to have a fresh supply of new jokes from the big city for Joe and John on our Sunday outing. It was worth it, just to hear Joe’s infectious laugh after every punch line.
Every year when I’d see Joe, he’d tell me about a Sunday morning ritual they had on the Quest. In mid-morning he would spot an airliner, high in the sky, heading south. He would point out the plane to John Goetz and say, “See it, John? I wonder if that’s Jack on his way to Cuba?”
One year, on one of my visits, we both thought we’d like to “take up” watercolors. Something we could do in retirement. Joe suggested we paint the old Sears Roebuck house on Tarpon Bay. We piled in the Quest, roared off, and anchored off the house and started painting. It soon became apparent that Joe was the master and I was the pupil. His watercolor sketch was perfect in every detail. Mine was a disaster in every detail. Then it dawned on me that he was painting a building. Of course…he had been designing buildings all his professional life! After that I felt better. I told him he should pursue his painting talent, and he always said he would, when he “retired”. Sure!
Although my personal visits were only once-a-year, we kept in touch in-between with e-mails. He particularly liked the U.S. political e-mails I sent him, and enjoyed passing them on to his friend Fred Fielding in Washington.
Joe and Lisa
Joe was the patriarch of Lisa’s Sanibel family. He was Lisa’s protector and Pat, you have been Lisa’s mentor from day one. Joe gave a warm and witty speech at her wedding reception which meant a lot to all of us. You have both been there to support Lisa during good times and bad. It is comforting to Lorraine and I, as parents in absentia.
I’ll miss you, old fishing friend. You were special.
Jeff Good – Benchmark General Contracting
I first met Joe in 1979 when I first moved to Sanibel. He was still living in Michigan and had designed his house on Anchor Drive. After getting my contractor’s license in the fall of 1979, he was my first home construction project. I was always grateful that he trusted me with the project. That was my first experience with a set of plans where the architect attempted to put all the information on one or two pages. Joe was very patient and instructive with me in those early days. I’ve always admired his work ethic and determination; he is truly a role model for me.