Dave Jensen, one of the keepers of Old Florida on Captiva Island, remembered as a big-hearted friend to all

With his family, Dave Jensen ran Captiva Island’s Twin Palm Cottages & Marina…

Dave Jensen, one of the keepers of Old Florida on Captiva Island, remembered as a big-hearted friend to all 1

Amy Bennett Williams
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

Dave Jensen, one of the keepers of Old Florida on Captiva Island, remembered as a big-hearted friend to all 2

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Watch as dozens of manatees congregate at Jensen’s Marina on Captiva

Watch as dozens of manatees congregate at Jensen’s Marina on Captiva

Andrew West, News-Press

When word of beloved Captiva innkeeper Dave Jensen’s death spread throughout Southwest Florida, it was as if a great tree had fallen, observed Rev. John Cedarleaf, former pastor of the island’s Chapel by the Sea.

 “And it’s true,” said Jensen’s wife, Vanessa “Queenie” Viglione. “There’s this ripple, a vibration that just goes through all the land and the people that he affected.”

Jensen, a laughing, larger-than-life figure, was the eldest of the four siblings who owned and ran the family business their parents bought more than four decades ago: Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages & Marina Resort, on the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound, respectively.

When the news came last month that the hale 65-year-old – who’d recently followed his dream to an Italian village – had died less than a week after the family sold the historic property, shock and grief spread on social media. So did warm memories.

More: Friends remember Gar Beckstead, who left legacy on Useppa Island

More: ‘Nothing like it’: Jensen family selling iconic Captiva Island resort, historic cottages, marina

“They created and maintained one of the last of the old Florida ‘fish camps,’” said Randy Wayne White, novelist and creator of the Doc Ford character and restaurants. “It was, from the start, among Captiva’s most beloved attractions – quirky, always friendly and uniquely classy in an easygoing, everyone welcome, doesn’t-matter-who-you-are sort of way. Captain Dave Jensen, friend, mentor, brother, a brilliant and funny man – a loving protector of Captiva and the barrier islands. He elevated all who met him.”

Known widely as Brother Dave, the label encompassed more than his status as the firstborn of the Jensen kids, it captured the fraternal warmth he radiated.

His best childhood memories were of living near his grandparents’ Michigan farm, where he and his family would help harvest apples and pears, sleeping in the pickers’ bunks with cousins before hauling the fruit to market with his grandpa, Queenie said. Wanderlust manifested early; as a kid, he’d ride his bike to an overpass to gaze for hours at the trucks passing underneath, wondering where they were going.

The move to Captiva came following a cold sales call from someone trying to sell chilled Northerners Florida property – in this case, some land on North Captiva. Dave’s dad paid for a piece sight unseen.

When the family came down to check out their purchase, they fell in love with Captiva and bought what’s now Jensen’s on the Gulf, which at the time included only an old Post Office building.

A couple years later, the family went in with a partner on the Twin Palm Marina – the idea was to flip it – but the Jensens wound up falling in love with the place and eventually buying out the partner. Over the next few years, the entire family moved to Captiva, settling into island life as if they were born to it.

After the parents died, the children kept things going – sister Pat working remotely from Washington while the boys handled day-to-day operations: whispering insider tips to eager anglers (Quit wishin’ – go fishin’ was a family motto), sharing the island’s history (Dave served on the board of the Captiva Island Historical Society) and welcoming service members for free stays through Operation Open Arms.

“The three brothers had this crazy fabulous relationship,” Queenie said. “There was nothing false about their relationship. When you would see them all together work, it was bliss – you couldn’t have picked a better position for any of them.”

Yes, the work was hard, but it suited Dave, a born caretaker. “He was always on call,” Queenie said, “But that was probably self-inflicted. I know you’re not supposed to use (superlatives) like ‘never’ and ‘always,’ but I think it’s safe to say Dave always was the one to protect other people, support other people and encourage other people – always.”

Even in early black-and-white childhood photos, there’s little Dave with “his chubby baby arm around his little brother John – it was just the way he would assume responsibility for everyone and everything.”

But the work was anything but drudgery: Laughter and music flowed as abundantly as cold beer. Jam sessions regularly erupted bayside, often headlined by brother Jimmy’s band, The Troublestarters.

From the jam sessions came the Marching Mullet Parades, quirky processions of islanders, guests, on-leave service members and random passersby toting instruments, flags and batons – often dressed in knee-high white fishing boots – trooping to the beach to watch the sun sink in the Gulf.

That kind of “crazy, out-of-the-box (stuff)” was a hallmark of Dave and Queenie’s relationship (her nickname, by the way, was inspired by a particularly regal hat she donned while on an early vacation to the island. “You can be Queen of Captiva,” Dave told her, then made it so, eventually buying a three-wheeled pedicab so he could pedal her around the island as she played accordion in the back seat. “Just like on a Wednesday or a Monday night. Or sometimes we’d take one of our cats with us for just no reason at all.”

The couple’s long-dreamed-of move to Italy happened in 2019, after they’d spent several vacations exploring her family’s place of origin. They settled in the historic district of tiny Ruviano, in an Italian version of a Jensen cottage, she says. Dave was in his element, exploring the countryside, helping neighbors harvest grapes, make wine and prune olive trees.

Brother Dave became Fratelli Dave, a beloved fixture in the village. He’d spent the final full day of his life doing what he loved with the woman he loved, bundling grapevines, lunching with friends and admiring a newborn goat – a perfect day, Queenie recalled.

And now, as Randy White says, “Some of the light has left the islands, yet they are brighter for his being.


“Dave will always be a part of the history he worked so hard to preserve.”

—The News-Press writer David Dorsey contributed to this report.

Dave Jensen, one of the keepers of Old Florida on Captiva Island, remembered as a big-hearted friend to all 3

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