1. Florida

Jim Igler was always near the water or under it, cleaning, teaching, helping

Volunteer devoted time, energy to environmental groups around the region
Jim Igler lived in Ruskin and later St. Petersburg. (Images courtesy Patricia Deplasco and Debbie Evenson)
Published Apr. 15

Jim Igler cleaned the gravel that went into displays at the Florida Aquarium before it opened for the first time.

He planted mangroves in the wetlands gallery.

He waded hip-deep through muck in reservoir ponds, picking up plastic bags, bottles and straws.

“It’s kind of like, what didn’t Jim do?” said Eric Hovland, the aquarium’s associate curator.

Mr. Igler poured concrete into molds for 200-pound oyster domes.

He built nesting rafts for Least Terns.

He drove to boat ramps and collected the fishing lines people slipped into PVC tubes, removed the lures and hooks and sent the lines to be recycled.

“This is stuff most people don’t want to do,” said Lorraine Margeson, an environmental activist who worked with Mr. Igler monitoring shore birds at Fort De Soto Park. “It’s not like feel-good volunteering. It’s like work-your-butt-off volunteering.”

Jim Igler, left, built and installed rafts in lagoons for Least Terns to nest on as the beaches crowded with people. (Image courtesy Lorraine Margeson)

Mr. Igler transplanted sea grass, snorkeling as he pulled it from one spot to place in another.

He stood behind booths at festivals, explaining the work of any one of the many environmental organizations he was volunteering for that day.

He removed derelict crab traps.

He never complained, said Serra Herndon, habitat restoration director at Tampa Bay Watch. He always worked with a smile.

Jim Igler, third from the left, at a cleanup in 2014. (Image courtesy Patricia Deplasco)

Mr. Igler planted magnolias, live oaks, maples and bald cypress trees at Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful’s Florida Learning Garden.

He laid mulch.

On the stormy day a man came from out of town to install hydroponics, Mr. Igler worked alongside in the rain.

“He was that type of person,” said Debbie Evenson, executive director of Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.

"I really believe that he was living his best life. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do the way he wanted to do it," said Tampa Bay Watch’s Serra Herndon of Jim Igler, right. (Photo courtesy Rachel Arndt, Tampa Bay Watch)

Mr. Igler led dive cleanups, scouting out sites ahead of time, recruiting volunteers, hauling out supplies, directing parking, leading safety training, then diving in.

He directed packs of middle schoolers on cleanups along Causeway Boulevard.

He connected people from all the organizations where he volunteered.

“When you get nonprofits together, sometimes people are a little territorial, you know?” said Patricia Deplasco, executive director of Keep Pinellas Beautiful. “But if you’re here for the right reason, it doesn’t really matter what your territory is. The earth is our territory. That was his philosophy.”

Jim Igler, right, was on the board of and volunteered with several area environmental organizations. (Image courtesy Patricia Deplasco)

Before his super-volunteering, Mr. Igler worked as a teacher. Then a trucker. He lived in New York and the Midwest. After he moved to Florida, he wore tie-dye shirts and mutton chops. When it was time to dress up, like when he won a national award from Keep America Beautiful, he returned to his vest and bolo tie.

A few years ago, Mr. Igler suffered health issues that slowed down his volunteering, including undergoing heart surgery.

“He didn’t really share his pain. He shared everybody else’s,” said Daisy Packer, executive director of Keep Indian River Beautiful, who met Mr. Igler when she worked at Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful.

The story Mr. Igler told often, the explanation for why he was always there, went like this: “When I moved to Tampa Bay in 1987, the bay was brown,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2012. "Now when I cross the Skyway bridge and other bridges in Tampa Bay and look at the water, the water is blue again.”

Mr. Igler played an essential part in that transformation, Packer said.

“He wasn’t the decision-maker, the policy maker,” she said. “He was the guy getting it done.”

Mr. Igler died on March 28 due to injuries he sustained at a crosswalk in a hit-and-run accident in St. Petersburg.

He was 74.

Even after Daisy Packer moved across the state, Jim Igler stayed in touch, texting to check in on holidays, "even the little holidays, I think even the solstice." (Image courtesy Debbie Evenson)

A memorial celebration for Jim Igler will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, at Tampa Bay Watch, 3000 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde.

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Want to know more about Jim Igler? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see one way he will be remembered. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at

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