Though he’d long ago traded the wrath of Midwest winters for cold beers by the beach, Mitch Pacyna never lost his Illinois roots.
He met his partner, Mary Wojciechowski, the day of the Chicago Bulls championship parade in 1992. Together, the couple made their way to their Florida paradise, Fort Myers Beach. For a while, they were also coworkers at the same FedEx office in North Naples. Mary drove a route. Mitch, ever the schmoozer, worked the store.
Even from far away, it was easy for friends to keep up with Mitch, 74. He posted to Facebook ... a lot. He shared photos from accounts like “Die-Hard Chicago Bears Fans” and recipes, such as easy meatloaf from a page for “Air Fryer Enthusiasts.”
Another feature of Mitch’s Facebook page was Lulu Bell, the Maltese he raised with Mary. They were at home, a short walk from the beach, when Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida. The flood swept them up, killing Mitch. Mary survived and was later amazed to find that Lulu Bell did, too — a miracle.
Anniversaries and people were everything to Mitch. He looked forward next year to convening a 55th reunion of The Hustlers, a sports club he created with his buddies in Illinois. His 30th anniversary with Mary was coming up later this year. The morning Hurricane Ian bore down on Fort Myers Beach, Mitch took a few moments to wish his friends happy birthdays on Facebook.
“He never met an enemy,” said his daughter, Michelle Schuline, who’s raising money in honor of Mitch and Mary.
Mitch built a downstairs bar stuffed with mementos from life in Chicago. Strangers sometimes mistook it for a real business. Always welcoming, he’d just pour them a drink.
“Anybody who ever met him, he probably has a picture of (them) somewhere,” Schuline said. The sheer volume of photos on his Facebook seems to corroborate that.
When he wasn’t at his own bar, Mitch was a regular at several places around Fort Myers Beach. In one of his favorite spots, the bartender always knew to put the Bears game on TV — with the sound on, said Pacyna’s friend Mike Yost.
After the storm, Yost walked to his friend’s place. All of Pacyna’s duplex was gone, save for the wooden pilings it once sat atop.
A Chicago Cubs World Series pennant was tacked to one of the poles, Yost said, somehow hanging on.