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Friends, family invited to Burnell Caldwell’s “Kick the Bucket” party

January 10, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A man sporting a silver mohawk will naturally attract attention.

Add in a charming charisma and friendly personality, and that man becomes a well-known figure on the beach.

Burnell Caldwell, 69, local musician and photographer, died Nov. 27. Now, two months later, his friends and family are ready to remember him just how he would want: a party.

Article Photos

Photo by Mitch Pacyna

"He was a cool guy. He never knew a person that wasn't his friend," said his daughter, Ailbee Caldwell.

She's calling the party Burnell Caldwell's "Kick the Bucket" party, and the invitation is filled with irreverence and humor - which he would have loved.

"The parking is probably gonna suck, but the guy died for crap's sake, do you really want to be the person griping about the parking at a "Celebration of Life" party? Didn't think so," is just one of many humorous quotes.

The celebration of life will be held Sunday, Jan. 21 at the Beach Pub, 1668 I Street, beginning at "12:30-ish." Food will be served until gone and the bar will be selling drinks. Beginning at 2 p.m., a band will provide live music. But Ailbee said anyone who wants to jam is welcome to play, too.

Near sunset, the party will move out to the beach for a service - and a little bit of everything else.

"The Sunset Service will be followed by a Lantern Lighting, Drum Circle and Jam Session. Why Lantern Lighting Drum Circle? Because why not? Lanterns are sweat, Drum Circles and Jam Sessions are cool and Fire Dancers are awesome. We know...probably too much, but whatever we're going for it!" Ailbee's invitation says.

Ailbee said her father was a semi-permanent fixture on the beach since the 80s, when he moved the family to the beach.

Through the 80s and 90s, Burnell was a photographer for the Lani Kai, the Beach Bulletin and the Fort Myers News-Press.

Also a musician, Burnell played the saxophone and the flute. He was such a frequent "jammer" that he had lots of bands he was a part of, and he would play with others at various venues, his girlfriend Bonnie Caruthers said.

"Photography was his first love, and music was part of him also," she said. "When he played the saxophone, you could tell it was who he was."

Bonnie described Burnell as a kind soul, who was always ready to help someone out if they needed it. He often played his music for charity events on the island.

"He loved to make people laugh," she said. " There was a whole slew of short jokes he was famous for."

Burnell was born in Buffalo, New York, to parents from whom he perhaps got his musical talents. Kenneth Caldwell, Burnell's older brother, said their parents were high school sweethearts. Their father played the saxophone and clarinet and their mother sang opera. Kenneth also played the saxophone and guitar; Burnell and Kenneth both moved to Chicago and played together in a band there for a while. Kenneth bought Burnell his first photo enlarger.

"He immediately started winning prizes for his work," Kenneth said.

Burnell traveled around the country, living in several states, before eventually calling Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach his final home. Ailbee said they joke that Burnell finally started settling down in his 50s.

"He was just a good human being," Bonnie said.

One of her favorite things about him was how much he loved his children, Bonnie said. Burnell was a father to Sadiqa Bailey Queen, Ailbee's siblings Sunrise and Sailas Caldwell, and step children Justin and Melissa Castagner.

"He was very affectionate, a very good dad," Ailbee said.

The celebration of life is open to anyone who wants to come. Ailbee says in her invitation that attendees are welcome to bring photos, memories, stories or mementos of Burnell along. She will be compiling a memory book for Burnell; she requests that if someone has a comment or quote to share, to write it on a 4x6 note card to add to the book. Note cards will be available at the event.



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