By Martie Thompson

Lucy Cortese, longtime member of the Italian American Club of Jacksonville and recently published author, likes to say that she “originated” in Florida even though she was born in New Jersey. Her parents were Italian immigrants who moved to Florida and opened an Italian restaurant near what is now Whitehouse. When her mother learned she was pregnant with Lucy, she said she didn’t want to have her baby in the rural “woods,” so she convinced her husband to sell the restaurant and move back to New Jersey. “My father knew that after just one winter, they would be back in Florida,” Lucy said. And he was right. The family moved to Jacksonville this time and Lucy grew up in the city and attended Duval County schools. She earned a degree in education from the University of Florida and taught both regular and special education before serving as the principal of St. Paul’s Catholic School at the beach for seven years and then executive director of Tree Hill Nature Center. She is married to Mario Cortese, with a blended family of five children and seven grandchildren. She is an active writer and environmentalist. 

Q: What can you tell us about your connection to the Italian American Club?

HarborChase independent & assisted living Memory Care Mandarin. Your safety and peace of mind is always our Top Priority

A: My parents actually started the club in 1951 and I grew up in the club. When as an adult I moved back to Jacksonville in 1977, I became a member and have been actively involved ever since. My husband has served as president twice and I’ve rotated on and off the board five times. It makes me happy that my parents’ joy of starting a group for Italians continues. It’s a real social group which has grown into a true community organization. Not all members are Italian, but they love all things Italian.

Q: How did you come to be the executive director of Tree Hill Nature Preserve?

A: I’ve always been interested in the environment and when I was 40 years old, I found my dream job as executive director of Tree Hill. I trained teachers and helped develop programming for third graders in Duval County. I retired 23 years later.

Q: How did you meet your husband?

A: When I was the principal at St. Paul’s, this handsome man walked in and asked me where he could find the principal. I said, “I am the principal!” He wanted to enroll his children in school. Over the years, we worked on parish committees and attended the same mass. We were friends for many years. After mass he would always say to me, “Some night, we have to go out.” Finally, after mass one night, I interrupted him and said, “Tonight we have to go out!” We learned that being best friends could lead to something romantic. I think we had my Italian mother in Florida and his Italian mother in New York both praying for an Italian spouse for their children. 

Q: Who are the Twinkys?

A: I always liked to write. I took some classes in creative poetry and creative writing through the University of North Florida’s OLLI program and kept finding myself in class with the same group of women. So about 10 years ago, the five of us formed our own writing group and we meet bimonthly to mentor and encourage each other. We call ourselves “Twinkys” (Thoughtful Writers Inviting Novel Kindred Yearnings). At one point, we decided to work together on a poetry project and since we all loved the ocean and teaching kids, we came up with the idea for a children’s book, which one of our members would illustrate, about sea creatures. We tried at first to write all the poems in the same style, but we all had different styles of writing, so we decided to go with that. All the poems in the book are quite different, but they all lead to the answer to a riddle about a sea creature. It’s a joyful book with beautiful and realistic illustrations.

Q: What can you tell us about “Do You Know me? Poems about the Sea,” and how did you feel when it was finally published?

A: The writing part of our book was easier than the publishing part. Trying to get five women to agree on things like fonts was a challenge, but we really came together and became so close in the process. It took nearly a year and a half before the book was finally published in early 2020. It felt amazing to hold the book in my hands and to turn the pages was euphoric. We had grand plans for promoting the book, but then we had to stop due to the pandemic. So we switched gears and now promote our book through our website, with a newsletter, blog posts and a Facebook page. Soon we hope to be able to attend book shows and festivals.

Photo courtesy Lucy Cortese

Lucy Cortese on the Amalfi Coast.

  • Ackerman Urology We specialize in Prostate health, sexual health, bladder health, and Kidney health
  • Smiles by Glenos & Hadfic Orthodontists
  • Pavers concrete and more Free estimates
  • Snip's Tree and stump service over 25 years experience
  • Quality Eye care 25+ years of experience
  • Staverman Hearing Centers Hear loud and clear
  • Westminster Woods on Julington creek. Live well. Be Happy
  • Ackerman cancer center. We're here for your cancer treatment
  • Have questions about your medicare benefits? Call a SHINE volunteer.
  • Prudential Financial Planning Services with Andrew Laino
  • Vote for Dr. Erick Aguilar Republican candidate U.S. House Fl 4th district
  • Academy of Dance Open House & Registration August 19th and 20th 3pm to 6pm Classes start August 24th! Ballet, Pointem Jazz, Hip Hop Contemporary, Modern, Lyrical, Music Theatre, Vocal
  • Affordable Water
  • DIscount up to 30% Jim Register state farm agent
  • Nemetz Dental Associates! Your new smile awaits!
  • Havana Printing and office supply Call us today for all your cutome printing needs
  • Future home loans. North Florida's Premier Mortgage Expert Ryan Proffitt
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature shop. Have you watered your birds lately?
  • Legends of Real Estate call Kim Kessler
  • Harbor Chase Independent & Assisted living Memory Care Mandarin. Immerse yourself in a rewarding community that enriches your body, mind, and soul.
  • Dont Forget to vote for John Turner School Board member
  • Lori Hershey for School Board, District 7. A school system we can all believe in.
  • Matt Schellenberg. Dependable Leadership for these challenging Times. School Board District 7
  • Concrete Works! Free Estimates, driveways, Patios, Walkways, Concrete removal, Driveway extension, Pavers
  • Family Remodeling Contractors! Bath, Kitchen &ADA Remodeling
  • Mobile Notary Service. 15 years experience, 24 hour services
  • River Garden Senior Services, However and whenever you need us we're here
  • Starlight Gymnastics! Our #1 priority is your children!
  • Sugar Bear Antique Mall Summer spectacular sale July 10th-12th
  • Baptist Health, Great tools for motherhood
  • A Green Cleaner, Free pickup and delivery to your home!
  • Luxury living and compassionate care come together at starling. Welcome Home.
  • Alive Credit Union Start banking healthier today!
  • Clara's Tidbits Now in Mandarin!
  • Brian E. Floro DMD, PA Dental services
  • JR Dental General, Specialty and Dental lab
  • Support community journalism! Subscribe to the Mandarin Newsline today!
  • Railing Chiropractic & Acupuncture
  • Let them know you are open for business! Advertise in our may issue!
  • HarborChase independent & assisted living Memory Care Mandarin. Your safety and peace of mind is always our Top Priority
  • Smart Choice Medical healthcare membership! No VoPay, No Deductibles, No Hassles
  • Havana Printing 904-447-5021