Bob Marks uses his beach-combing device to sometimes save the day in a cell-phone way
By John Morton
Bob Marks doesn’t mind the funny looks he sometimes gets as he sways his metal detector back and forth along the area’s beaches.
“Yes, I know there’s a stigma with it,” the recently retired plumber from Osprey said of his hobby. “People will occasionally come up to me and ask, ‘What exactly are you looking for?’”
Then there are those who are elated to see him come along with his beach-combing equipment.
“I’ve gotten requests from people for help. They’ll say something like, ‘I lost my keys somewhere around here. Can You help me?’” Marks said. “Lost wedding rings are another one.”
Kay Van Wagner is among those who dare not scoff at Marks’ beach hunts. Most of us admit that our cell phones are our lifeline, so it explains why Van Wagner was over the moon when Marks found her lost phone on Memorial Day buried in 4 feet of water and 2 more feet of sand on Turtle Beach.
“She was beyond excited. She just couldn’t believe it,” Marks said of her reaction when she learned of his find. “Hey, I understand. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost mine.”
Van Wagner, who with her husband spends four to five months each year in a condo across from Turtle Beach, was about to give up hope. The iPhone 12 had been missing for two days since her beach visit.
“I called it a few times after realizing it was gone but it went straight to voice mail, so I was sure it was lost forever,” she said.
Upon finding it, Marks and his wife, Denise, noticed it was down to about 30 seconds of life. Quickly they hit the emergency contact app and noticed it had a name and number listed – a crucial piece to the puzzle of finding the owner of a cell phone, Marks noted — and a call to her brother was made.
Van Wagner went to the beach to retrieve her phone and meet the couple. To thank them for being good Samaritans, Van Wagner and her husband treated the Marks and his wife to dinner at Ophelia’s on the Bay.
“How lucky we are to have these great neighbors in our community,” Van Wagner said.
It’s not the first time Marks has been a cellphone hero. Before recently taking a cruise off Fort Lauderdale, his detector on that beach found a lost cell phone that was dead. He charged it, but no emergency contact info was listed, and he couldn’t access the locked phone without a log-in code. So, as he and Denise took their week-long cruise, they monitored the phone’s quick notification previews that popped up temporarily on the screen.
“We kept seeing alerts for things like discounts at Dunkin’ Donuts,” Marks said with a laugh. “Finally, we saw one from someone asking about getting together for lunch that had a return email attached to it. We contacted the person, who turned about to be the kid’s mother.
“A week had gone by, but the phone was returned when we got back on land.”
Then there was the time that Denise, who usually walks along Marks’ side with a litter pick-up tool and trash bag, found an iWatch on Turtle Beach. It too had contact info, and they found the family of the person who lost it the day before at their Turtle Beach campsite.
“They called him up in Jacksonville to share the good news. He had yet to even realize he had lost it,” Marks said.
Beyond the satisfaction of helping others with their lost property, Marks does say his hobby is somewhat lucrative – mostly as the result of consistently finding cash. In the one year he has been using his detector, he has covered the cost of his $1,000 investment.
As for the jewelry he finds, he said he’s never pawned anything.
“Mostly, I just like the exercise and enjoy the curiosity of what I’ll find next,” Marks said. “I kind of just like looking at what I find. I recently found a sterling silver necklace, and I’ll keep it in case I can find the owner – not to sell it.”
The only find he has sold, he said, was a stainless-steel anchor that was worth $500.
Among his most interesting discoveries, Marks said, are the bullets that finally wash ashore as the result of fighter-plane training out over the Gulf from the old Venice Army Airfield that was active during World War II.
“If I see someone sitting on the beach with a military hat, I’ll share with them what I’ve found,” Marks said.