by Debbie Gaylord
with cover photo by Mindy Kerr of Nature's Child Photography
Not long after Frank and Bonnie Dvoravic became the new owners of Rivertown Fine Wine and Spirits in May 2006 Bonnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease that is one of the nation’s deadliest cancers and has only an 8% survival rate.
The two experiences, fulfilling the dream of owning their own store and Bonnie’s life-threatening illness, have become forever merged in a strange way but with a happy ending. Bonnie beat the odds. She says it was a miracle of sorts when they found the cancer during a routine exam for a stomach ailment. She had surgery immediately and after nine years has recently received an all clear from her doctor.
The couple have decided to do something positive to mark both occasions and give back to the community with a silent auction to benefit Pancan, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The event will run throughout the month of May and will include amazing gift baskets, golf sets, and specialty items like a giant Crown Royal pillow perfect for a man cave as well as wine tastings and live music. The PANCAN organizational goal is to double the survival rate and raise $200 million by 2020. Funds will enhance existing programs and allow Pancan.org to invest in revolutionary new research efforts to help those battling pancreatic cancer.
Frank and Bonnie moved to the Switzerland area from St. Petersburg in 1997. His work at the corporate level in the wholesale wine and liquor industry allowed them to travel around the world and visit some of the most amazing places including golfing at St. Andrews in Scotland and Pebble Beach in California.
They loved traveling but one experience changed everything and made them rethink their lives. They were scheduled to take a business trip to London and the date was September 11, 2001. As they left Jacksonville, they recall being a little miffed that Air Force One caused a slight delay as it delivered President George Bush for an event at a local school. The flight finally took off and they arrived safely in England the next day, only to learn of the Twin Towers tragedy and that their daughter who was a student at NYU at the time, was stuck in New York City.
Not long afterward, Frank realized after twenty-six years he wanted to leave the corporate world. He always dreamed of owning his own store. So he and Bonnie took the plunge and purchased Rivertown from an old friend.
It was 2006 and life was good. The store’s original location was a bit closer to -1-95 in the Tropical Smoothie Café plaza but after ten months Frank decided to move to its current location in the Publix plaza. Two days after signing the contract for the new location, Frank and Bonnie learned she had pancreatic cancer and her surgery was scheduled. While Bonnie recovered from surgery Frank moved into the new location and has been there ever since.
Even through an early rocky start with Bonnie’s illness and the national economic crisis not long afterward, Frank and Bonnie have enjoyed a success that is the result of a simple formula. Where ever he goes people seem to know and love Frank and many of his customers are on a first-name basis. Bonnie and Frank built Rivertown by developing close loyal customers. As Frank says, “We give old fashioned customer service”. Like the time Frank went out of his way to find a special Italian wine I was hoping to try. Or their 100% satisfaction guarantee – Frank recalls an experience when a customer was not pleased with an expensive bottle of scotch he purchased but Frank refunded the man his money. He wants everyone to be happy no matter the cost. Another aspect of their success is they are a great team. After forty-four years of marriage, Frank likes to say that Bonnie is the President of Rivertown and he is just the VP in charge of labor!
Pancan is not the only organization that has benefited from the efforts of this local couple. Frank and Bonnie always have a donation bottle for a non-profit near the check-out. Their son is deaf and they understand the challenges involved for families. They have supported the Clarke School for the Deaf, where Frank was a board member for many years. The school, which is located here in Jacksonville, has done a great deal to forward research and work with children with cochlear implants to help them develop speech.
In his spare time Frank enjoys tinkering with his old El Caminos (he has two). Bonnie spends time learning piano and doing things with her grandchildren who will be visiting this summer. Together they enjoy traveling and taking in sunsets on their stunning property overlooking the St. Johns River. Ah yes, life is good.
This May celebrate a few milestones with Frank and Bonnie. Stop by Rivertown Fine Wine and Spirits in the Publix plaza, bid on an auction item and support Pancan.org. For more information about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network visit www.pancan.org
Silent Auction to Benefit Pancan.org
New large RYDER CUP Callaway Golf bag;
Jim Beam Barrel with U of G colors and logo on half with U of Fla colors
and log on other half.;
Large hanging or tabletop CROWN ROYAL PILLOW-3ft by 3ft:
Titos Vodka Elgin cooler with vodka,mixers, napkins,Tervis Tumblers etc. inside:
1 bottle 30 year old ZAFRA RUM:
1 Picnic basket filled with wine and liquor:
1 cigar basket with lots of goodies:
1 bottle 17 year old WILD TURKEY:
1 Basket with over 100 bottles of 50 ml liquor items
St. Johns Magazine