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In son’s memory, Wisconsin mom gifts $500,000 to dolphin facility

Bill DeYoung



Nicholas the dolphin celebrates with Patti Bringe (left) and family friend Ashley Fischback. Image: Clearwater Maine Aquarium.

Nick Beshensky and mom in 2018. Photo provided by Patti Bringe.

From a very young age, Nicholas Anthony Beshensky loved dolphins. Although he was born and mostly raised in Wisconsin, without an ocean for hundreds of miles in any direction, his childhood bond with the gentle, intelligent bottlenose dolphin was deep and abiding to the end of his days. His mother, Patti Bringe, says dolphins were Nick’s “spirit family.”

Frequent motorhome vacations brought the extended family to Florida – Nick’s grandparents had a home in Bradenton – and always included a visit, or two, or three, to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Nick Beshensky died in 2020, at age 31, in a motorcycle accident.

On Sept. 3, Bringe presented a gift of $500,000 to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in memory of her beloved son. “I knew my Nick would love being there,” she says.

CMA administrators renamed a pool in the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex “Nick’s Harbour,” with a dolphin-shaped plaque (“Live on, my beloved sprout, in every wave of the ocean,” Patti had engraved on it). Another room in the marine mammal rehabilitation facility will now be known as “Nick’s Nook.”

Nick, says his mom, was “a wonderful man, a wonderful kid, full of life, inquisitive. He loved being around people and being around animals. He was a great travel companion – just easy to be around, and made family out of friends everywhere he went. Lit up a room when he’d go in.”

He was an excellent cook, and worked as in a fine-dining kitchen for a time. “Didn’t need notoriety or anything. He just liked to be around good people, and if you weren’t good people you were pretty much off his planet fairly quickly.”

On a personal level, he was “very confident. Little bit of sarcasm, a whole lot of goofiness.”

They’d discovered CMA in the 1990s, when the one-time sewage treatment plant was under renovation. “It literally didn’t cost anything to go in,” Bringe recalls. “They had kiddie pools with turtles in them, and a kiddie pool with a little fish in it … a 55-gallon drum with something else in it. It really was kind of a homespun place.”

Sunset Sam, a rescued dolphin, was the facility’s only permanent resident in those days. A second dolphin was rescued in 2002.

The staff named him Nicholas. Nick Beshensky really took a liking to him.

CMA, Bringe continues, “was great for my Nick. People were willing to answer his questions about the turtles or the dolphins, whatever he wanted to see, and maybe touch them, maybe not. He just liked being there.

“I’m very much into zoos, museums, national parks, things like that. So that’s pretty much what my kids were exposed to a lot when we traveled.”

The family re-located to Lakeland for a few years, and also kept a beach home south of Clearwater. “When we lived in Indian Shores, he go up to the CMA by himself,” says Bringe. “He’d hop in the car and just go; when he had friends visiting, he’d take them. Even when he was in high school, he and his buddies would go up there and he would show them around.”

In 2005, the crippled dolphin Winter arrived; fitted with a prosthetic tail, she thrived, and became an international animal celebrity following the semi-fictionalized 2011 film Dolphin Tale, shot on location at the aquarium.

The success of the movie, and its 2014 sequel, changed the little facilty’s fortunes. Visitation, pre-film, was around 76,000 annually. After Winter’s story went all Hollywood, CMA was bringing in 800,000 people per year.

In 2014, the same year Dolphin Tale 2 premiered, Patti Bringe retired and moved to Tampa.

“The Thanksgiving before Nick was killed, I was living in Florida and he came down to spend Thanksgiving with me,” she explains, the memory clear as the water in Winter’s pool. “And we went to CMA. Then we went out to eat, and then we went home and watched Dolphin Tale.

“So when I was thinking about all this, and the things he loved and the places he loved to be … he loved dolphins. When he was little, he would go running into the waves headlong if he saw dolphins. He wanted to just play with them.

“So CMA was the only place that came to mind.”

Outside “Nick’s Harbour.” Image: Clearwater Marine Aquarium.




















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    Cecilia gannon

    September 17, 2023at9:36 am

    My pours out to u mom for raising such an amazing young boy. God bless u will all to joses amazing years u both shared what made Nick so very happy. I know he is always looking down on u .and forever will be e your lighting dolphin.may nick always rest in peace amen. So glad that u made a move so close to be near Nick’s second home God bless u always.

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