Brother-And-Sister Pairs Of The Treasure Coast Prove The Strength Of A Family Bond
Four brother-sister pairs share the bonds that have tied them from childhood into their adult lives.
They pulled our hair; we hid their toys. There were fights for attention, but there were also learned values, social skills and loyalty. Sometimes there were arguments, but always there is a bond of love and friendship that can’t be broken because it’s forged in shared experiences. And although our brothers and sisters often made us mad as kids, and might even drive us crazy as adults, there is always that unbreakable thread of DNA. The late author Harper Lee said, “You can choose your friends, but you sure can’t choose your family, and they’re still kin to you whether you acknowledge them or not— and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
Even though transportation, communication and technology have vastly broadened our horizons and provided opportunities for us to live thousands of miles apart as adults, many siblings choose to build lives in close proximity to one another in order to share support and community. We spoke with four Treasure Coast sets of brothers and sisters who opted to stay close to one another and build lives with siblings as an important part of their foundation and growth.
Bilmer Serrano & Maria Esmeralda Rainey
Photo by Thomas Winter
The two youngest of 10 siblings, Bilmer Serrano and his baby sister, Maria Esmeralda Rainey, spent most of their growing up years in Fort Pierce. But it didn’t start out that way for either of them. Bilmer, who was born in Idaho, explains, “My grandfather started coming over from Mexico as part of a government program, and my family traveled from Idaho to North Carolina and Florida for work. For me, I remember all that moving around as an adventure. I felt like a little explorer.” In the late 1980s, the family settled in Fort Pierce, and Bilmer and Maria loved the sense of the small, hometown community that they say still persists in the area.
Bilmer and Maria were not only the youngest of the 10 Serrano siblings; there was also a large age difference between the oldest set of siblings and the younger group, which often made for some genuine rivalry. “With a family that big,” Bilmer says, “there are cliques, and the older siblings were really often more like parents, so my sister and I were kind of a team. I was the protector of my baby sister—that was our first bond.”
That bond lasted throughout childhood and into their adult years, when Maria, a Navy wife raising two children, had to follow her husband to station assignments around the globe, leaving Bilmer to take the responsibility of caring for the siblings’ mother, whose health deteriorated. “I think our bond really strengthened when mom began to get ill, and we knew we had to step in and care for her. We found a way to look at the positive, and we made an effort to communicate and stay in touch,” Bilmer says.
Since Bilmer recently retired from his position with the Port St. Lucie utilities department, the siblings are now able to take root in Port St. Lucie and make time to connect and stay close. “Every sibling relationship is not always roses,” Bilmer says. “But now I enjoy having dinner with my sister and just catching up and renewing the bond. We make holidays work for all of our families because it’s important to us. Life may try to get in the way, but we try to always make a point of communicating because that’s really the only way to get through the difficult times.”
Darlene McNeal & Sean Freeman
Photo by Lindsey Potter
With seven years between them, Darlene McNeal and Sean Freeman were both born and raised near Jacksonville in Yulee, Florida. Darlene moved to Port St. Lucie in 1995, and her younger brother followed suit just a few years later. In fact, of the five Freeman siblings, only one sister remains in North Florida near the family’s original hometown. Darlene, who recently retired from her position at Indian River State College, says it was a hard job being the eldest, and she felt a real responsibility to mother her younger siblings. She says if they were playing school, she was always the teacher because of her nurturing personality. She laughs, “Now is when everyone is really together and close. Back then, they probably weren’t that crazy about me.” These days, the siblings consider Darlene the rock of the family, a job she says is humbling and not always easy.
“Family is so important,” she says. “I see so many families disconnect from one another, even when they are in close proximity. I think it’s so important to put something together to bond.” Darlene says she is grateful that her siblings’ children all get along well, too. There is only one girl among the children, and Darlene says the other boys all look out for and protect her.
Darlene and Sean’s father was in law enforcement and, though retired, still volunteers as the chaplain for the sheriff’s department in Yulee. Sean, and a few other family members, followed the same career path in law enforcement, something which brings the family great pride. Even with so many siblings, Darlene says the family tries to connect often to maintain the bond. “My parents come down to visit every other month and usually stay for a week,” she says. The Freeman family not only nurtured five children of its own but added an honorary sister who also remains in the area and is part of the family bond. “As you get older,” says Darlene, “you realize more how important family really is.”
Joe Serra & Anna Serra
Photo by Melissa Serra
At 33, Palm City resident Joe Serra is the baby brother of Anna, a Pilates instructor who is four years his senior. The siblings were born in Chicago, but their grandfather, a physician at Martin Memorial in the 1980s, plied the family to Disney World and sunny beaches. By 1989, the Serra family had relocated to the small town of Palm City, which only had one stoplight and a lot of young families. “Coming from Chicago, it should have been a culture shock,” says Joe Serra, “but the only thing I missed was the snow, and it was replaced by a love of the beach.”
Both siblings feel fortunate to have grown up in Martin Downs during a time when there were lots of children and families in the neighborhood; both Joe and Anna say they have strong friendships and bonds from those carefree childhood days in the small-town setting. For Anna, whose mother started Florida Arts and Dance Company in the early 1990s, following in her mother’s footsteps was almost a literal move. Anna now works as a professional Pilates instructor, trainer and massage therapist, and she utilizes a holistic approach to help mind and body.
Her baby brother, Joe, on the other hand, chose to go a slightly different path, working as a certified private wealth advisor with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
“My grandparents on my dad’s side were from Cuba, and my grandparents on my mom’s side were from Bolivia,” he explains. “They came to the United States with nothing but the appreciation of the opportunity to be free. Growing up with both pairs of grandparents living less than a mile away from the house I grew up in, I was fortunate enough to see how people could truly be happy when they focused their time and efforts on their passions and didn’t focus on monetary issues. I entered the wealth management industry to help alleviate the financial burdens that tend to accompany individuals and families during different stages of their lives.”
Both siblings admit that they don’t always get along. “Any siblings who are being honest with themselves know they aren’t always going to agree with each other on every aspect of life, and that’s OK,” Joe says. “The important part is being there for each other whenever and however you can, and also letting them know that you love and support them.”
Shaun Plymale & Shannon Galinis
Photo by Thomas Winter
Communicating has never been a problem for Shaun Plymale and Shannon Galinis. Shaun, who will soon turn 43, is not only the owner of Treasure Coast Legal but also the little brother to Palm City Aesthetic Dentistry owner Shannon Galinis, who is two years his senior. Born in West Virginia where their father was in dental school, the Plymale family moved to the Treasure Coast when Shannon was five. “It was truly the boondocks,” Shannon laughs. “There wasn’t even a traffic light back then.”
After growing up as students attending Palm City Elementary School, Stuart Middle School and Martin County High School—those were the only schools built at the time—Shaun followed his sister to Clemson University, keeping the siblings close through college. But while Shannon was passionate about science like her dad, Shaun found his comfort in politics and education, much like his mom. So even though people think Shaun looks like his dad and Shannon her mom, each seems to be a nice mix, considering their career choices.
For Shannon, having a brother close by has always been a natural part of life, and even though the two have different personalities and careers, their families have remained close and intertwined even through the next generations.
“Our kids are the best of friends,” says Shannon of her four children and her brother’s two. “The kids get together at least once a week, and it’s not as if it’s planned—it just happens, and I think that’s part of how we stay close. We’re always communicating and in each other’s lives.”
She says she never really thinks about supporting her brother consciously or he her; it’s just a result of their upbringing that family is important. “It’s special that we are in the same community, and I love when I meet someone who makes the connection that Shaun is my brother. I love hearing him complimented for being such a great guy and asset to the community,” Shannon says. “I love that he’s my brother.”