By RON HAYES
Palms West Monthly
Posted July 3, 2018
WEST PALM BEACH — Aaron Wormus is a little hard to define. Is he a blogger? A photographer? A citizen journalist? Is he, as some say, the city’s biggest cheerleader?
Or is he – as he’s known locally – just @aGuyonClematis? The man who started the feisty “Engage West Palm Beach” Facebook page and the husband and father who writes a monthly “Scene From West Palm” column for this paper?
Call him what you want, but don’t call Aaron Wormus fickle.
Before he gave his heart to West Palm Beach about 12 years ago, Wormus had lived in Finland and Argentina, India, Pakistan, Sweden and Ukraine.
He met his wife in Hungary and wooed her in Switzerland.
“My parents were missionaries,” he explained one evening recently, relaxing in the courtyard at Subculture Coffee on Clematis Street, his favorite hangout.
Born to a Finnish mother and American father in Oulu, Finland, 40 years ago, Wormus followed his parents on their search for souls.
“I was home-schooled except for a couple of stints in real schools,” he said. “I’ve come to terms with it, but I never really grew up anywhere.”
And then, one evening in October 2006, West Palm Beach seduced him.
Living in Frankfurt, Germany, and working for SMArtX, a financial technology company, Wormus commuted intermittently to the company’s West Palm Beach branch.
On that fateful night, he was standing on the top-floor balcony of the SMArtX offices at 101 Clematis St., overlooking Centennial Park and the evening view across the Intracoastal.
“It was Clematis by Fright,” he recalls, “the Halloween celebration. There was a band and kids were trick-or-treating and I thought, ‘Music. Free entertainment. It doesn’t get any better than this.’”
A year later, he’d broken up with Germany and brought his wife Stella, and daughters Anne and Mia, here.
“Now, when people ask me where I’m from, I say West Palm Beach.”
In 2009, Wormus began snapping photos on his mobile phone of the downtown area and posting them to Twitter as @aGuyonClematis. A new restaurant opening here, a festival there. He wouldn’t win a Pulitzer, but he was chronicling life on Clematis Street just for fun.
By 2011, @aGuyonClematis had 1,900 followers. Today it has 13,600.
And then came Engage West Palm on Facebook, a group page for “residents who want to work together to make West Palm Beach a better place!”
Rule No. 1 is: “Be nice, we’re all neighbors.” Rule No. 2: “See #1.”
Today, with 5,447 members at last count, making them all obey the rules has become difficult.
Some members post pictures of the homeless asleep on sidewalk benches and announce they’re greatly offended. Others are greatly offended by the pictures. Some want to praise a favorite politician whom others dislike. Some find important issues petty. Others find petty issues important.
For his part, Wormus tries to steer clear of controversy.
“I’m a positive person,” he says. “I don’t focus on the negative. If I have a bad time in a restaurant, I tell the manager, but I’m not going to post it on the internet.”
But he doesn’t shy away from the negative, either.
“We clearly have a problem with crime in the city that’s not being addressed,” he says, and while aGuyonClematis doesn’t endorse candidates, Wormus makes no secret of having supported Mayor Jeri Muoio – ”During her campaign, she was the only candidate on Twitter” – and former Commissioner Shannon Materio.
Why, he wonders aloud, do most of the streets in the city’s white neighborhoods have names, while those in the northwest, historically black section are numbered?
He doesn’t answer his own question. But he’s noticed.
City booster or sly gadfly, Wormus is known in the corridors of power.
“I like him,” says District 3 Commissioner Paula Ryan, the commission’s current president. “He’s a genuinely nice, caring guy who’s engaged with the city and does what he can to promote all the good that goes on.”
At the end of last August, when the city’s Summer In Paradise promotional campaign ended and 19 picnic tables painted with fairytale figures were auctioned off for charity, Wormus created a crowdfunding campaign that raised enough money to purchase seven of the “Aesop’s Tables.”
Wormus places them around town throughout the year, including at the waterfront and Howard Park. This summer, he’s moved them back to Centennial Park beside the current “Fairy Tale Houses” project.
That’s the Guy On Clematis who’s easy to like.
About Engage West Palm, Ryan is less enthusiastic.
“It’s too one-sided,” she says. “People just go out there and scream and find people who scream like they do and have a lovefest. They don’t necessarily always have the facts, and it’s not necessarily the place to get the facts. Engage West Palm Beach needs more engagement.”
Wormus insists he has no interest in running for office himself, and he isn’t looking to make money off his growing notoriety.
“I know controversy sells,” he says. “People tell me, ‘You should be making money off your blog. With Trump here you’re in the perfect position to make money.’ But that’s not the sort of thing that interests me.”
He laughs. “I do have a Google ad on there that makes me about 37 cents a week. But for me, it’s a fun hobby that people seem to really enjoy.”
And so most mornings he parks in the West Palm Beach Police garage and walks the length of Clematis Street to his office overlooking the park, mobile phone ready.
Workmen are putting in pavers on the access road beside the railroad tracks? Snap!
The streetscape project in the 300 block going strong? Snap!
Along the way, acquaintances say hello or stop to chat.
“It’s fascinating, the people you get to know,” he says. “If you pass people every single day, you’re going to see the same people and eventually you’ll talk to them.”
AGuyonClematis is fast becoming The Guy on Clematis.
But is he a blogger, a photographer, a local gadfly?
“I might be a photojournalist, if I had to put a label on it,” Wormus decides, and then hesitates. “But it’s just on my phone. It’s not like I carry any heavy gear around.”
Since 2014, he’s been writing a monthly “Scene From West Palm” column for Palms West Monthly, which gives him a special kind of satisfaction he can’t get from either his blog posts or Facebook page.
“I really have free reign to write about anything I want,” he says. “And it’s really fun to have something in the paper that you can really hold in your hand. “Look, I’m a real …”
Wormus caught himself.
“Writer,” he said, and grinned. “I almost said ‘journalist’ there.”
Pictured above: Standing in front of Palm Beach Dramaworks’ Don & Ann Brown Theatre and the eye-catching street art of well-known Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra, Aaron Wormus has a handle on all things happening in downtown West Palm Beach. Photo by Carolyn Rose Designs/Palms West Monthly