Twenty-two years later, Tricia Bechtelheimer still remembers the feeling of planning something for kids, raising the money and, finally, joining a squadron of other volunteers in a five-day flurry of construction that was like a "barn raising," she said.
"They had people like me using a router, and I'd never used a router before. I didn't even know what a router was," said Bechtelheimer, owner of Westover's Flowers & Gifts and a longtime member of the Junior Service League of Brooksville.
A router, for the record, is a woodworking tool. And using one when it seemed as if the entire town of Brooksville was working with her, she said, "was just so much fun."
That's the spirit that brought us the Jerome Brown Community Center; the Quarry Golf Course; Ernie Wever Youth Park; Hernando High's football, baseball and softball stadiums, and the project Bechtelheimer helped organize with the Junior League: the playground at Tom Varn Park that a generation of kids has called the "wooden park."
All of these were built mostly with donated money and/or labor. And because not much on that scale happened for more than a decade, for a while I thought such communal efforts were like barn raisings in another way — a thing of the past.
Thankfully, I was wrong. The city of Brooksville had $25,000 available to build a playground accessible to disabled children. It realized it could build a bigger, better one if it had some help, said Mike Walker, the city's parks and recreation director.
He asked the Junior League, which had $10,000 set aside from the sale of its thrift store a few years ago and had been looking for the right project to spend it on, said vice president Angie Woodruff.
The new playground will have wide ramps leading to a pirate's ship with a swinging platform that is designed to be fun for children in and out of wheelchairs. Because it was similar to the league's old park project and planned for an adjacent site, Woodruff said, "a light went on in my head. I thought, 'This is perfect.' "
The Hernando Builders Association agreed to provide the labor. About 15 members will show up Jan. 20 for three days of assembling the playground, supervised by manufacturer Leathers & Associates of Ithaca, N.Y., the same outfit that helped build the playground 22 years ago. If it could get a passable woodworking product out of a florist, I suspect it will have no trouble with a crew of skilled construction workers, who will also refurbish the existing wooden playground.
As more proof that people come together for the sake of children, the Hernando Youth League is planning to build new soccer fields at Ernie Wever to host tournaments.
Last year, you may remember, HYL stepped up to help keep the park open. A couple of other private groups did the same for other parks in the county that were scheduled to be closed because of plummeting parks maintenance revenue.
So, maybe there's a pattern. When money is scarce, as it was around here during part of the 1990s — and, of course, now — people get together and make things happen. In good times, they tend to rely on plentiful tax and impact fee revenue.
But one isn't a substitute for another. Think what this place could be like if we had both.