Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At the Angelus, an enchanting path delights

I'm sitting in the Fantasy Forest after a cooling summer shower. A butterfly settles on my shoulder. Goofy faces peer from the trees. Cartoonish toads, gnomes and ladybugs relax in tiny tires and wheelbarrows near brightly colored mushrooms.

Music flows from rocks, a clever disguise. Soothing flutes and chirping crickets — in stereo, no less. And it occurs to me: Imagine the Yellow Brick Road without the yellow bricks.

In the Fantasy Forest, the pathways once were sand and mud, no place for a wheelchair. And then along came a few dozen men and women on the rise in Pasco business and government, leaders sharpening their skills and searching for a project to help the less fortunate.

They found the Angelus, home to 32 profoundly handicapped people who depend on a community's generosity for survival. And these young executives worked like dogs. They hauled dirt and planted flowers that will bloom and attract butterflies. They created a magical forest, a stimulating, entertaining oasis.

And most important, they recruited a man from Blanton, near Dade City, who is known for his soft heart, a man who built the Christmas float for Habitat for Humanity, a man defined in part five decades earlier when, as a 5-year-old playing with a cigarette lighter, he caught fire.

Harold Wagner paid a visit to the Angelus in Hudson. He walked around the 17 acres with director Joe Neri. He met the residents, most of them twisted and helpless from cerebral palsy. He flashed on his childhood, when he endured years of skin grafts and cruel kids made fun of his disfigurement. And like virtually everyone who ever visits this wonderful place, Wagner was smitten.

"I was really and truly touched,'' he said. "I wanted to help them.''

Wagner, whose Gator Transport & Setup Inc. builds houses and barns, among other things, decided what this project really needed was a yellow brick road. Okay, so the bricks weren't really yellow, but they were beautiful, the kind you would find dressing up a pool or driveway at an expensive home.

When the 33 members of the Leadership Pasco Class of 2008 rolled up their sleeves and started on the project, they were amazed to see truck after truck arrive to drop off the pavers. Wagner donated 10,000 of them for a 3,000-square-foot winding pathway. The gift of supplies and labor was worth about $15,000.

Alan Herring, chief administrative officer at the Pasco Sheriff's Office, ramrodded the group, which relocated a wishing well, planted, mulched, trimmed and raked. And when all was said and done, the Angelus "kids'' arrived in their wheelchairs, beaming from ear to ear.

They now had full access to the most special place in their neighborhood, a place to meditate and enjoy nature.

"I'll always remember when they came rolling down the path,'' Herring said.

Some days later, Neri got a visit from a much different group wanting to help. He had met members of a motorcycle club from Tampa during a recent fundraiser, and now here was a guy named "Lucky'' knocking on his door.

Lucky gave Neri a leather vest with the words "Knight Ryder: Bikers for Handicapped Kids.'' Eight members with beards and tattoos, including a large guy named "Gore,'' added some finishing touches to the Fantasy Forest, including archways and latticework. They left with a promise to maintain the Fantasy Forest.

"They couldn't have been nicer,'' Neri said.

And so it is at the Angelus, where you could easily get bogged down in heartbreak — if there weren't so many heroes around.

Bill Stevens is the Times' North Suncoast editor. You can reach him at (727) 869-6250 or at stevens@sptimes.com.

>>ON TV

See the video

A video report of the Fantasy Forest project will be broadcast several times today on Bay News 9.

by the numbers

$60,000 Donations gathered by the Leadership Pasco Class of 2008 for the Fantasy Forest project at the Angelus.

$1,000 Donation from each Benchmark sponsor: Morton Plant Mease Health Care, Bank of America and Rubber Resource/Garden World.

$500 Donated by each Gold sponsor: Regions Bank and Florida Hospital Zephyrhills

$250 Donated by each Silver sponsor: Chapel Home Health Care, DuoTones Print Shop, and Stone, Parker & Co. certified public accountants.

At the Angelus, an enchanting path delights 06/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2008 10:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays at Orioles, facing another old friend in Jeremy Hellickson

    Blogs

    The Rays take on the Orioles again tonight and will face another old friend for the first time, as RHP Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound for the home team.

    Hellickson was drafted by the Rays in 2005 and pitched for them from 2010-14, then was traded to Arizona. He has since bounced to the Phillies and …

  2. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Charles Bradley, acclaimed Florida soul singer, dies at 68

    Blogs

    Acclaimed Florida R&B powerhouse Charles Bradley, whose raw, pained voice earned him the nickname the Screaming Eagle of Soul, has died of cancer at 68, his representatives announced Saturday.

    Charles Bradley performed at the 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival.
  4. Kriseman and Baker cash race continues as campaigns officially reset

    Blogs

    The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form
  5. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium

    Bucs

    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.