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Clearwater Sun retiree Emerson Whitacre looks back on 90 years

When Linda Oxendine thinks about her father turning 90 Monday, she reflects on her family's history.

The Clearwater street named after her grandfather.

Her father working 34 years at the defunct Clearwater Sun newspaper.

And a coconut.

Oxendine, a 58-year-old cosmetologist from Oldsmar, still has a coconut her grandfather found on Clearwater Beach. It's shriveled and dry now, but on it, he wrote the names of his family members and the year: 1929.

"I want to keep it forever. It's a souvenir," she said. "It means everything. It's a part of him (her grandfather), something he handled and he wrote on and he dated it and it's very important to me."

Oxendine's father, Emerson Whitacre, remembers more, since he lived through it.

His father, Ernest Emerson Whitacre, was a hardware store owner who moved his family from Galeton, Pa., to St. Petersburg in 1929.

In Clearwater, the elder Whitacre stumbled upon 30 acres of land, 20 acres of which was a citrus grove. He bought it and built a home there.

Whitacre's father built the house in seven months, doing 75 percent of the work himself. The home has a basement — a rarity in Florida — and remains at 1315 Keene Road.

After his father sold the rest of the land, a street was named after him. Whitacre Drive runs parallel and just east of Keene Road between Lakeview Road and Stancel Drive.

Emerson Whitacre worked his way through college. He studied accounting at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where he worked every other day doing landscape work. He also worked seven nights a week as a movie projectionist.

He served in the U.S. Army, then returned to Florida and began working at the Clearwater Sun. He began as a Linotype operator and moved up to night foreman and head machinist before retiring in 1981.

Her father is humble, Oxendine said.

"He's very creative and he's good mechanically," she said, a trait she said he acquired from his father.

"My dad picked up the same talents. He was always finding ways of doing shortcuts," Oxendine said.

Now, Whitacre spends much of his days at his Tarpon Springs home with his third wife, Katherine Skanealiaris. The couple watch The Young and the Restless and game shows like The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune, which he finds entertaining.

He still mows his own lawn and trims the hedges and bushes surrounding his house. He also drives a bit, though his wife does most of the grocery shopping and driving.

Whitacre feels fortunate.

"I didn't expect to live this long," he said. "I'm blessed, I guess."

Oxendine plans on celebrating her father's birthday at her home Sunday with cake and some of their closest relatives. She's proud of her father.

"Like I said, he's got spunk," she said. "He's got a witty personality to go with his Whitacre name."

Clearwater Sun retiree Emerson Whitacre looks back on 90 years 07/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 16, 2010 7:52pm]
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