More than 130 guests from as far away as Canada filled the Aloha Hall at Teakwood East Mobile Home Park in Largo on Sept. 11 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Dot Fowler Van Zandt, who actually organized the festivities.
"I gave the party in appreciation for all the kindnesses and encouragement I have received from so many people," explained Van Zandt, who enjoyed musical numbers performed by friends as well as 25 members of the Pinellas Park High School marching band who stepped up with their instruments to serenade the centenarian.
She was born Sept. 11, 1913, in Rochester, N.Y.
"I have been very blessed with good health," said the youngest of eight siblings, "and have only been in a hospital one night in my entire life."
After graduating from East High in Rochester and attending a commercial school, she worked as a membership and campaign secretary for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in the Eastman Theater. There, she saw stars like Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Victor Borge and Liberace perform.
She and her husband, Donald, who worked as a law librarian for the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co. in Rochester, were married for almost 58 years before his death at the age of 85.
In 1978, the couple moved from Rochester to Country Park, a mobile home park in Clearwater.
"We lived in that park for 20 years," said Van Zandt, who went on to relate a bit of economic history. "The owner of the park told us that when he first came down to Florida back in the 1940s, he could have bought the land around here for $3 an acre."
After her husband's death, she moved to Teakwood East in Largo, where she enjoys her neighbors and the park's friendly atmosphere.
Thankful for her long life and all the beautiful people who have crossed her path and become her friends, Van Zandt said: "Life can be good when you reach 100."
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Thanks to the Royal Neighbors Foundation, Katherine Bessell of Safety Harbor will get some financial help with her education. She's been awarded a $2,000 scholarship by the organization.
A one-time payment made to her college of choice will be used to help fund tuition, room, board and books.
Since its creation in 1961, the Royal Neighbors of America Scholarship Program has awarded more than $4 million to its members to assist with the costs of continuing education.
As one of the nation's largest women-led life insurance companies, Royal Neighbors is dedicated to changing women's lives through its national programs.
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