Clear76° WeatherClear76° Weather

Pasco trophy shop is the prize of widow's life

LAND O'LAKES — Together they owned golden soccer players.

Baseball players, too. Slabs of marble, plastic tubes, engraving machines as well. Though 56 years of marriage, Al and Ida Silver owned A-OK Trophies on Land O'Lakes Boulevard, just south of Bell Lake Road, and they made all their products from scratch.

They had thousands of customers in Pasco County, from nearly every youth league to even more in states such as Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Then, Al died of a stroke in 2004. Now Ida runs the shop they opened in 1976 by herself, as one of the mainstays in the Lake Padgett community.

"Everybody knows me," Silver said. "I make (the trophies) from scratch, no matter what they want. It's what I've always done."

Ida still feels Al, in a perfect photo she keeps of him. Sometimes Al looks like he's smiling, other times like he's frowning, and she frequently talks to him.

"Al, what did I do wrong?" the 81-year-old Land O'Lakes resident will ask when it looks like a scowl. "Oh, you liked that, didn't you?" she mocks, when Al smiles.

"I miss him a lot," Silver said recently while looking over the hundreds of trophies in the sample room. "I tell everyone we were still on our honeymoon because we loved each other so much. … (Now) it is lonely because I have no one to talk to."

One is the loneliest number.

Al and Ida did everything together. Business, travel, meetings, paperwork — they were, as it would seem, inseparable in every aspect.

"They were always a real team," said Larry DeLucenay, a longtime friend and owner of Mad Hatter Utility in Land O'Lakes. "They were so fond of each other and everything in the community they did together. … I know it had to be hard to adjust coming into the trophy shop and (Al) not being there, but she's a trooper and (she) hung in there.

"Though it's hard to talk about Ida without Al in the conversation, because they were always together."

And there was no arguing that. "Wherever he'd go, I'd go," Ida said. "That's how it always was."

When Al and Ida opened the business, this young Jewish couple with three kids wanted a place that had room for animals, as well as all the parts they needed to build the trophies. Ida hesitated at first. She didn't want to move to Florida.

"I have to give (up) my family, friends, my business, my life. I'd been to Florida, I didn't like it, I didn't want to go back," she said. "I was still at a no, until (the Chamber of Commerce) took us to the Clearwater side. Coming back on the bridge, it was so gorgeous. … That's what got me."

They bought the property they're on now but were limited to a tiny pink dilapidated house that eventually was sold and torn down when U.S. 41 expanded to six lanes in the mid '90s.

Things were moving along fine for years. Al and Ida ran the business well with the numbers of customers on file. They reached their 70s and kept things going.

In 2004, things changed.

Al was unpacking some things at the front counter when he started to feel dizzy. Ida jumped behind him, allowing Al to sit on her lap. She made him stand up and hold the counter, but he ended up falling and splitting his head. Ida ran to call 911.

"He was still very coherent," Ida said. "He answered all the questions, squeezed my hand, and I said, 'Oh, thank God, he'll be all right.' But after a while, he lost it and started to be like a child."

He was taken to the hospital and went to ICU, where he became hysterical and wanted to go home.

"I said, 'Al, take it easy. You want to get well. You'll go home soon,' " Ida said. "He said, 'Suit. Suit.' He was talking about the brand new suit."

Al had the stroke March 3, 2004. He died March 13 and was buried in the new suit.

Four years later, Ida still makes sure everyone gets their trophy or plaque order. Sure, she gets help from her daughter and her longtime friend and former business partner, Robyn Gutierrez. The Silvers and Gutierrez had an idea to start a hot dog shop in two train cars. However, Al died before they could open the shop.

A caboose, run-down and faded, is all that is left of Al's dream.

"(Al dying) was so sudden," Gutierrez said. "This is her way of keeping him with her because it's what they did together. She'll stay there for another 10 years."

Gutierrez says she has tried to get Ida to retire more than once, adding that, "She needs to take it easy, but people need a reason to get up in the morning and this is hers."

DeLucenay agrees that Ida will never retire, because DeLucenay knows the symbolism of Ida and the community's relationship.

"I think when someone does touch the community's life, we don't really know that it's appreciated or affecting people," DeLucenay said. "They took pride in their work. Every trophy that comes out of there needs to be perfect.

"It's important to the kids, to coaches. … She doesn't take little plastic figurines that we call trophies lightly because she knows how near and dear they are to a child."

Ida walks by picture of Al and, unconsciously, touches the black frame. She probably does this a few times a day, not even thinking about how much she works throughout the week.

Ida doesn't keep track. She keeps working. It's her social life, in a way, seeing friends, people she has known for years.

She clings to A-OK, knowing that she would just sell it when the time came to stop.

Just don't expect that anytime soon. "I don't want to give it up," Ida said. "If I give it up, what am I going to do? … I don't want to retire, because I love this business. My customers — I don't call them customers anymore because they're my family.

Mike Camunas can be reached at mcamunas@sptimes.com or (352) 544-9480.

Pasco trophy shop is the prize of widow's life 03/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 8:12pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...