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Sun City Center residents of 46 years say it has been everything they hoped it'd be

SUN CITY CENTER

Some of Clifford and Grace Beaumont's first neighbors were cows.

Then there was farmland. Acres and acres of it.

There were no banks, doctors' offices or dentists. Letters to residents came addressed with a Ruskin ZIP code. Ladies had to travel to the next town to get their hair done. And there were only nine holes of golf.

Today, 50 years after founder Del Webb broke ground in Sun City Center and 46 years since the Beaumonts made it their home, the development bustles. And as its longest residents have witnessed it all.

• • •

At 95 and 92, the Beaumonts have spent more time retired than they spent working.

They were busy running a grain mill and farm supply store in New York while raising three daughters when retirement sneaked up on them.

It happened en route to a Miami vacation in 1965. A billboard just across the Florida state line convinced them that a detour to Sun City, as it was called then, was in order.

They bought a house that day.

"I don't know what led us to do it," Beaumont said.

Though, he added, Webb's vision of how retirement years should be spent may have helped.

Webb, a developer who once owned the New York Yankees, based the community on the idea that seniors wanted to live where they could relax with people their own age and have everything within reach, said John Bowker, chairman of the Sun City Center History Society. The time spent in Sun City would be "the best years of your life," according to an advertisement that ran in the St. Petersburg Times in 1962.

Looking back, the Beaumonts agree.

Activities such as volunteering and socializing filled their days. Impromptu potluck suppers with neighbors were the norm, and residents greeted newcomers with excitement.

With a passion for spreading God's word, they soon found others with the same interest. Today, the Beaumonts are the only living charter members of the community's Trinity Baptist Church.

Not one for golf, Clifford Beaumont spent his days performing handyman work for neighbors. Even now, years after hanging up his tool belt, he still fields phone calls from people who hope he's in business.

Mrs. Beaumont filled her time the way many of the community's women still do. She joined the Shellcrafter's Club, got involved in the Daughters of the American Revolution and spent time volunteering outside the neighborhood.

As the development grew, residents molded the community the way they saw fit, Clifford Beaumont said. When they wanted more services, they made it happen.

"That's what this community is about," he said. "People are here to help other people, to put their ideas together with others."

The Beaumonts witnessed the formation of the community's volunteer fire department and countless new clubs and activities. There are now more than 140 resident-oriented clubs, ranging from computers to pickleball.

"These things weren't done by federal funds being sent down," Beaumont said. "It was all done here."

In the volunteer-run community, individual residents left marks. Beaumont's work lives on in the landscaping of many of the development's original homes. In 1967, he created a cement and stone mixture he dubbed 'popcorn' that he molded like a curb to be placed on the lawn to use as barriers between the grass and flower gardens.

"I did the first one in town, then the idea caught on immediately," he said, noting that popcorn molds adorn lawns throughout the original streets of the development.

As longtime Sun City Center residents, the Beaumonts watched generations of senior citizens cycle through the neighborhood. The couple no longer knows their neighbors as intimately as they once did, and they don't get out as often, but they say a welcoming atmosphere so hard to come by in other communities today still thrives in Sun City Center.

• • •

As the number of Americans retiring continues to increase, the community has blossomed.

Nowhere is its evolution more apparent than in a drive through Sun City Center's streets.

The information center, housed in one of the development's original model homes, greets visitors with midcentury architecture and clean lines. One-car garages offer a subtle reminder of simpler days.

Keep traveling, and designs from the '70s, '80s and '90s pass by like footprints left by the community's multiple owners since Webb sold it in 1972. The development, now owned by Minto Communities, has newer homes nestled in a back corner that exude an air of elegance lacking in previous designs.

With upgrades and the passage of time come costs. The most expensive home cost $19,995 when the Beaumonts arrived. Today, new homes can fetch upward of $400,000.

The cow pastures are gone and in their place are more than 12,000 homes. Shopping centers, restaurants, medical facilities and more line the once-sparse state roads. Six golf courses keep the area green.

For the Beaumonts, Sun City Center has it all.

"As the town has grown up, we have just about all the things we need," Clifford Beaumont said.

That includes memories of a retirement well spent.

"I found all I wanted to do here," he said, "without having to be pushed on it."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

. Fast Facts

Booming start

• Del Webb broke ground on May 10, 1961.

• During opening week in December 1961 and January 1962, about 41,000 people visited.

• The first residents moved in on April 25, 1962. By the end of the year, 500 homes were sold.

• The community was renamed "Sun City Center" shortly after opening because a town called Sun City already existed south of Ruskin.

Information provided by the Sun City Center Historical Society and St. Petersburg Times archives.

Sun City Center residents of 46 years say it has been everything they hoped it'd be 05/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 5:30am]

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