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Sun City Center residents offer life lessons

It's one of my earliest memories of Sun City Center, and it remains indelible.

In 1993, I ventured down to the retirement community to write about a women's international lawn bowling event being held at the local club. I spoke to several participants, including a South African native.

I thought I sensed a reluctance to speak to me. Knowing she was from South Africa, I assumed she may have harbored some degree of resentment toward blacks.

After all, Nelson Mandela was just a few years removed from his 27-year prison sentence, and a new South African government had yet to officially form.

Maybe she missed apartheid?

I didn't say anything, but a sense of bitterness lingered.

The day my story appeared, someone called and asked if I could bring copies of the paper down to the lawn bowling club.

I gladly obliged, and guess who was the first person I ran into? The woman from South Africa.

She smiled broadly, accepted the papers and then gave me a long, warm and unexpected hug.

Having grown up watching The Flintstones, I vividly recall how Fred's head would turn into a shoe heel every time Wilma made him feel bad for some wrong-headed way of thinking he espoused.

Now I knew how Fred felt: first-class heel.

On that day, I realized I had to challenge all the notions of prejudice that might crop up in my thought process. What was it Dr. King said about judging a person by the content of their character?

Being black gave me no excuse when it came to meeting that high ideal. It's a teachable moment I've tried to pass on to my kids.

As Sun City Center celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, I'm reminded of that story and of the many visits I've made to the community since.

Each and every time, I've been greeted by folks effusive in their excitement to meet me and eager to share of themselves.

On Dec. 31, 2001, I concluded one of my more whimsical assignments by ringing in the New Year with the fine folks of Beth Israel, the Jewish Congregation of Sun City Center. When I arrived, you would have thought Sammy Davis Jr. had walked into the room.

Resident Gene Earner explained his affection for Irish singer Deirdre Reilly in 2003. Talk about friendly? Earner and his wife, Donna, met Reilly at Chicago's Gaelic Park and practically adopted her, helping her arrange concert appearances all around the South Shore and Brandon area.

The Watergate stories former White House staffer Spencer Faircloth recalled when we lunched in 2005 still resonate. My only regret is that we didn't have more time to talk.

I remain grateful to Connie Lesko, who opened her heart and let our readers understand the plight her mother and father endured because of Alzheimer's disease in 2007.

And I can't forget how Fermin Montes Deoca serenaded the audience at the annual centenarian celebration in 2009 with his rendition of Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World. A lot of people teared up and, coincidentally, at the same exact time some dust got in my eyes.

As with my most memorable Sun City Center engagement, I've taken away little lessons from all of these encounters. Through words and through actions, these venerable residents teach us about perseverance, respect, love and aging gracefully.

Considering all that they've given us, I feel guilty for not giving more back.

That's all I'm saying.

Sun City Center residents offer life lessons 05/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:50pm]
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