How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?
I came to Hernando County in 1947 when I married my husband, John Henry, whom I met in St. Petersburg, where I was born and raised. He was born and raised here, so it was natural that we first settled here.
We stayed in Hernando County until 1950 and then moved to St. Petersburg because he got a job there, and in those days you would never commute that distance.
We stayed there until 1970 and then moved back here. We moved to, and I live today in, the Hammock, the area past the college on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. It's the land my husband's families lived on, where most of them were all born and died.
Who are the members of your family?
My husband John died three years ago. We had four children — Rita Pelham, who lives in Dunedin; Joy Jackson, who lives in Brooksville; Gerry Sowder, who also lives in Brooksville, and John Henry Jr., who lives in Middleburg. I currently have 15 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
Tell us about your career.
When we lived in St. Petersburg, I worked for the Pinellas County School Board's Board of Public Instruction, and then when we moved back here I worked for the county Cooperative Extension Service. I retired in 1988 after 25 years working for the two counties.
I started volunteering before I actually retired and have been volunteering with the Historical Association since 1981 through RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program).
I was always involved in different organizations during those early years, including volunteering at HARC (known today as Arc Nature Coast) and the Extension Homemakers. But then I got so busy with the county historical museum that I had to stop just about everything else.
What kinds of activities are you involved in now?
I started volunteering at the Hernando Heritage Museum when the house's restoration process was just beginning. I was president for seven years, and then when I retired I became the director — that was in 1988. As soon as the house was done, we began working on the historic train depot — that was about six years ago.
Five days a week, I spend some of my time at the train depot, but most of it at the museum. When we moved to the train depot, we moved all of our archaeology files, and we are still filing. We just didn't have the room anymore at the museum for the files.
We have five file cabinets full of genealogy here at the depot, plus we also have all the census, death and marriage records, along with the cemetery records.
At the museum, we were getting so many military items donated that we needed the extra room. It was through a grant that we were able to begin the renovations at the train depot.
Besides the records, we had a lot of other items at the museum that we were running out of room for. So now at the train depot, we have started the "Early Cracker Life in Florida" collection, which contains actual baskets slaves used to collect cotton, and a moonshine still.
The depot also houses two train displays that were created by residents Bob Smith and Don Dust. We also have a pre-Civil War wooden boxcar that we have restored. It was a "cook" car, a train that accompanied the main train for cooking meals for the railroad workers, not passengers.
We are about 75 percent done with the train depot restorations. A few things in the main room are left. Now, when I'm volunteering here, I spend most of my time filing. We may never get that done.
The train depot is open from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and is between Main Street and Brooksville Avenue in the Russell Street Park in Brooksville. The museum is open from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 601 Museum Court, Brooksville.
Of course, we could always use more volunteers here at the depot, and with more volunteers we might be able to open more days.
Do you have any special hobbies?
Genealogy is my hobby. My sister became a widow shortly after I did. She was married to my husband's cousin. Her husband's and my husband's mothers were sisters, so now we like to travel all over the country working on our genealogy lines.
What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?
My favorite place is Pine Island beach. I take the great-grandchildren to the beach as often as I can.
What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?
If the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the county and the state would all work together and buy more land to preserve. I know it's not a popular thought, but I'd like to see more rural land preserved.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
That I was married twice. It started when I ran away from home to get married. John and I were going to have our wedding on Nov. 2, 1947.
It was going to be a double wedding with John's sister. But we were afraid that my father was going to stop us, so we went and got married on Nov. 1 at Home on the Range. We were married by a minister who lived on Fort Dade Avenue behind the Lykes House in old Spring Hill. Our second wedding was held in Brooksville the next day.
We honeymooned in Zephyrhills. John and I didn't have a car, so we went with his sister and her new husband. The four of us went to Dade City to the movies that night and then went out to dinner. There wasn't much there in 1947.
Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1438.