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Doretha 'Granny' Arline put down Pasco roots early

Doretha Arline, right, gets a hug from her daughter Altamese Thomas during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in January. Mrs. Arline received a lifetime achievement award.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Doretha Arline, right, gets a hug from her daughter Altamese Thomas during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in January. Mrs. Arline received a lifetime achievement award.

PORT RICHEY — For Doretha Arline, the block and stucco home meant far more than the roof it provided over her head.

She had lived in the Pine Hill neighborhood since age 5, and in that house since 1952. She worked hard to maintain a large household, especially after her husband's death 35 years ago.

Around the fireplace, the woman everyone called "Granny" told her children and grandchildren about their family's background and history.

So it came as a shock during the mid 1990s when strangers turned her tiny Pine Hill neighborhood into a drug den. Suddenly, it wasn't safe to go outside.

"It was very frustrating," said Altamese Thomas, Mrs. Arline's daughter, who still lives in the home where she grew up. "We would be in bed at night and activities would be going on outside."

Worse, because of its location, some mistook the home for a crack house — rather than the home base of one of Pasco County's oldest and largest African-American families.

Doretha Jones was born in Caldwell, Ga., one of three children.

As the only girl, she wondered what she had missed. Her mother, Viola Jones Brown, after all, had grown up with 14 sisters.

"She always said, 'I wish I had a sister,' " said Thomas, 62.

Lured by the promise of steady work in the orange groves, the family moved to Port Richey when Doretha was 5.

"Her father heard (others say), 'In Florida, you can pick money off the trees,' " said Algerine Thomas, 63, another of Mrs. Arline's daughters.

She attended the segregated Booker T. Washington School, which was becoming a focal point of a small but growing black community. She met Lester Arline in 1939 at a neighborhood speakeasy. They were soon married.

In 1952 they moved into their home at the intersection of Pine Hill and Cobb streets. Its three small bedrooms proved large enough to accommodate the couple's 11 children and an adopted family member.

"We had a great big Ponderosa table," said Thomas. "My father was the head of the household. We did not touch anything until he said grace. And we always had to finish whatever we had on our plates."

Mrs. Arline washed stacks of dishes daily, hung mounds of laundry on clotheslines.

On weekends she relaxed with a little Seagram's 7 on the rocks, or played the horses or the dogs. Her husband, who worked as a heavy equipment operator, stepped in as cook to relieve his wife.

The family owned the first car in the neighborhood, a 1952 Chevrolet, and the first television. The house expanded to four bedrooms, plus another living room and bathroom.

Children grew up and had children of their own, bringing more people by the house. Whenever Mrs. Arline learned that someone needed help, she reached out quickly.

"If you didn't have a place to live, she would find a place for you," said Sandra Wright, the vice president of the African American Club of Pasco. "If you were hungry you never got sent away, related or not."

She weathered her share of tragedies. Her first daughter, Maddie, died of brain cancer at age 5. Another daughter, Helen, died at 20, of heart trouble.

Lester Arline died in 1976, of leukemia. Mrs. Arline worked two housekeeping jobs after that to make ends meet.

Then came the drug dealers in the 1990s, the noise and the traffic they brought. For a few years, Thomas said, even home repair contractors were afraid to go to the house to fix whatever had gone wrong.

"I've called the police and I've tried to run them away," Mrs. Arline said in 1995, "But they don't pay no attention."

Finally, a law enforcement crackdown flushed the intruders out.

Mrs. Arline could sit on her porch again, watching dozens of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren coming and going.

She also survived breast cancer a decade ago and continued her caretaking role. Only a year ago could her family persuade her to stop cooking, as cancer returned to her lungs and throat.

In January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the African American Club of Pasco presented Mrs. Arline with its lifetime achievement award.

Dozens of family members flocked to her bedside last week to extend their blessings. Mrs. Arline died Nov. 4, in the home she loved.

She was 91.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Doretha Jones "Granny" Arline

Born: June 20, 1920

Died: Nov. 4, 2011

Survivors: sons Arthur Jones, Wesley Arline and Lester Arline; daughters Algerine Thomas, Altamese Thomas, Patsy Mae Arline, Geraldine Gardner, Essie Jones and Carol Dawkins; 100 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Service: 1 p.m. today; Light of the World Tabernacle, 8114 Leo Kidd Ave., Port Richey.

Doretha 'Granny' Arline put down Pasco roots early 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 10:37pm]
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