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Epilogue | Elizabeth MacManus

Elizabeth MacManus could fill a museum from her home or her mind

Elizabeth MacManus wrote several history books while collecting both facts and artifacts.

MIKE PEASE | Times (2004)

Elizabeth MacManus wrote several history books while collecting both facts and artifacts.

LUTZ — Elizabeth MacManus always saw the big picture.

She saved everything — newspaper clips, greeting cards, photographs, trinkets. Volumes of history sat in her brain's filing system.

Some of her things landed in museum collections, shadowbox displays or books. Some stayed tucked deeply in her closet, awaiting the perfect destination.

In her mysterious grand vision, everything had a place.

• • •

Mrs. MacManus was born in 1923 in what is now called Land O'Lakes. Her father, German immigrant Mike Riegler, was the area's first settler in 1911.

He came to grow oranges. His family chipped in.

"She raised chickens, she sold eggs, and she worked on those groves even after she was a mother and raising children," said her friend, Betty Suydam. "She could work like a man. She would pick up those big heavy sacks, 50 pounds or more. It was just amazing."

She dated only one person — her husband, Cameron, who died last year. He was sharply funny, a bit of a rabble rouser. She was painfully shy. When they got engaged, no one understood the pairing.

"One of the things that attracted him to my mother was that he never could quite figure her out," said their daughter, Susan MacManus. "She was so intriguing and so complex."

She taught her three children to read early. She took them to a different part of Florida every summer — the Ringling Museum, St. Augustine, Sanibel Island.

She insisted they be educated and develop their own interests. Lou and Cameron Mac­Manus became medical doctors. Susan MacManus became a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

Their mother, always curious, seeped up information about her community. She recorded oral histories from people in town. She pored over microfilm at libraries.

She collected things.

A turn-of-the-century music box. An orange tea set from her childhood. Two cabinets of crystal.

A display of Indian arrowheads. A calendar from the 1800s. An old chifforobe from a hotel in Ybor City.

Buttons. Coffee grinders. A cigar press. Thousands of antique photos.

She stored it in closets and her garage. Some of it was worth money. Some, not a penny.

"I've got enough stuff to fill five buildings already," she told the St. Petersburg Times in 2002.

She wanted to share her knowledge with everyone. In 1998, she published a book she wrote with her daughter called Citrus, Sawmills, Critters, and Crackers: Life in Early Lutz and Central Pasco County.

She let schoolchildren visit her home. She dreamed of opening a local museum, but was never able to raise the money. She loaned items out to schools.

Until losing her vision to diabetes, she wrote historical articles for the St. Petersburg Times. Even blind, she could describe her collection perfectly.

On her 80th birthday, 135 people attended her party. They brought artifacts — a sculpture welded from railroad spikes in 1968, an old first-grade desk.

Recently, she and Susan MacManus co-wrote another book, Going, Going, Almost Gone: Lutz-Land O'Lakes Pioneers Share Their Precious Memories. It's a collection of the oral histories Mrs. MacManus saved.

It's due out this year. She never got to hold the final version.

Mrs. MacManus died Saturday after suffering a heart attack. She was 84.

She left behind a list of museums to inherit her collection.

• • •

The week before she died, something big brewed in her head.

She talked to Betty Suydam on the phone. She asked her friend to investigate several Lutz buildings — present owners, construction dates. Also, she needed the exact date the Olympic torch went through Lutz.

"Elizabeth," Suydam said. "What are you up to? Are you writing another book?"

Mrs. MacManus paused.

"I'm not telling."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

>>Biography

Elizabeth MacManus

Born: July 18, 1923.

Died: June 21, 2008.

Survivors: children, Susan MacManus, Lou MacManus and her husband, Warren Harrison, Cameron MacManus Jr. and his wife, Julia; grandchildren, Cameron R. MacManus, Allison MacManus Sharp and her husband, James, Susan Harrison, Genelle Harrison; brother, George Riegler and his wife, Elaine; sisters, Ann Riegler Avriett and her husband Dick, Gloria Riegler Herms and her husband, Norman; nieces and nephews.

Services: 11 a.m. July 5 at Hand in Hand Academy, 207 W Lutz-Lake Fern Road. Visitation at 10 a.m.

Elizabeth MacManus could fill a museum from her home or her mind 06/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 10:53pm]
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