Monday, June 18, 2018
News Roundup

Epilogue: Clock craftsman Ron Phaneuf embraced old-time way

A few years ago, Ron Phaneuf was disassembling the movements of a 300-year-old clock he knew had never been opened before. The owner of Phaneuf Clock Shop, a St. Petersburg institution for more than half a century, had taken apart thousands of clocks. His father had taught him how long ago. • This one, smaller than a grandfather clock and well-made, stood out for its elaborate, hand-scrolled engravings on the inside of brass plates deep within its guts. • Though he had never seen such ornate designs so well-hidden, Mr. Phaneuf knew instantly what it meant: Another clockmaker was saying hello. The message had taken 300 years to reach him.

Times have changed. Now old clocks and the people who work on them are rapidly receding into the past, not unlike the fate of grand pipe organs.

Now a guardian of clock craftsmanship is gone, too. Mr. Phaneuf, one of the last clockmakers of his kind in the area, died Wednesday at home. He was 58. He had suffered a heart attack while sleeping, his family said.

His wife, who handled sales and bookkeeping in the shop, was with Mr. Phaneuf when he discovered the other clockmaker's message-in-a-bottle across time.

"He said, 'Oh, my God, look at this,' " said Pat Phaneuf, 60. "All of these creative, beautiful swirls, like a piece of art, and the only person who would be able to see it and appreciate it would be another clockmaker.

"We were just floored."

His father, Canadian-born Robert Phaneuf, founded the shop in 1960 at Central Avenue and 70th Street. He moved twice before settling in 1969 at 4047 Fourth St. N. The elder Phaneuf held a stopwatch and challenged his son to take clocks apart and put them back together.

His son graduated from Northeast High School, then worked for a land surveyor before rejoining his father in the clock shop. Mr. Phaneuf took over the shop in 1979, a few months before his father's death. He enjoyed working on old, well-made clocks with thick plates that kept perfect time for scores of years. When they did eventually need a tuneup, he replaced cracked springs, cleaned away gunk and used bronze bushings because they were stronger than brass.

"He would polish all the moving parts, ream all the holes," his wife said. "He would clean it, oil it, test it, time it, regulate it. He would polish them up so they were all shiny and rewind them, so the clock would have the power that it had when it was brand new. So it took another hundred years to wear through again."

They married in 1983 and handled different parts of the business. She worked sales and kept the books. Her husband scrutinized grandfather clocks, steeple clocks and banjo clocks (nicknamed for their shape), clocks with hand-painted numbers and brand new clocks. Bella or Buddy, his Doberman and pit bull mixed-breeds, were usually wandering nearby or curled up for a nap.

From time to time, he glanced through a window decorated with his name and "2nd Generation Clockmaker" to see any of scores of friends from a lifetime as a St. Petersburg native. That was always enough to bring the normally quiet shop owner onto the floor for a chat.

At home, Mr. Phaneuf enjoyed military history — the History Channel was always on — and football. He cultivated his garden and bounced his boat across the bay.

He had been looking to do more of the same in retirement. On Wednesday, Pat discovered her husband unresponsive in bed. An autopsy revealed a heart attack, she said.

"It was horrible, absolutely horrible."

As she told the story, a friend entered with a vase of daisies. Aloyse Larson and Pat Phaneuf embraced and wept together. Like many other relationships over decades, Larson had started out as a customer of the couple, then became their friend.

Though their business made them a good living and a collection of friends, the decline of the clock industry over the last decades bothered Mr. Phaneuf, his wife said.

"Everything is so, like, digital. People don't even wear watches because they could get the time off their cellphone now," she said.

Without its master craftsman, Phaneuf Clock Shop will close. The inventory will be sold.

Customers with clocks in for repair will get them back, fixed or not.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Comments

Updated: 12 minutes ago
Mazzaro’s market set to reopen Tuesday after blaze damaged one of its warehouses

Mazzaro’s market set to reopen Tuesday after blaze damaged one of its warehouses

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market is scheduled to reopen Tuesday after an electrical fire broke out its dry goods warehouse Friday night.Dominic Horwath, a grocery manager at Mazzaro’s on 22nd Avenue N said staff spent Monday and the weekend...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

After winning Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep by the hot Yankees in New York, the Rays face arguably a tougher challenge tonight when they face a sizzling Astros team that just completed a 10-0 roadtrip and has won 11 straight overall.The Rays are ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Land O’ Lakes dance studio serves students and community

Land O’ Lakes dance studio serves students and community

LAND O’ LAKES — Lilly Jayska once cried and cowered at the notion of dancing on stage. Now, after four years of classes at Nicole’s Dance Center in Land O’ Lakes, the 10-year-old wants to dance solos. When asked to name her favorite type of dance, he...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Tuesday’s letters: Keep programs that fight AIDS

For author Biden, it’s a father’s gift | June 6Keep programs that fight AIDSAfter former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to St. Petersburg, I noticed an article that he co-wrote with former Sen. Bill Frist. It reminded everyone about the ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Where’s the new VA clinic going? Not in the city of New Port Richey

Where’s the new VA clinic going? Not in the city of New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — The federal government’s search for a home for its new Veterans Administration community outpatient clinic is focusing on the Little Road corridor in west Pasco.Three locations in the running for the VA clinic are identified in the ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

A Tampa man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries on Sunday after he was rescued from a near drowning off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular hangout on the beach of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.When police officers a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Developer Grady Pridgen buys St. Pete’s shuttered Edward White Hospital

Developer Grady Pridgen buys St. Pete’s shuttered Edward White Hospital

ST. PETERSBURG — Edward White Hospital, closed four years ago because of declining revenues, has been sold to developer Grady Pridgen for $2.7 million.Pridgen could not be reached Monday for comment. City officials said he has submitted plans for rem...
Updated: 3 hours ago