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Some generosity would help keep Brooksville treasures going

It's not true that people in Brooksville don't do anything for the community. It just seems that way lately.

Ernie Wever Youth Park, as Brooksville moms and dads know, is where half the city gathers during baseball and soccer seasons — where they get to see kids run and play rather than waste away in front of video games. But if the county can't find any more maintenance money, it will close.

Chinsegut Manor House stagnates, kept up by a skeleton crew from the University of South Florida, which wants no part of running it permanently. There are no cabins open for out-of-town visitors who might make the picturesque property a tourist draw, no museum to explain the house's history. A mere $75,000 from us could open it up and help fix up the house and grounds. So far, the community has come up with only about one-third that amount.

So why aren't we mobilizing to save these treasures? Where's the leadership?

To be fair, there is some. Dozens of parents showed up at last week's County Commission meeting, outraged about the possible closing of Ernie Wever. A group called Friends of Chinsegut is trying hard to raise the $75,000, which would serve as a local match for a national foundation expected to contribute $230,000. And we can't forget that donations from one extremely generous anonymous donor have kept the county cannery running the last two years.

But what I'm thinking of is Brooksville people with money and influence. And at the risk of buying into their nostalgia, I'm thinking of the way they used to operate.

You can thank now-deceased Brooksville banker Alfred McKethan for every sunset you've watched at Pine Island. He donated the land. He wrote checks for libraries, helped finance buildings at the fairgrounds and was involved in so many community projects that I can't list them, and, when I interviewed McKethan in 1998, he couldn't remember all of them.

"I can't tell you everything I've done," he said. "I've done too damn many things."

Yes, he liked to see his name on things. And, sure, there was self-interest involved, though mostly a constructive kind. He believed building his business required building the community.

Retired mining engineer Tommy Bronson was also no piker when it came to building community. He helped out with the baseball and football stadiums at Hernando High School and with Ernie Wever, which was operated by the Hernando Youth League until the county took it over in 1991.

And I'm not just talking about ancient history. The playground at Tom Varn Park, the girls softball stadium there, the Quarry Golf Course, the Jerome Brown Community Center — all were built in the 1990s, mostly with private money and labor.

So, besides the economy, obviously, what happened?

A lot of old-timers gave me a lot of different reasons.

The owners of the banks and mines once were from Brooksville, and the profits stayed here. Personal and business reputations depended on them contributing.

Now, the owners of these industries don't live here and don't see the health of their companies tied to the health of the county.

These are conservatives, by and large, not fans of government. People got too dependent on taxpayer-funded maintenance crews, they said, and wouldn't think of mowing or sodding fields at Ernie Wever as parents once did.

Maybe so, and what Brooksville lawyer Bruce Snow called "facilities inflation" makes it harder to volunteer. A backstop and skinned infield aren't good enough anymore. We expect fancier fields, which are both more expensive to build and need specialized maintenance equipment; a dad on his riding Snapper wouldn't be welcome.

And, finally, though it's hard to judge people's capacity to give without seeing their bank statements, I can tell you that some of Brooksville's biggest names don't have great reputations for personal generosity.

I focus on them partly because so many of them can trace their family roots to Chinsegut Hill. But they shouldn't be the only ones on the hook. For example, the medical industry is thriving, even in this economy, and I haven't heard of any doctors coming to Chinsegut's rescue.

There's still time, by the way. The deadline for contributing has been extended to June 10. Also, though it will always be called Chinsegut, there are plenty of cabins and benches on the grounds — even a gazebo.

Give enough and you might get your name on something.

Some generosity would help keep Brooksville treasures going 05/28/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 28, 2011 1:09pm]
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