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Pioneer sees vision for town coming to fruition

Henry "Hank" Binder, a self-described "eternal optimist" who saw the future of Citrus Park 40 years ago, is seeing his dreams come to fruition.

"I had a long-term vision," Binder said recently from his accounting office in the heart of Citrus Park. "I could see this as an area of future growth."

Binder works out of a modest masonry building on Gunn Highway that has retained the look and feel of a building out of the '50s, complete with a well-used, manual Royal typewriter. His surroundings belie the forward thinking of a man who aptly saw where Citrus Park would be as we approach the millennium.

Indeed, most of the growth Binder predicted has sprung up in the past few years in anticipation of a regional shopping mall that promises to put Citrus Park on the map.

Binder, who sits on the board of directors of First Citrus Bank, was founding director of the Citrus Park Bank, chartered in 1975.

In addition to banking, real estate and civic activities, the 75-year-old Binder has been a driving force behind many of the changes that have come to Citrus Park, including a decision to locate a mega-mall here. He worked with lawyers for Urban Shopping Centers Inc. in their petition to rezone a 144-acre site on Sheldon Road for construction of 1.1-million square feet of retail space.

Binder said he sees the changes as positive, especially in light of residents' pledge to guide future growth in a way that will maintain their community's small-town flavor.

He also is a walking, talking history book who helped edit the History of Keystone, Odessa and Citrus Park for the country's 1976 Bi-Centennial.

He can rattle off examples of the area's rich history, such as how the old Walker house on Race Track Road was once the Walker Motel and then a drug rehabilitation center or how Citrus Park was started and named by the North Tampa Land Co. of Chicago.

Even though Binder gives the impression that he was born and bred in Citrus Park, he actually moved here after he was released from the U.S. Army, where he served 23 years in the Medical Services Corps. Seeing action in World War II, the Korean War and the Berlin Crisis, Binder retired in 1966 as a major.

Binder's wife, Phyllis, who chose this area because of its proximity to MacDill Air Force Base, set up housekeeping first in a mobile home park on S Dale Mabry Highway while Binder was still on active duty.

The family moved to Temple Terrace and then, in 1957 to Citrus Park. The Binders bought a 60-acre orange grove on Lake Pretty where they operated Handon Citrus Grove until 1972.

The decision to buy the property at $100,000 proved to be financially sound. But life in the groves was not without its ups and downs.

Binder recalls selling fruit to Whaley's produce markets and orange juice to the former Jai-Alai Fronton for $1 a gallon. But it was the freeze of 1963 that really put his family to the test.

He could not make the mortgage payments that year, and Binder says the Federal Land Bank and Farm Produce Credit Organization extended the mortgage payments so he could catch up.

"It was a real challenge as a family to hang together and to make mortgage payments," Binder said.

He has fond memories, though, of how area teens _ friends of his three children, Larry, Lynne and Wendy _ would pick fruit for extra money and how many, still in the area, became lifelong friends.

Hank and Phyllis Binder eventually sold the orange grove and now live on 2.5 acres on Simms Road. He continues his tax accounting work and sells real estate. But as a charter member of American Legion Post 14, Binder devotes much of his time to community service.

Every Monday and Wednesday he can be found in Keystone Park on Gunn Highway manning the Chuck Wagon, a 19-foot travel trailer where members of the American Legion sell popcorn and lemonade to children in one of the county's after-school programs. The children are dropped off at the park at 2:30 p.m. to play ball and take part in various other recreation department activities.

"It's a service to the kids. If we're not there, they're heartbroken," Binder said. But "you have to have something to live for, family, community, fellow man."

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