1. Archive

Mother, daughter, revisit a place from family's past

Published Sep. 10, 2005

It was 56 years ago when Nerina Walker played on the lawn of the Pasco County courthouse. She was 2 years old, and the world was at war.

This week, as a mother of four grown children and eight grandchildren, Walker came back to the little Florida town she couldn't even remember.

With her mother, now 81, and friends, she toured the courthouse and reflected on what life was like when her father was a soldier guarding German prisoners during World War II and her mother struggled to keep a family together.

"It's so nice to be here. I've heard all the stories, but I've never seen any of this," Walker, now 58, said. "My mother told me about this lawn where we used to play, but I don't remember any of it."

Her mother, Marge Houck, said she followed her husband, Frank Muzzarelli, down to Dade City from their hometown of Mazon, Ill., when he moved here to guard German prisoners.

After years of war, Houck said she was a young bride who needed to be near her husband.

She rented a small house a block from the courthouse, and with other war brides she carried on as best she could with the few dollars her husband earned as a soldier.

"I think we lived on $80 a month _ that was all we could get. We didn't have any extra money at all," she said with a laugh. "The only thing we could afford was to come down here, sit on the lawn and let our children play."

Sometimes, Houck said she would walk down Meridian Avenue and cross the tracks to visit her husband at work. She said the German prisoners were treated well at their Dade City encampment, and the townspeople seemed to tolerate the camp and the prisoners.

According to the book The Historic Places of Pasco County, the POW camp was on the grounds of what is now Naomi Jones Pyracantha Park, off what has been renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, from about 1942 or 1943 until 1946. It housed about 200 prisoners, mainly from German Gen. Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, and prisoners lived in four-man tents.

The prisoners worked making limestone bricks in Brooksville, making boxes at Cummer Sons Cypress Co. in Lacoochee and building citrus warehouses, the book reports.

Houck said she visits Florida often to see a niece in Bonita Springs and her best friend, Joyce Mills, in Hudson, and she has been back to Dade City on occasion.

But for her daughter, who grew up in Illinois and now works in a county tax assessor's office, the trip was a first. For Houck, it was a chance to show her grown daughter a piece of her own history.

"It's changed so much," Houck said, gazing up and down Seventh Street. "There used to be a drugstore over there. I think there was a restaurant there, or maybe on that block up there.

"The thing I remember most, is how nice everyone was to us," Houck said. "We were so much younger, and we didn't know anyone and we didn't have any money. Everyone here was so nice to us; it made us feel like we belonged."