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MOTHER OF SPRING HILL HELPED TO BUILD IT

Pat Fleck could remember when Mariner Boulevard was a dirt lane, when most of Spring Hill was covered with pine and scrub oak, when U.S. 19 was only two lanes wide and so empty that on trips to a New Port Richey supermarket - Spring Hill didn't have one yet - she sometimes drove on the wrong side of the road.

"For some reason it was smoother,'' Fleck said in a 1999 interview.

Fleck, 80, who died of cancer Thursday, was one of the last people around who still had memories of the community's earliest days. But she didn't just live and work in Spring Hill for decades. Her charm and energy helped build it.

"We called her Mom Fleck because she was the mother of Spring Hill, in my opinion,'' said Rich Maass, a retired firefighter who served with Fleck in several community organizations.

Fleck's husband, Bill, was on the original Spring Hill sales team for the Deltona Corp., which founded the massive development in 1967, when Hernando County's population was about 13,000.

As soon as Deltona got around to building homes, Fleck and her family moved to Spring Hill from Daytona Beach. She insisted on working as a sales agent after first being told the company didn't hire women.

"I think that was their first encounter with a woman who talked back to them,'' said former county Commissioner June Ester, a longtime friend of Fleck's.

Deltona also fought Fleck in the mid 1970s when she opened Spring Hill's first independent - not connected to Deltona - real estate agency, Fleck Real Estate. She later started the county's first real estate school, according to the Hernando County Association of Realtors.

When she ran, unsuccessfully, for County Commission in 1984, the idea of a female candidate was such a novelty that a local newspaper's editorial cartoon depicted her throwing her bra, rather than her hat, into the ring, Maass said.

She spoke out against the commission districts that emanated from the city like a pie, ensuring that a Brooksville candidate could always be eligible. She helped found the West Hernando Chamber of Commerce, and later served as its chairwoman, because she didn't think Spring Hill was adequately represented by the chamber in Brooksville.

"She never backed down from the good old boys in Brooksville,'' said her daughter, Carol Garrison of Homosassa. "She fought tooth and nail to get this side of the county recognition.''

Garrision called her "feisty.'' But also "friendly, generous and funny.''

Ester, who worked at Fleck's real estate firm, remembers Sunday brunches with Fleck at a posh Tampa hotel.

"The buffet was expensive, but they also served mimosas and we'd make sure to get there in time to have us a few,'' Ester said.

Fleck, Ester and a few other women friends formed a lunch group called DOLLAR - Dear Old Ladies Luncheon and Recreation Society - that has been meeting monthly for 20 years.

"When she was your friend, she was your friend,'' said Ester, who had one other fond memory of Fleck that struck me as significant:

The two of them, along with another Spring Hill resident, Staffordene Foggia, made several high-spirited trips to Tallahassee to lobby the Legislature for money for Hernando's libraries.

"We sang the whole way up there,'' Ester said.

Building libraries is not the kind of cause I think most Realtors or builders embrace these days. The dominant thought seems to be that libraries mean more taxes and impact fees and that taxes and impact fees discourage buyers.

Maybe so, but Fleck, also a longtime board member of HPH Hospice and an avid supporter of organizations such as Stage West Community Playhouse, realized that houses and stores aren't enough.

"There are people who move down here and complain about what this town doesn't have,'' said Vince Vanni, owner of a Spring Hill marketing firm and a longtime chamber member.

"She just went out and did everything she could to create it.''

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