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GOLDEN MEMORIES

Town 'N Country residents talk of what used to be, and what still is in their hearts.

Fifty years ago the first home was built in a largely rural pocket, then called Town 'N Country Park. - Developers pegged it as a place with a small-town feel and easy access to downtown Tampa and Clearwater Beach. There was one pharmacy and one restaurant for early residents. - Today, there is a plethora of both in Town 'N Country, the area that stretches roughly from Sheldon Road east to the Veterans Expressway, and from Tampa Bay north to Linebaugh Avenue. The "small town" has become one of the most culturally diverse areas in the county. - Yet for many in the community, it's not hard to remember the old days. For them, certain locations that most would gloss over bring back memories of what used to be.

* * *

Emilio LeFler, 80

Resident since 1965

Fondest scene: Quirky days at LeFler Pharmacy

LeFler filled more than prescriptions in what was the only pharmacy in the area when he opened it in 1960. LeFler Pharmacy served as a post office and accepted utility payments.

In 1965, LeFler and his wife, Janice, moved to Town 'N Country themselves and became active members of the community. The pharmacy remained open for 16 years.

"Town 'N Country was a small community of united residents who volunteered and worked together to build this beautiful neighborhood," LeFler said. "I realize how fortunate we were to raise our family in such a friendly, positive environment."

He has vivid memories of his time in the pharmacy.

"On one occasion, a couple came in and wanted to confirm I was a notary," he said. "They asked if I would marry them right at that moment at that store."

He agreed to do it - customers became the wedding attendants.

* * *

Martha Thompson, 72

Resident since 1962

Fondest scene: Girl Scouts in the area now called Church Park

The letter came in the mail. It asked if anyone was interested in joining a new Girl Scout troop in the area. Thompson had a daughter in the second grade, so she attended the informational meeting. By the end, she was named leader of Brownie Troop 20, which may have been Town 'N Country's first.

"We tried to figure out things to do with them," Thompson said of the 28 girls in her troop.

Among their activities were making s'mores in an overgrown field now named Church Park on Webb Road. Back then, the park wasn't much more than a clearing of trees with an old-fashioned brick grill. There wasn't a lot for the children to do in the neighborhood, so parents came up with activities.

"We were building the community, and I think that's how people looked at it," Thompson said.

* * *

Fran Gamester, 70 - Resident since 1968

Fondest scene: Drag racing

Gamester was a sophomore at Plant City High School in 1954 when her boyfriend at the time suggested they go see a drag race in a rural area near Tampa called Town 'N Country. Once they got there, the only lights were those from the cars lined up ready to race.

"There was nothing, absolutely nothing out here," said Gamester, who grew up in South Tampa.

Her boyfriend raced in his white Chevy convertible with red leather interior. She stood on the sideline and watched with the other girls.

In the years to come, Gamester would leave the drag-racing boyfriend behind and marry her husband, Rob. The newlyweds moved to the area in the late 1960s. That dark road had a name: Hillsborough Avenue.

* * *

Carol Driver, 64 Resident since 1958

Fondest scene: Getting fresh water from Jackson Springs

"The water out here had so much iron it turned everything brown," said Carol Driver, whose family moved to Jackson Springs Road when she was a girl. "Your ice cubes had a brown sediment; your clothes had a brown cast to it. If you had your own washer and dryer, you had to use a ton of bleach. Water tasted like a rusty pipe," she said.

To get relief from the brown, residents would trek over to Jackson Springs, a cluster of fresh bubbling mineral springs, to fill up jugs with crisp water. The spring became a favorite play area for Driver and her friends. Other parts of Town 'N Country were mostly cow pastures and trees, she said.

"One time our whole backyard was strawberries," Driver said. "We had banana trees and rabbits."

After a short stint living in Texas in her 20s, Driver moved back to Town 'N Country with her husband in 1968 and raised three daughters. When people ask how long she has lived here, she jokingly says, "longer than some of the dirt, because as they hauled in new houses they had to bring in new dirt. I've been here a long time."

The picnic

At "TNC 50 Going Gold," Town 'N Country neighbors will celebrate the community's 50th anniversary. The event is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, with a large family picnic at Jackson Springs Recreation Center, 8620 Jackson Springs Road. The event, sponsored by the Town 'N Country Civic Association, is free and open to the public. For information, call (813) 884-3462.

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