TAMPA — In a time when social media has been divisive, Kermit Nelson used it to unify.
He did so by inspiring Tampa natives and longtime residents to share memories on his Tampa!!! BORN AND RAISED AND I REMEMBER WHEN Facebook group.
Over 11 years, the group’s more than 36,000 members have posted historic photographs and memories. Some ask if anyone remembers a specific person, place or event.
There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of daily comments. Conversations remained civil under Mr. Nelson’s watchful administrative eye.
Nr. Nelson also served as a curator, mining history books and newspaper and photograph archives for little-known tidbits to share.
Mr. Nelson died on Feb. 16. He was 81.
His friend David Crouse has taken over as the group’s administrator.
“I’ve picked up the flag,” Crouse said. “It’s not possible to replace Kermit. I am helping to keep the group going in his memory.”
Mr. Nelson moved to Ohio in recent years, but son Kermit Nelson Jr. said his father’s “heart never left Tampa.”
Members are discussing adding Mr. Nelson’s name to the group’s title.
Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, a frequent commenter, suggested a public marker honoring Mr. Nelson — perhaps a paver on Ybor City’s Seventh Avenue that explains what his efforts meant to the city.
“One of his great passions was to share and discuss Tampa history on social media, bringing people together with their shared love for our city and history,” Maniscalco said. “A marker with his name along Seventh would be the least we can do to remember him and to make sure people see and know his name.”
Mr. Nelson’s children said their father’s fame as a local history buff was a joy to watch.
“There have been countless instances where I would introduce myself to someone and they excitedly asked if I was the Kermit Nelson who shares all the history,” Kermit Nelson Jr. said. “I always had to laugh and say, ‘Sorry, that’s my amazing dad.’”
Mr. Nelson was raised in an Ybor City home that was later demolished to make way for the interstate. Losing that childhood home, Nelson Jr. said, might have inspired his father’s love of memorializing Tampa’s lost buildings.
Mr. Nelson was a Tampa police officer for nine years, his son said, and then joined the State of Florida Department of Corrections where he worked as a probation officer until retiring in 2004.
History was always his father’s side passion, Nelson Jr. said. “When I was a kid and he’d drive me around, he’d point to areas and say he remembers when this or that was there.”
Posts on the Tampa!!! BORN AND RAISED AND I REMEMBER WHEN Facebook group often start with “Who remembers” or a variation of the phrase.
“Who remembers Jim Fair’s (Farrior) Salvation Navy? Made for an interesting visit. He definitely was one of a kind,” reads a recent post.
“How many remember a restaurant called Cafe Sevilla on Armenia Avenue just south of Tampa Bay boulevard?” reads another.
The page was created by Marialle Reed in 2010. Its most frequent poster, Mr. Nelson was named administrator in 2018, the page’s moderator Kimi Lau-Costanzo said.
“He not only knew everything about Tampa, but he has hands-on knowledge and actually lived through historical times,” Lau-Costanzo said. “He had an answer for everything and if he didn’t, he found out so others could learn.”
If comments became divisive, his son said, Mr. Nelson was quick to delete the offending post, gently reprimand the guilty party, and remind members to remain civil.
“It wasn’t a forum for arguments,” Nelson Jr. said. “It was a place to come together.”
Some of his final posts included a history lesson about when Janice Nunn of Tampa was crowned Miss Black Florida in 1973, photographs of the Florida State Fair from 1960, and a celebratory message announcing that the page passed 36,000 members.
“Thanks to all our members who make this the great group that it is,” Mr. Nelson wrote on Feb. 4.
“He loved Tampa. He just loved it,” Nelson Jr. said. “He just wanted to make sure that people learned about their history and came together by sharing their experiences.”
Kermit Henry Nelson
Born: June 6, 1939
Died: Feb. 16, 2021
Survived by: wife, Joan Nelson and children, Marie Griffin, Kermit Nelson Jr. and Tabatha Menapace.
A service has already been held.