I’ve lived in Florida a really long time—three decades, but who’s counting?—so I guess that makes me a native by the fluid standards of the transplants that call this area home. That’s a really long time to stay rooted in one place.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Growing up on a large tract of land near Lake Weir that used to be a campground, I always felt that I had a huge backyard. Turns out I really did.
My friends were scattered all over a three-county area—Lake, Sumter, and Marion—sometimes Citrus, too. Our baseball games and band trips were in places that sounded strange and exotic to me at the time: Fruitland Park, Groveland, Homosassa. I always enjoyed the long bus trips spent talking with friends or staring out the window at the verdant landscapes that streamed past.
Yes, our area was very different back then.
Very little traffic flowed on 441 once you crossed the Sumter County line for a few minutes before entering Lake County. Back then, The Villages was just a sleepy little community much like dozens of others that surrounded it for miles in either direction. No one—except maybe Gary Morse—knew it would become a destination for so many retirees across America.
I bring up the roads specifically because these were my driver’s ed lanes. I learned the finer aspects of parking in the lots of a half-dozen eateries in Leesburg, passing skills on the narrow roads south of Weirsdale, and cruise control basics on 441 headed to the Lake Square Mall. During the day, I remember lots of open space, green fields in many curves as far as the eye could see. At night, I can still picture the darkness, an inkiness that seemed vast and impenetrable. (If you passed someone driving a large domestic car circa 1985 who didn’t click off the high-beams, I apologize for the oversight now.)
My two favorite drives involved Florida’s famous orange trees. Just north of the Lake County line on 25 and also going through the then-tiny town of Clermont on 27, groves lined the fields in either direction. I recall slowing down (since there were probably no cars behind me), opening the windows, and inhaling the sharp, tangy scent of the ready-to-pick citrus. The orange dots that bowed the branches seemed infinite, like all the juice you could imagine could be poured from those trees.
Now, as the editor of the magazine you hold in your hands, I get to see our area from a different perspective still. The Villages is now, of course, a vibrant hub for all three counties. No matter whether my wife and I visit our favorite restaurants during the week or on the weekend, tables are usually hard to come by. Only in the last year has that sometimes not been the case.
The Leesburg Chamber functions are always a hoot. A dedicated group of business and community leaders somehow puts together a program to remember. That lively bunch could give some of the regulars on the Spanish Springs Town Square a run for their money!
A little further to the east, Mount Dora always seems to balance its unending change with a permanence that’s refreshing in these hectic times. A stroll down Main Street into the many fine shops this charming town has to offer is an afternoon you won’t soon forget.
All in all, I love being witness to our growing communities. Although we’re many years into this journey here at Lake & Sumter Style, each day is new and fresh. I’m sure yours feel the same way.
Here’s to another 30 years.
All my best,