Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How Did That Street Get THAT Name?

Toney Penna

            Florida has always been a magnet for golfers. The mild year-round weather coupled with beautifully designed courses has been bringing them in for decades. The Breakers Hotel claims to have built the first eighteen hole golf course in Florida. According to Golf.com, the Breakers links opened in 1896.

            Quite a bit north of the Breakers, there’s a little road in Jupiter named “Toney Penna.” Not everyone knows who Toney Penna was or how he ended up with a street in Jupiter named after him. I’ve been told bits and pieces of the Toney Penna story by my parents, but this month, I decided to learn more.

Toney Penna, who became a well-known golfer beginning with his 1937 win of the Pennsylvania Open Championship,  moved to Delray Beach in 1946. The Pennas moved right next door to my Aunt Eleanor’s house along the Intracoastal Waterway, a few blocks from my grandparents’ house on N.E. 7th Avenue. Penna’s son, Jerry, was a year or so younger than my father. I’ve been told that Jerry, Dad and my Uncle Warren ended up getting into mischief together.  There’s a hush-hush tale about an abandoned building, the three boys and police… but that’s a story for another time.

            Penna used to take a small duffel bag filled to the brim with golf balls to a field to practice his drives. After Penna dumped out the golf balls, Dad and Warren would take the empty bag far down the field and chase after balls, gradually filling the bag back up. I’d heard that Dad caddied for him once upon a time, too.

As a local celebrity, Penna lived peacefully along the water in Delray, but it seems he had some famous friends. He played golf often with Perry Como who had a house along the Jupiter Inlet. Back in Delray Beach, Penna’s visitors caused quite the sensation.  According to Dad, Hollywood luminaries showed up at Penna’s house from time to time--Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis among them. Wouldn’t you have loved to sit in on that party?

            So how did a street in Jupiter, forty-five minutes away from Delray, end up named Toney Penna? Penna worked as a representative for MacGregor Golf Company designing clubs until 1967. It was the early 1970s when he went out on his own, opening a little facility where he designed and manufactured golf clubs. The building is still there, located on the south side of Toney Penna Drive, just east of Military Trail, but it’s been renovated and its now impossible to tell that once upon a time golfing royalty worked there.

If you’d like to get your hands on a Toney Penna club, be prepared to pay. The MacGregor Toney Penna Clubs are extremely rare collectibles. A collector’s guide on E-bay says, “An all original, excellent condition set of WWs (white woods) should be worth $1000 or more.” And as for irons, the Penna VIP irons (1963-1967) are considered one of those items so rare, it’s hard to set a value.

I’m sure that when Dad and Warren were cutting through Aunt Eleanor’s hedge to get Jerry for yet another adventure, Dad had no idea that Jerry’s dad, and later Jerry, would make golf clubs so well designed that devoted golfers still search for and collect them.

Accomplishments worthy of having a street named after him, I think.

This article first appeared in my column with Seabreeze Publications, Inc., "The Florida You Don't Know."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Favorite Birthday Present

     Admit it. Y'all knew it was my birthday Friday, January 11, didn't you?

     When I was seven, my favorite birthday present was a Camelot costume for my Barbie doll. In a box somewhere in my closet, I still have that gown (minus one sleeve) and the beat up Barbie who used to wear it. 

       Since that time, some birthdays have been more eventful than others, but this birthday, you all delivered a doozy of a gift!

     Sometime between 11:30 pm January 11 and waking up on Saturday, January 12, this blog rolled over 10,000 hits. I'm amazed!

Earman River East from
Prosperity Farms Road
     My first article was a post of my very first column for Seabreeze Publications, Inc., a publisher of neighborhood newspapers distributed throughout Martin and Palm Beach Counties. It appeared in my blog on July 11, 2011 and had the simple title, "Earman River'." A story about a man-made river in North Palm Beach, it doesn't even appear on my top ten now. (My column still appears every month and is re-posted here after the monthly paper is published. Next week, we'll find out who Toney Penna was and why a street in Jupiter is named after him.)

     The post that received the most attention is the "Addendum to Jones" post. A follow up to "Just Who is This Jones Guy?" a contest I ran the week before about Jones Creek in Jupiter, there was really nothing to it. Why this one? I have no idea... Perhaps people were Googling "Jones"?

Presidential Bunker
     Second, was "The President and Peanut Island." This was the first time I felt like an official writer-type person. My friend and I headed over to Peanut Island and toured the Kennedy bunker. I identified myself as a writer and asked for permission to run my digital voice recorder. It's a lot easier than scribbling notes I can't see without my glasses. I snapped a hundred pictures (ok, so I exaggerate a little) and was in awe to finally be standing in something that had been off limits my entire childhood.

Monument to the Chillingworths
     Third? "Birth of an Imago." This was posted for a contest I entered in Rachael Harrie's Writers' Platform Building Campaign. Given some impossible words, we were supposed to write a flash fiction piece that contained them. I think there were over a hundred entries and each one met the challenge differently. My entry managed to tie in Palm Beach County history. People who didn't know the story of the Chillingworth murders in Palm Beach County bombarded my e-mail asking for more so I posted "The Chillingworth Murders" in October.

"Dapper Dan"
     My favorite post so far has to be the "Dapper Dan Contest" and the follow-up "A Twist in the Road." A picture found in a box of stamps my grandfather had collected led to an ending I couldn't imagine. Still gives me the chills. These two combined were picked up and published by the Glen Ullin Times, the local newspaper in Glen Ullin, North Dakota where our Dapper Dan actually lived.

     I've continued to edit, revise and hone the research on most of these stories for the collection of short stories that I'm working on getting published later this year, "The Ghost of Sir Harry Oakes and Other Tales of Growing Up in Palm Beach County." You'll hear about publication dates before anyone else.

     You all gave me a terrific present for my birthday, so I'd like to return the favor. Simply comment to this article with the title of YOUR favorite of my posts so far and tell me what it was about that post that made it your favorite. I'll use random.org to find the winner and send an autographed copy of "Betty Tales The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat" OR a $10.00 Amazon gift card. Easy peasy, right?

     Thank you, one and all, for your visits here and spending some of your busy day to read my little stories. You helped make this a birthday to remember!

Picture at beginning of post is from Microsoft. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Microsoft Office
This time of year is one that sends most people back though memories of the past year as we try to determine what we're going to do better in the future. We all share memories of big events--the space shuttles, elections, the fiscal cliff, graduations, birthdays and on and on. But I think it's more than just the "big" memories that matter. 

Anyone remember the way the sun looked as it slipped into the sea off of Mallory Square in Key West before the cruise ships started docking there? The street musicians, jugglers and crowd of tourists and residents alike who stood in the dirt next to the docks, drinks in hand, socializing until the sun dipped closer to the horizon? And the cheers and clapping that erupted when the last sliver of golden orange disappeared?

How about walking through the halls of your elementary school? Having orange-belted safety patrols yell at you to stop running? How exciting it was to head to the library to agonize over which book to check out to read? (Okay. I admit it. I was an unrestrained book lover even then...)

I have a theory. "Big" memories serve as the anchors as we look back over our lives. They keep us grounded in time and space and provide framework. But the fullness and richness, the warp and weave of the tapestry of our lives, is made up of flotsam and jetsam. The discarded bits and pieces of memories that we normally race through or past as we zip from appointment to appointment, to work, to pick up or drop off kids. 

Some of my favorite flotsam and jetsam memories include remembering how really cool Marjorie Keenan Rawlings' writing tabled looked and how the old wooden porch slanted away from the house and the hollow echoe as I walked on it. I remember how it felt to sit beneath the Earman River Bridge and talk the afternoon away with a close friend while we munched on penny candy. I remember glancing out of the corner of  my eye at Bryant Park in Lake Worth and seeing a couple of stones and wondering just what the heck they were. It's signing up for the Worldwide Photo Walk just to wander around downtown West Palm Beach by foot with a camera.

My New Year's challenge to you is to try to catch those pieces of flotsam and jetsam and hold on to them. Don't let them drift away on the tide.

For example, next time you're sitting at a traffic light, really look around at what surrounds you. One of my favorite corners that brings back a forgotten memory is U.S. Highway One and 10th Avenue North in Lake Worth. Tuppen's marine supply store is on the northeast corner. Sitting there waiting for the light to change looking at their painted sign, I can remember walking around the store with my dad. My brother and I were allowed to dig through the bin of brightly colored rubber bait worms. We could each choose one to purchase. I have no idea where any of those worms ended up, but we sure enjoyed flicking through the little slightly sticky pieces as we searched.

I suppose in the overall scheme of things, little rubber worms and Rawlings' wooden porch are not all that big of a deal. But as part of the tapestry of my life, it's these types of memories that add the deep, rich colors.

I'd love to hear from you from time to time this year. Let me know what pieces of flotsam and jetsam you manage to salvage from your busy life. My bet is it won't take long for you to have a shipyard of sparkling bits and pieces to take out and smile over when tough times come along. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Paper Mache Christmas Dreams

                If you have ever spent a Christmas in Florida, you know it’s not like Christmas spent anywhere north. In St. Louis, for example, while there may or may not be snow on the ground, it’s always cold enough for a roaring fire in the fireplace.

                Not so in Florida. As a child, I didn't have a clue as to what I was missing. Sure, it sometimes got cold, but often as not, Christmas Day dawned a balmy seventy degrees with bright sunshine. No sledding. No snowmen. But before anyone from north of the Mason Dixon Line feels sympathy for us, let me remind you that there were advantages, too. Chief among them, the ability to take a new skateboard out for a test drive or head over to the beach for a couple of hours to soak in the sun—on December 25.

                One of my favorite Christmas memories began before my bare feet ever hit the Florida sand. The Hetzel Brothers Christmas Pageant became an annual tradition for my family as well as many other families in Palm Beach County. Originating in Nashville, North Carolina in 1933, the display of paper mache figures was arranged to tell the story of the Biblical story of the Nativity. The brothers moved south to Palm Beach County where they first settled in Curry Park next to the water in West Palm Beach.  It was the late 1960s when the annual event moved to the corner of Northlake Boulevard and MacArthur Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens. John D. MacArthur himself gave the brothers permission to arrange the scenes among the rocks on the south end of the big fields there.

                I remember it as always chilly the night we headed over to join the crowds walking through the production.  We parked in the fields behind the rocks and walked up to the entrance. All Floridians were bundled up as if it were the dead of winter in the South Pole instead of the actual temperature of perhaps fifty degrees. Northerners were easy to spot as they were the ones in shirtsleeves. We always put a dollar or two in the donation box—there was never an entrance fee—and joined the line moving slowly past the dramatically lit figures depicting several scenes of the Biblical birth of Christ story. Over the years, the recordings became scratchier and even skipped from time to time, but we would patiently and faithfully listen anyway.

                Fourteen years after arriving in Palm Beach Gardens, Bob Hetzel closed the gates and turned out the lights. He had suffered a heart attack, the pageant was in financial trouble, and the City, responding to complaints from residents, had been pressuring Hetzel to correct electrical problems. Hetzel had been directed to move the buildings on the site after this year’s Christmas display. It was time. There was no fourteenth production and the pageant folded in 1983.

                These days, when you drive by that intersection, you’ll see nothing unusual.  No rocks piled high. No paper mache’ angels lit up against the night sky and palm trees. No faint Christmas carols on the winter breeze. Nothing remains to suggest that it was once the site of an endearing Christmas—and Easter—tradition for families in the area. There’s nothing left of the costumed figures.

Thanks to the generosity of fellow history enthusiast, Don Kiselewski, I spent an evening lost in memories as I viewed the cd presentation Don and his granddaughter, Kelly Chase, prepared for a presentation to The Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society. If you grew up visiting Hetzel Brothers Pageants, make a point of seeing this if it’s ever presented again.  You can even pretend you’re standing in the field listening to the scratchy version of old if it makes you happy. 

This was originally published as the December column, The Florida You Don't Know, with Seabreeze Publications. It was intended to be posted on December 10, 2012, but illness kept me away from the computer and I lost track of my posts. Yikes! I'm back on track now and the posts will start showing up again every Wednesday. Thanks for your support! Ruth