Okeechobee, Florida in the 1960’s. Reproduced from a photo in my high school yearbook~1965.
I got a little homesick earlier this week. I don’t get that way often, but when I do, I just kind of linger there for a while. I’ve had a wonderful life in Orlando for the past 32 years, but there is always that little part of me that wishes we never moved away from my hometown. And then there is the little part of my heart that often yearns to return. But, things change and my hometown has changed. My last few visits were to a place I don’t even know any more. My hometown is now a bustling little metropolis compared to the sleepy little town it was when I was growing up.
It was the summer of 1960 when my Dad’s job relocated him to Okeechobee, Florida. I was 12 years old and a whole different world opened up for me. Little did I know how different…
Okeechobee was located just 5 miles north of Lake Okeechobee. The town was small and very quiet. My Mom said they rolled up the sidewalks at 8 pm on Saturday nights. I believed her and dearly yearned to watch them roll up the sidewalk some time… LOL... I was a kid…what can I say…
My new home had pioneer families, cowboys and Indians! There were generations of ranchers, Seminole Indians and, let’s not forget the fishermen. I was to learn later that my new home was rich in history and heritage.
The summer of 1960 might have been the best summer of my life. I always wanted a bicycle, but it was not safe in the city, nor was it safe on the busy truck route that ran in front of my childhood home in NY. I got my first bike in the summer of 1960! I lived on that bike all summer long! Most days, my sisters and I rode our bikes to the public swimming pool in town. It was about a 3 mile ride to the pool. Three times a week, I made a detour to the public library to return 6 books and check out 6 more. The town was so small that the public library was only open 3 days a week. Six books was the maximum allowed for check out. I read a lot of books that summer…when I wasn’t out exploring my new home on my bicycle. That summer was the first of many wonderful years in a town where everybody knew your name!
In the fall, I entered 8th grade as the “new girl”. The year before had been particularly hard on me. My 7th grade, in yet another big city school, was a disaster. I had no friends because it seemed that everyone already had friends before entering junior high school. I spent a whole school year with no friends. Before that, I always had my sisters, but that was the first year that I had to attend a different school than my sisters. It was just AWFUL! So, when I entered 8th grade in Okeechobee, I didn’t expect much. In fact, I expected more of the same. But, I was in for a surprise. The kids were so nice and I was welcomed into the fold just as if I belonged there.
My high school years were better than most teens can hope for.
High school also included the proms and the senior trip to Washington, DC and NY City.
Those were GREAT times!
I even played Powder Puff football! See jersey # 41? Yes…that is me!
In addition to the school dances and athletic games, we had a teen center where dances were held most weekends
There was a drive-in theatre where teens engaged in amateur necking. The drive-in theatre was across the street from the main local haunt for teens – the Tastee Freez. Many a delightful hour was spent at the Tastee Freez.
Another favorite teen meeting place was Padgett’s Drug Store with a soda fountain where teens often met for a cherry or vanilla coke – the best cokes in town!
Saturday afternoons were spent at Gilbert’s Theatre. Admission was a dime, but Dad gave us each a quarter for
admission and snacks, which, BTW, was plenty!
I have many fond memories of Mr. Gilbert Culbreth. He was one of the most generous men in Okeechobee. Each year at Christmas time, he dressed up like Santa and gave out bags of candy at the theatre. Every kid in town was invited and no kid was too old to go to a Gilbert Christmas Party! Mr. Culbreth also owned Gilbert Chevrolet and Gilbert Tires. It was only recently that I learned that he once gave away new cars! I am sure Mr. Culbreth is remembered fondly because he was a blessing to so many of us.
Speaking of blessed…This is the church of my youth…
In my youth, this proud old hotel still stood, with shops and our post office at street level.
The traffic light you see in the photo was still the only traffic light in town when I was growing up. It was referred to as “THE traffic light”… Instructions to get anywhere included “when you get to THE traffic light, turn….” Other directional instructions included mention of old businesses that were no longer in operation, yet we all knew what they meant when instructions included “turn left where the old bank used to be”, or some such reference point known by all except the visitors to town, which, BTW, were the only ones who needed any directional instructions to begin with. Everyone who lived there knew exactly where everything was AND where everything “used to be”.
Running down the middle of town is block after block of Flagler Park where many an outdoor function took place. I am happy to say that Flagler Park exists to this day and the Veteran Memorial portion of the park has been enhanced.
Our wonderful world included rodeos
And lots of fishing…
When I was a teen, I might have described my hometown as “hokey”, but now, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that it was the best place in the world to grow up.
My old hometown may have morphed into a small city, but my memories remain intact. I am grateful that my Dad’s job took us to Okeechobee in the summer of 1960 ~ the best summer of my life!
NOTE: I shared my hometown with you in black and white photos because I wanted you to feel what I felt in that era. It was a simpler world – it was a wonderful world. I “borrowed” photos from my high school yearbooks, the State of Florida Archives and a couple of them from Tommy Markham's Genealogical & History (used with permission). You may have noticed that several photos were older than the 1960’s… Trust me…things didn’t change much and they portray things as they still were in my youth. Sadly, our most famous landmark is long gone. Where the Southland Hotel stood, you will find a CVS today. I find that sad….very sad…
Written by Darlene Cirinna
November 17, 2011