VALRICO - They were like family. They didn't just go to church together. They treated each other like brothers and sisters. Like favorite cousins.
The parents all knew each other and the kids attended school together. State Road 60 was still just two lanes.
Former members of the now-defunct First Baptist Church of Valrico, which had a congregation of about 1,000 during Rev. Robert Coram's tenure in the 1960s and 70s, want to bring that back, at least one more time. They have planned a reunion for Aug. 17 at the Countryside Baptist Church, 1342 Sydney Road in Dover. All those who attended church there during Coram's time at the pulpit are invited to participate.
The church began in 1950 with 44 charter members and remained a Baptist Church until the early 1990s, when the congregation officially disbanded.
"Pastor Coram served at the church for 21 years," said Betty Watson, who grew up and even got married at First Baptist Church of Valrico. "After he left, his son, Rick Coram became pastor" before becoming a full-time evangelist, she said.
"During those times, it was standing-room only," said Rhonda Coram Hawkins, Rick's sister. With Robert Coram now in his 80s, he and his wife Pat yearn to see their old friends at least one more time, Hawkins said. So, plans for the reunion began.
"Brother Bob" and his wife will travel from Ocala for the party and Hawkins said she is hoping at least one more of her siblings will also be able to attend. "We're hoping to have at least 150 people there," she said.
The old church building still stands on the north side of State Road 60 between St. Cloud Avenue and Valrico Road. It is now called The Transformation Center. The building hasn't been a Baptist church since the 1990s, but memories of those good times still remain for those who attended Watson said.
"We wanted to get together some time other than a funeral," she said, which these days, occur too often. "We were closer than most blood family. I was seven when I started going to church there. That church was the hub of our community. Everybody was close. And we were the third largest church in the Shiloh Baptist Association."
"We want the reunion to be a renewal of those good times in our life," Hawkins said.
The reunion to honor Robert and Pat Coram takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Countryside Baptist Church, and guests are asked to bring a covered dish and a beverage. Those planning to attend should RSVP by Aug. 1 by calling (813) 681-6047 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.