Developer and longtime South Tampa resident Earl Ware Sr. smiled brightly and shook hands with family member after family member who came to congratulate him on his 100th birthday.
"I've taken good care of myself," said Ware, who now lives at Hudson Manor on Davis Islands. "I never smoked and I never drank."
Ware, who once turned a 400-acre rural stretch of Brandon into a bustling commercial area, said during his recent party that he was thankful and delighted to live a century.
"I feel really good," he said. "Really do."
Ware, who turned 100 on June 18, has lived in South Tampa since 1946. The father of five, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of 29 and great-great-grandfather of five was born about 25 miles west of Gainesville and graduated from high school in Orlando.
At age 18, in the early years of the Great Depression, Ware found himself looking for work. He offered to work for Badcock Furniture in Lakeland for commissions only. He went on to become a dealer for the furniture chain, with retail stores in Avon Park, Sebring, Lake Placid, Frostproof and Okeechobee City.
Ware decided to go into the construction business in 1960, lured partly by growth in Tampa and partly by the opportunity to buy a franchise in steel buildings that were less costly to erect than concrete block buildings.
In the 1960s, Ware's specialty was building commercial and industrial buildings. Often that meant finding suitable locations for customers and even securing financing.
Land he bought near U.S. 301 and State Road 60 in 1971 – for $5,500 an acre – went on to house houses car dealerships, a motel, a large shopping center, furniture galleries, commercial and industrial buildings and a high-rise office building.
Ware also spearheaded the drive to obtain the charter for Fort Brooke Savings and Loan, later Fort Brooke Bank, in 1981. The bank was located for years in a high-rise building on Ware Boulevard off State Road 60 – until it was bought by Colonial Bank in 1996. Ware was Fort Brooke chairman for 12 years.
"He was a guy with a high school education but a pioneering spirit," grandson Trey Traviesa said. "He was an entrepreneur at heart and he had no fear."
Traviesa said his grandfather had a knack and passion for business but also is a great family man.
"He's the quintessential patriarch of a Christian, close, loving family," Traviesa said.
Ware now is blind and has dementia, but his long-term memory is good and his appetite is voracious, daughter Linda Traviesa said. She described her father as a modest man who exudes love and always keeps his word, and she said Ware always does everything in moderation – except when it comes to chocolate.
Roughly 100 family members attended Ware's birthday party a few weeks ago at the Tampa Yacht & Country Club on Interbay Boulevard.
Ware said he was delighted to have such a loving family and to have lived so long.
Asked how many more years he expects to live, Ware smiled.
"That's up to the Lord," he said.