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South Tampa News

Tour shows Tampa's past to older history fans

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 04:52 PM
TAMPA -

A canopy of oak trees shades the graves of some of Tampa's most famous residents, more than a few of whom would be forgotten if not for chiseled markers that tell the bare bones of their lives.

Cigar baron Vicente Martinez Ybor is here. So is John T. Lesley, the man who sold Ybor the land that became Tampa's immigrant melting pot and the cigar capital of the world.

William Ashley, Tampa's first city clerk, rests beside Nancy, a slave who lived with Ashley openly as his common law wife.

"If for no other reason this makes Oaklawn a very unusual place," says Fred Hearns, owner of Tampa Bay History Tours.

Recently Hearns made the city's first public burial ground, Oaklawn Cemetery, the first stop for about 30 people on his bus tour through some of Tampa's historical neighborhoods: Ybor City, Tampa Heights, Hyde Park and Bayshore Beautiful.

Many just had completed a course on local historical neighborhoods as part of a continuing education program for older adults at the University of South Florida's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The institute, also known as OLLI, offers courses, field trips and lectures throughout the year.

"I'm always interested in historical things," says former teacher Pat Allen. When she taught at Hillsborough High School she sometimes did walking tours in Seminole Heights to show off architectural styles.

The bus tour was a special treat. In most cases, Allen says, "I'll travel to other cities and delve into the history there."

The Oaklawn ramble highlighted Tampa's diversity: black and white, rich and poor, the famous and the nameless.

"We have to tell our history, good, bad and ugly," says Joseph McAuliffe, USF'S OLLI coordinator.

A small slab beneath an oak tree immortalizes Adam, "a black slave lynched Dec. 16, 1859."

Nearby is Fortune Taylor, a former slave and baker, who bought 33 acres and in partnership with Hugh McFarlane built Fortune Street bridge, the first span across the Hillsborough River and once the only link between East and West Tampa.

One-time gambling king and later mob snitch, Charlie Wall, lies in a family plot with his father, John Wall, a doctor who discovered that mosquitoes carried yellow fever.

OLLI serves about 1,200 students. One frustration is that not enough of them are from Tampa's minority communities, McAuliffe says.

The program has coordinated with Centro Asturiano for outreach to the Latino community. The social club is one of six that flourished from the early 1900s when cigar workers populated Ybor City.

OLLI board member Pat Spencer is guiding outreach to the black community, most recently speaking with members of a street-based ministry, Pastors on Patrol. She also has invited speakers to participate in OLLI programs and lectures, including Walter Smith, the former president of Florida A&M University; and Tampa poet James Tokley.

"We have to tell our history," says Spencer, who is former president of Hillsborough County's NAACP branch.

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Port Tampa resident and history buff Carol Curtiss says she is ready for more history.

"We need to have another course and cover more neighborhoods. Port Tampa for one," she says. "There's a lot to talk about."

Curtiss is an artist who as part of a restoration project repainted a ceramic tile nameplate adorned with portraits of Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo. The nameplate is on the outer wall of the 110-year-old Sociedad La Union Marti-Maceo at the Seventh Avenue gateway into Ybor.

The club was one of the sights along the bus tour route. Other stops included the restored Tampa Union Station, near Ybor City; the former black business district of Central Avenue; and Centro Asturiano, the starting and ending point for the tour.

Temple Terrace residents Lou Currie and her husband, Allen, ages 77 and 78 respectively, have been OLLI members for about a dozen years. Favorite subjects include genealogy, music and history. "There's something for everyone," says Lou Currie.

OLLI's summer sessions are just getting under way.

"These are people who get excitement and value and almost can't get enough of learning," says McAuliffe.

Nationally there are more than 110 Osher institutes named for founder and philanthropist Bernard Osher. The institutes generally craft programs for people age 50 and older. McAuliffe says most students at USF's program are 65 to 80 years old. But sometimes there are students younger than age 50; and, in one case, much younger: age 14.

"We're open," McAuliffe says.

For information on the Osher Institute at USF programs, call McAuliffe at (813) 974-5166 or visit the website at www.usfseniors.org.

ksteele@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7652

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