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Safety Harbor's new fitness center addition to the Community Center, under construction. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

History, People, and Places Series: A City Dedicated to Youth and Recreation – with thanks to Superman!

in city hall/news

In the mid-twentieth century, The Safety Harbor Spa was a luxurious winter haven for New York’s wealthy. Many guests got to know the workers and would request their favorite server or attendant year after year. In 1955 and for several years thereafter, one such visitor was Harry Donenfeld, owner of DC Comics, publisher of Superman.

[Photo/Laura Kepner]

Longtime resident Betty Lou Douglas, recalls being a teenager in Safety Harbor in the late 1950s. “Harry Donenfeld somehow found out there was nothing for us to do,” she said. “He may have gotten to know some of our parents who worked at the Spa.

We would walk from one end of town to another—we just hung out. Maybe he felt sorry for us. We were pretty much on our own.”

Whatever his reasons, Donenfeld donated funds to build a youth center. The 70’ x 30’ concrete block building was located close to where the Rigsby Recreation Center now stands, on 2nd Street North. “It faced sixth,” Douglas recalls, “it was located where the retention pond is now.”  

In April, 1957, the Safety Harbor Herald claimed the opening ceremony had “one of the largest crowds in the history of Safety Harbor.”

“We had to find the money to make it nice inside,” Douglas said.  “Seems to me we painted it turquoise and black. There was a lady in town named Carmel Creach. She got the idea that all of us kids could participate in a lip-synch to old songs. It was called Sentimental Journey. We made money. We bought a stereo system, a ping pong table. Our parents made the costumes. It was so good they booked us to go to the Clearwater Yacht Club. We even got to meet Guy Lombardo.” 

It cost a dime to get in to the youth center and the parents chaperoned. “You had to sign in and sign out,” recalled Douglas. “You were allowed to sign in and out twice. After your second sign-out, you could not get back in, and parents could always look at those books.

“We were very safe, but everybody knew your business. My two nieces grew up here. One is now back and she has two boys. Their lives are very much like I had,” she said. “They ride their bikes; they go to the pier to fish.”

Donenfeld continued to support the center and he even mailed comics from time to time. People who remember the youth center recall when he made a surprise visit. He apparently walked into a board meeting and donated the money for a new, larger TV set so the kids wouldn’t ‘ruin their eyes’.

Youth opportunities have expanded since then.

Now, sixty some years after Harry Donenfeld took an interest in Safety Harbor’s youth, the City employs a large staff dedicated to encouraging residents to take advantage of the opportunities that promote active lifestyles. Today, residents enjoy a community center, a recreation center, numerous parks and a thriving library.  In fact, the community center will soon house a fitness center that will be approximately 2,000 square feet of workout area. Equipment will include cardio, strength training, and free weights.

In an email, Shannon Schafer, Safety Harbor’s Recreation Superintendent, wrote, “The Fitness Center is a product of our commitment to our Health goal in keeping our residents active. Participants can also seek consultation from one of our staff for an orientation of the equipment or sign up with a personal trainer to create a more individualized plan to meet their fitness goals. 

 “The new addition will be open seven days a week and we will have daily, monthly and annual rates. The annual rate breaks down to only $.28 / day for residents of Safety Harbor.  The hours are flexible to meet a variety of participant schedules.”

The targeted date for the grand opening is November 16th  from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.

There have been many changes with our recreational opportunities over the past sixty years but maybe it all started thanks to a real-life  Superman.

Note: A portion of this article was first published in REAL Magazine in fall, 2017.

Re-introducing our sustainability column

in town square

I am Laura Grimme’ McCullough and I’ve lived in the area since 1998. I’ve raised three children here and have been an active volunteer for many of those years. I’m also a Registered Nurse in a local hospital.

I have has always been interested in sustainability, but these issues went from the back to the front burner when my first granddaughter was born. Suddenly, the future wasn’t something far off; it was here, now. I chose to become an even stronger role model to my grandchildren and hopefully, make a difference for yours as well. I’m involved with Indivisible Safety Harbor, a political action group,  but this forum will be used strictly for sustainability concerns. 

Being passionate about our beautiful community, state, country, and planet, I write to share information, encourage positive actions, and strengthen our relationships so that all future generations will continue to enjoy what we continue to work hard to protect. Please look for my articles in future installments. Check back often for more helpful tips on sustainability.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade

Costa Rican children receiving new shoes.
Costa Rican children receiving new shoes. (Photo/Café Vino Tinto)

Shoes for Kids: From Safety Harbor to Costa Rica

in town square

Tucked away on the side of a commercial building and adjacent to a parking lot is a charming little coffee shop that has become a favorite spot for Safety Harbor locals.  Café Vino Tinto recently celebrated their third anniversary and are planning to move to a larger location next spring.

Café Vino Tinto, 737 Main Street, opened in 2016 and has expanded from their original, basic walk-up window. They now have a covered patio, seating among the trees, and an indoor air conditioned dining area. The walk-up window is still where you order lattes or a cuppa Joe, but now waffles and frittatas are available Thursday through Sundays. They have proven to be customer favorites with waffle flavors like Cornbread and Wild Blueberry or Lemon Chiffon Cream. Protein Bars and sweets to go are also on the menu. The fresh roasted coffee is a flavorful medium roast developed over years of trial and error.

The café was an unintended side effect of a business transaction entered into by local resident, former mayor, and real estate lawyer Kent Runnells. Runnells has travelled to Costa Rica for years for fishing and boating trips. In 2008, while hiking with a friend, he happened upon a coffee farm in the Tarrazu Region south of San Jose and was struck by its beautiful setting. They learned the farm was for sale and decided to purchase the 17 acre operation. One of the views from the farm was of a high waterfall that the locals say “flows like red wine.” The name of the café came from the image of that waterfall and the bagged coffee is labelled The Waterfall Coffee.

The existing farmers continue to operate the farm and Runnells spent several years learning about the region, the coffee business, and the art of roasting. For his share of the concern, he took payment in coffee beans and soon had sacks stored all over his house. He perfected his roasting process through trial and error and in 2012 started selling his coffee from local outlets and a stand at Safety Harbor Third Friday events. They could sell 800-1,000 cups in 4 hours. 

In June of 2016 the retail location became available and Runnells and his daughter Logan decided to open a shop. Logan has a background in Food and Beverage, but had no experience with coffee as a business. The trial and errors continued with roasting test and commercial espresso machines. The Runnells have perfected a slow roasting process that results in a complex, medium roast, deep flavored, smooth coffee. They estimate they’ve roasted 25,000 pounds of beans since the business started. Logan learned about the nuances of each roast, blending and testing to identify flavor profiles they’re happy with. Their loyal clientele attest to the success of their efforts. Kent has lived in Safety Harbor for 33 years and has his business on Main Street. They both appreciate the extraordinary support that this town provides to local entrepreneurs.

Kent Runnells visits the farm several times a year and has gotten to know the farmers and the pickers. Many of the laborers picking beans are indigenous peoples, primarily from Panama. Most of them are poor and can’t afford expensive imported items like sneakers. Almost all of the worker’s children had no shoes, so about 5 years ago Kent began to bring children’s shoes with him in his luggage. 

Soccer is the predominant sport in Central America and every town has a soccer field, so he began to hand out shoes at the soccer fields. About a year ago Runnells learned about a children’s mission in the area run by Ryan and Lauri Bickel. Under the Faith Ministries umbrella, the Bickels house neglected children and also run a center that feeds about 75 children daily, so Runnells now funnels the shoes through their program.

The Café welcomes donations of new and gently used children’s shoes.  Sneakers with cleats would be extremely welcome, since soccer is so popular in Costa Rica. Yellow and orange are the most popular colors.  Shoes are very costly there, partly due to a 30% import duty, so they have a disproportionately high status in the culture.

So far, Safety Harbor area residents have provided overwhelming support to the Shoes for Kids effort. One local student led a drive at Safety Harbor Middle School and collected over 100 pairs of shoes. If you would like to donate shoes, you can bring them to the café or drop them off on the patio. only children’s shoes are needed, not socks or clothes.

Herb Safety

in town square

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me that their neighbor’s sister’s boss’s cousin’s daughter said they should take some such herb for some such reason, I’d be writing this from the deck of my yacht while enjoying a perfectly chilled Cristal instead of at a cramped desk on an aging Mac with a ring on the wood under my teacup.  Nonetheless, as I go about extolling the value of botanical medicines, I feel compelled to occasionally stress their sensible use.

We know that plants can heal. We know that the risk of side effects is typically very low. Still, it’s vital that you understand the properties of what you’re taking and why. Just because an herb was effective for your co-workers distant relative doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you.

Popularity can breed confusion, and when it comes to herbal remedies the best advice I can offer is:  do your own research. Gain a basic understanding of the human body and how it works. Understand the condition you’re seeking to treat and the remedy you decide to use. Invest in a few natural health books, the first of which should be Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Balch), an easy to use comprehensive guide. Of course you’ll find plenty of information on the Internet, but there’s a lot of misinformation too, particularly on sites bent on selling you something.  Personally, I stick with science-based research on sites like Livestrong or PubMed.  Be selective. Accept that your health is your responsibility and never forget that knowledge is power.

So, you’ve learned how the body works, what your treating, what remedy to choose and how best to use it. You’ve already checked to make sure there are no possible interactions with any pharmaceuticals you might be taking. Now, you’re going to look for a quality natural product. I have nothing against big box stores, but I’ll remind you of that old adage: you usually get what you pay for.  Unless you’re ordering directly from the manufacturer, I’d be wary of on-line stores. Call me old fashioned, but I want to hold a product in my hand –and check the expiration date– before I plunk down my hard earned cash.  Visit your local independently owned health food store instead, where you’ll get valuable assistance you simply won’t get from a stock clerk at the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly.

It’s important to resist the urge to go overboard and grab 3 or 4 different remedies to treat the same condition. How are you going to know which one is working?  Start with one, and if you don’t get the desired results move on to the next. 

Ok. You have your remedy… now, you’re going to follow the label instructions. Pay attention here: just because some is good doesn’t mean more is better. The majority of reported adverse events are the result of a lack of research into the product, its action, or a failure to follow the dosing instructions. When you get started on your journey with natural medicine I recommend building a reference for future use in the form of a health journal, where you record what you used, how you used it, and how well it worked. When illness strikes you don’t want to waste time with something you tried before that didn’t get the job done.  I firmly believe in self-sufficiency through health-sufficiency, and this is as good a place to start as any.

Nutritional supplements and herbal remedies are widely available, can be wonderfully effective, and –contrary to popular belief– are heavily regulated. But you gotta use your head.  When your neighbor’s sister’s boss’s cousin’s daughter has a suggestion, accept it graciously but disregard it completely… until you’ve done your own research.

Finally, if you have a serious or chronic health condition, don’t self-treat without the assistance of a trained professional, or if you use a natural remedy and don’t get better after a few days, it would be wise to check in with your doctor.

This information is provided for educational purposes, and is not intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor should it be considered a substitute for the expert care of a qualified medical professional.

Graphic courtesy Forward Pinellas(Screenshot/Duncan Kovar)

Add your voice for the future of transportation in Pinellas

in city hall/news

It’s time again to give your opinion to Forward Pinellas, our consolidated planning board responsible for both land use and transportation. The 25-year look-ahead transportation plan, named Advantage Pinellas, will eventually spell out preferred methods and locations- prioritizing between transit, roads, bike & pedestrian access.

Give your opinion to Forward Pinellas, our consolidated planning board responsible for both land use and transportation. The 25-year look-ahead transportation plan, named “Advantage Pinellas,” will eventually spell out preferred methods and locations- prioritizing between transit, roads, bike & pedestrian access. Take just 5-10 minutes and give your opinion.

Long range plans become mid-range projects, then short term schedules. Items not spelled out years in advance run the risk of someday not receiving federal or state funding grants. Getting today’s long-range plan correct is not just an exercise. And your opinion matters.

Take the survey

Click on and tell them your priorities. At the end, view how your neighbor’s replied. Forward the survey link to other Safety Harbor residents. Invite your neighbor who doesn’t get online – but may use and need public transportation – over to take it, too. This will give the planning department the widest citizen feedback possible.

Remember: 25 years in the future a new generation of residents will need new solutions to new transportation problems. Will we even be here? Take the survey- its only 5-10 minutes of your time. When you do, be thinking about the future of Safety Harbor and Pinellas County.

The survey will be open through the month of July.

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