About Our Parish

Humble Beginnings

SCHLOSSER, WILLIAM J., 83 of Sebring, Florida, died December 30, 2014. He was born in Sebring and a graduate of Sebring High School, then served in the U.S. Army. Bill retired from the Eight Air Depot and Lesco. A member of Sebring Historical Society and former member of Highlands Lakes Regional Automobile Club and a member of St. Catherine Catholic Church. He had an amazing memory and he shared in February 1, 2007 what he remembered about the history of our Church.

Memories of Bill Schlosser

I still remember my dad telling me when I was a small boy there was no Catholic Church here in the teens. A priest would come over from Tampa on Sunday morning. They would have mass in people’s homes. At that time, it was a mission of Sacred Heart Church in Tampa. The first mass here was celebrated by the Rev. Father Charles Lashley in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Varena, also in the homes of other families.

Kenilworth Lodge was built in 1916 and 1917 by a man named Cope. He married a Sebring. They also had mass in Kenilworth. The lot was given by George Sebring, the town’s founder, when the first St. Catherine’s Church was built on the south side of Hickory Street. There is a picture of the first St. Catherine’s Church that says it was built in 1926. This is incorrect. My mom came here in November of 1923. St. Catherine’s had just been completed before she came. Later it was part of St. Augustine Diocese.

I still remember my dad and mom saying. The first resident priest here was Father Patrick O’Brien, followed by Father Michael Reynolds. Then Father James Cann came from 1937 to 1942. Father Cann is the first priest that I can remember. He lived in the house on the corner, the north side of Eucalyptus and the east side of Lakeview Drive. That same house is still there today. About 1939, St. Catherine’s built a house on the north side of Hickory Street about 50 feet west of the church. When that house was completed, that was the church rectory. Father Cann moved in there. Then from 1942 to 1946, Father Charles Moore lived there; from 1946 to 1950, Father M.J. Fogarty lived there; from 1950 to 1954 Father Francis Dixon lived there; and from 1954 to 1960, Father Emed D. Heiring lived there. They all lived in that rectory on the north side of Hickory Street.

At the end of World War II, they closed Hendricks Field down. They sold most of the barracks buildings. Some of them were moved around town. People made houses out of them. One of them was moved on the east side of St. Catherine’s. Several years later, they built another room and a carport out of concrete blocks onto the west side of the barracks house. In 1955, St. Catherine’s bought the old barracks house on the east side of the church. 

Father Heiring moved out of the rectory on the north side of Hickory Street and moved in the old barracks house on the east side of the church. In September of 1955, St. Catherine’s made a convent out of the old rectory on the north side of Hickory Street that Father Heiring moved out of. It was staffed by Sister Anette Superior, Sister Mary Martha, and Sister Mary Thomas. Then in 1960 to 1965 Father John C. Vann; from 1965 to 1967 Father J. Cassidy; from 1967 to 1972 Father Gerald Grogan; from 1972 to 1976 Father Edward Schneider; and from 1976 to 2003 Father Jose H. Ruiz. They all lived in the old barracks rectory. Father Ruiz lived in the old barracks rectory for about three years.

St. Catherine’s built the new rectory on Bay Street. Father Ruiz moved in the new rectory on Bay Street. In 2003, Father Jose A. Gonzalez took up residence in the rectory on Bay Street and lives there at the present time. When you went in the door at the old St. Catherine’s and turned left and went over to the wall, there were steps that went up into a loft.

The Hestons were one of the early pioneer families here. Mildred Heston played the organ for years. Her brothers, Sleepy and Jug, were both ushers for years. I still remember in the 1930s and 1940s and the early 1950s, there were about a half dozen families from Avon Park and one family from Lake Placid coming to St. Catherine’s.

I saw in the News-Sun back in June of 2005 that William Helm died. I still remember when we were kids. I used to see him almost every Sunday. The Heims were one of the Avon Park families that used to come to St. Catherine’s. I was talking with William’s brother, Jim. Jim told me that his family moved to Avon Park in 1920 from Butler, Pennsylvania. Jim said his dad was an architect. He built the Jacaranda Hotel in about 1925. The Jacaranda Hotel opened in October of 1926. He also built the City Hall building and the Brickell building in the 1920s. Jim told me he was born in a three-story house on the second floor in Avon Park on December 7, 1921. I forgot the name of the street he told me the house was on.

At the end of World War Il, Hendricks Field closed. A short time after that, I remember my dad and mom coming home from town one day. They said Arehart was up town cutting the church in two. There were good many people that were stationed at Hendricks Field who made their homes here after the war. Also, some civilians that worked at Hendricks Field made their homes here. The town was growing. St. Catherine’s Church became too small. They moved the back half back about fifteen feet. They built a new section in the middle.

St. Agnes Episcopal Church was on the north side of Hickory Street and about fifty feet east of St. Catherine’s. Someone did a write-up on St. Agnes Episcopal Church in the 1987 Sebring 75th Anniversary book. They said in the beginning in the middle of 1920 it was located on North Pine Street. Then they moved into a building on East Center Street. Then in 1929, they acquired a duplex house on Hickory Street for $1,000 and remodeled it into a church. The parking lot for St. Catherine’s and St. Agnes’ was Hickory Street. St. Catherine’s parishioners would park from Franklin Street up to the church. Sometimes there would be two or three parked on Franklin Street. St. Catherine’s had a lot on the east side of the church between the church and the barracks house. There was a dirt road that ran down the middle of that lot from Hickory Street to the alley behind the church. People would park on the lawn there. St. Agnes’ people parked on Hickory Street.

In 1954, I was in the service at Camp Carson, Colorado. I got a letter from my mom. She said St. Catherine’s bought 57 acres out in the woods. Then I heard later it was 56 acres; then 54 acres. So I don’t know which number is correct. But anyway, all that was there at the time was palmetto, oak scrub and pine trees. There was no road past that property at that time; just the right of way for US 27.

Radebaugh had a pineapple field about where Alan Jay Chevrolet is today. Then a little south of that was Grotewold Pineapple field. Next to that was Spaulding Easter Lily and Caladium field. Then next to that was the fireworks factory. Then Amos Lunsford had a caladium field behind where Spas, Pools and Patio is today. Horace Whately had a caladium field behind where Sebring Lakeview Plaza is today.

I came home in March of 1955 from the service. About two months later, I bought an old tractor from Horace Whatley. It had been made from an old car. My brother and I went to pull the old tractor home. Lt had double tires on the back with chains on. We were going to take them off, but they were welded to the wheels. I said, “Well, we are going to turn on Hammock Road.” So we took off and got about 100 feet from Hammock Road. There were several men working on the side of the road there. One of the men was Mr. Lewis, who worked for the State Road Department. He flagged us down and was eating us out. He said that this was a brand new road and hadn’t even been accepted yet. He looked up the road where we had just driven. You couldn’t see any marks that those chains had made. He told us to get off the road as soon as we could.

Just a short time after that, US 27 opened from Southgate Shopping Center to Avon Park. It was just a two-lane road at that time. Then in 1966, they put a lot of fill dirt around Lake Jackson. They added two northbound lanes up to Fairmount Drive. Just north of Fairmount Drive, they cut it back into two lanes. It was about 1975 when they four-laned it from Fairmount to Avon Park. Just a short time before it was four-Ianed to Avon Park, there was a sinkhole where it cut back into two lanes.

US 27 opened the summer of 1955 past St. Catherine’s woods. About a year or so after that, St. Catherine’s built a little picnic house. It was at St. Catherine’s woods just off US 27. When St. Catherine’s had any building to do, Jack Arehart always had a helping hand in it. I still remember the first time I saw Edna Simmons and Jack Arehart together. We were having a picnic out at St. Catherine’s woods. I guess it turned into true love. They are still together after all these years.

I took a walk around St. Catherine’s woods one day. I found this big pine tree someone had cut the bark off about 12 inches long and about 12 inches around close to the ground. They had an aluminum pan under where the bark was cut off. I heard the old timers say they would take that pine sap and make turpentine out of it.

At the end of January, 1957, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church was completed in Avon Park. The first mass was February 1957. There was a very large crowd of Sebring people there that Sunday morning.

Jim Heim died March 18, 2006. I was talking with Jim’s nephew, George MacKay. He told me his uncle Jim is the one that drew up the plans for Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Avon Park. Father Heiring said mass at St. Catherine’s in Sebring on Sunday morning. He also said mass at Our Lady of Grace in Avon Park on Sunday morning for about three years.

In an article published in 1987 about St. Agnes, it said that in 1958, a bequest from Blanche Boorom made possible the construction of the three­ unit church complex and rectory on the Lakeview Drive property during the tenure of Father Stuart M. Stewart. This period marked another step forward for with its increased financial prospects, St. Agnes achieved parochial status. The new church was dedicated on January 24, 1960, by Bishop Henry Louttit. The Hickory Street property was then sold to St. Catherine’s parish. I still remember hearing Father Heiring saying St. Catherine’s paid St. Agnes $40,000 for their property on Hickory Street. Father Heiring said that he hoped we did the right thing. My mind is trying to tell me that St. Catherine’s bought St. Agnes’ property in 1958 before they had started the new church. St. Catherine’s let St. Agnes use the old church until they got the new one completed. So I don’t know which one of us is right. The same building I can remember being there in the 1930s was still there when St. Agnes sold it to St. Catherine’s. St. Agnes had just built a new church hall building on the east side of the church shortly before they sold it. Then in the 1960s, that gave St. Catherine’s some more of Hickory Street to park on.

I still remember in the 1940s, there wasn’t anything on Lakeview Drive between St. Agnes’ street and Eastview Street except bay trees and swamp and a very deep hole in Lake Jackson. The Payne boys and I used to swim there. The temperature would be a hundred degrees. You could swim down in that hole in the water and it would be so cool it would be just like ice water down in that hole. I still remember my dad saying back around the first of the 1920s that they pumped sand out of Lake Jackson to put in different places around to build Lakeview Drive.

I went past St. Catherine’ church one afternoon about the end of the 1950s. Father Heiring, Leis Gray and some other fellow were out behind the church digging a hole around a palm tree, which was about six feet tall. It wasn’t a very big tree. Father Heiring said they were going to put the palm in back of Leis Gray’s pickup truck and move it. The next time I saw Father Heiring, he told me they only had one problem: the palm was just too heavy to lift. They had to call a wrecker to come pick up the palm and move it.

St. Catherine’s was again too small. They were getting ready to build another room across the back of the church. They took out some inside wall by the altar. They put several rows of chairs on each side of the altar and also several rows of chairs in the new room behind the altar. They moved the organ and choir to the left side of the altar. Then they took out the loft in the back of the church.                                                                               

St. James Catholic Church was built in about 1962 in Lake Placid.

On July 10, 1965, Mildred and I were married in St. Catherine’s. Father Cassidy was the priest that married us. Father Cassidy had only been here about a month at that time. Father Cassidy started remodeling St. Catherine’s. There was new red carpet put in, and a dropped ceiling. They took out the two big fans on the altar and put in air conditioning. Jack Arehart again had a hand in that remodeling. Phil LaRose was an electrician. George Conway was Phil’s helper. They did the electrical wiring. They just completed the remodeling before Christmas.

Mildred and I got out of the car at St. Catherine’s at midnight on Christmas Eve. Betty Lou (Arehart) Heston walked over to us. She told us that Phil LaRose had a wreck early that evening. He ran into a steel light post on North Lakeview Drive and was killed.

In October of 1966, we had a phone put in our home. They must have given us Phil’s old number. We would get phone calls from people wanting to speak to Phil LaRose. We would just have to tell them we were sorry, but this phone line didn’t reach up to heaven.

Several years before the new St. Catherine’s was built, the convent was empty. Joe Michigan and his wife had the parishioners bring their aluminum cans and aluminum pie plates and drop them off in the garage behind the convent. Joe and his wife would bag the cans and pie plates up and haul them off and sell them. Then they would give the money to the church. I was talking with Joe after they had been doing this for several years. Joe said that he had the can business built up so well that Reynolds Aluminum was sending a truck right to the church to pick up the cans. By this time, they were getting ready to build the new church.

The convent was torn down in March of 1978. St. Catherine’s also owned the house on the west side of the old St. Catherine’s. Joe and his wife moved the can business into that garage at about the same time the convent was torn down. St. Catherine’s gave the old St. Agnes Episcopal Church building and St. Agnes half away to get them moved. The old St. Agnes church building was moved to Youth Care Lane. When this building was on Hickory Street, the back faced the alley. The back of the building is now facing Youth Care Lane. Several years later, they built onto the other end. That was the front when it was on Hickory Street. The little building that was St. Agnes Church on Hickory Street for so many years is now part of the Rainbow Apostolic Church. St. Agnes Episcopal Church hall was moved to the old Tuscawilla Park on the south side of Fernleaf Avenue. The old St. Agnes church hall building is now the Sebring Bridge Club.

About a year before they started to build the new St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, a drive was organized under the direction of Art Dorman. He was the chairman of the pledge drive. Art died about two months before the new St. Catherine’s Church was completed. Art died September 24 on his brother-in-law’s birthday (Father Sheehan).

The Ed Weaver family was also one of the early families in Sebring. They lived on South Lakeview Drive in the house beside the house that Father Cann lived in. The Weaver family lived there for many years. November 19, 1978, they had the regular three masses in the old St. Catherine’s Church on Sunday morning. Then, Sunday afternoon, they had the dedication and first mass in the new St. Catherine’s Catholic Church. Mrs. Mary Weaver is the person who gave the key to the Bishop for the new church. The house that Weavers lived in is still there today, but it is empty now. The Ed Weaver family is all gone now. March 1981, they tore down the old barracks house that was the rectory. It was replaced with St. Catherine’s Catholic Church hall.

In January of 1982, St. Catherine’s gave the house on the west side of the old St. Catherine’s Church away. It was moved down on State Road 66. That put Joe and his wife out of the can business. In February of 1982, the old St. Catherine’s Church was torn down. They both were replaced with a parking lot. Then sometime in about the middle 1980s, the parking lot along Lakeview Drive between Hickory and Eucalyptus was added. There were four houses along Lakeview Drive for many years. I don’t know if they were demolished or moved somewhere else. Then a little later, the parking lot on the east side of St. Catherine’s Church between the alley and Eucalyptus was added. There was one house there. I don’t know if it was torn down or moved away.

During the summer of 1988, St. Catherine’s was once again too small.  They had mass in St. Catherine’s hall that summer for about three months.  They took out some wall in the back of the church and added more pews. I never did hear when St. Catherine’s sold that property in the woods. St. Catherine’s little picnic house was torn down in April of 1991. They were getting ready to build Lakeshore Mall. Lakeshore Mall opened in February of 1992. Several years later, they built Lakeshore carwash on top of where the little St. Catherine’s picnic house was.

Jack Masters was a sign painter in Sebring for many years. He lived on North Ridgewood Drive in the little house on the north side of the Santa Rosa Hotel. His sign shop was located behind the little house where he lived. About 1980, Jack sold out and retired. He moved into the house on Bay Street next to Father Ruiz, St. Catherine’s rectory.

During the summer of 1984, Jack Masters’ wife traveled out west to visit their children. She died there, and while her body was being shipped back to Sebring, Jack also died. They had a double funeral on July 3, 1984.

I was talking with Rob Gilmore. He told me that a chiropractic doctor lived in the Masters’ house for about six years. Then sometime in the early 1990s, St. Catherine’s bought that house. Rob moved out of that house in 1999, and in about 2000, that house was demolished. It was replaced with St. Catherine’s Catholic Church parish office. Then in about 2002, St. Catherine’s Catholic Youth Care Club was built across the street from St. Catherine’s parish office. The house that had been there for many years was moved somewhere else. Someone gave dance lessons in that house for several years.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there were three McAllister sisters who lived in that house. None of the sisters were married. One of them was handicapped. One took care of her. The other one worked for Tropical State Bank on The Circle in Sebring. She was also one of the eight stockholders in the Lake Placid Tower. The Lake Placid Tower was built in about the middle 1950s.

On June 10, 2006, I was in Fort Lauderdale at the St. Mark Episcopal Church. I could hear the organ playing. I looked all around but I couldn’t see the organ. When I got up and turned around to go out, I saw that there was a loft in back of the church, just like the loft that used to be in the back of the old St. Catherine’s in Sebring.

I went to the John Knight Crawford funeral. John Knight and I were lifelong friends. I still remember the first camping trip I went on. I was only about 10 years old. There were six of us: Leon Tubbs, Neil Durrance, Jimmy Crawford, Howard Crawford, John Knight Crawford and me. John Knight and I were the youngest two there. John Knight and I had a can of beans for supper that night. They made us sleep over at one side of the tent by ourselves. We camped about a quarter of a mile behind the Crawford home in the old Harder Hall subdivision.

John Knight and I were in the second grade together, in Esther Ritter’s room. Mr. and Mrs. Crawford were up town on Saturday morning at the farmer’s market. Jimmy, Howard and John Knight were at home. They were playing cops and robbers. Jimmy and Howard were the cops; John Knight was the robber. They had John Knight on the screened porch, which was the jail. The door coming back into the living room had little plate glass windows. John Knight was going to make a jail break. He took his fist and broke out one of the little windows. He cut his arm. The neighbor, Ike Hart, took John Knight up town to Doctor Boredum. Doctor Boredum told John Knight that he had better be the cop next time... and let those other guys be the robbers!

Doctor Boredum used to be in that building on the corner of Magnolia and South Ridgewood Drive. That building was torn down about two years ago. All that is there now is an empty lot. Today, kids all have computers, cell phones and all these new games. When we were growing up, we didn’t have all that.

Someone had dumped two old Model T car bodies in the woods behind the Crawford house. One of those bodies was Jimmy’s and Howard’s car. The other one was John Knight’s and my car. We spent a good many hours playing in that old car body. We had more fun than a barrel of monkeys playing in that old car body. John Knight found an old rusty little can of black paint. When there wasn’t anybody else around, John Knight and I put that paint on our car. Black was even the original color for that old car body. A few days later, Jimmy and Howard told their mom that John Knight and I had been painting on our car. Mrs. Crawford said that those boys don’t -have any paint; that they couldn’t paint on that old car body.

I was in Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Avon Park on November 27, 2006, the first time in a very long time. I went to Rosemary Lagoni’s funeral. I saw the Lagoni family there. I saw some of the King family, some of the Palmer family and some of the Vilkaitis family. That is four Avon Park families I can remember seeing at St. Catherine’s over fifty years ago now. I still remember seeing Father Grogan at St. Catherine’s, but that hasn’t been quite fifty years ago yet.

I was only five years old. I was going out to Crewsville with my dad. We were on Hammock Road about half-way between Lakewood Road and C.R. 635. On the south side of Hammock Road, there was a tractor that fell in a mud hole. The whole bottom of the tractor was sitting on the ground.

About six years later, I started running around with the Payne boys. The Payne family had a tractor there. One day, their dad was telling us boys that several years ago he was doing some work with that tractor over by Hammock Road. He said that he fell in a mud hole. He said that he had to get some railroad crossties and railroad jacks to get it out of the mud hole.

In November of 1974, we went to Columbia, Tennessee for Thanksgiving. We had just pulled off 165 to go into Columbia when we passed Stan’s Truck Stop. There was an old tractor sitting in the field in front of the truck stop. I told my wife that was an old WD4O McCormick Deering tractor, just like the one the Paynes had. The summer of 1978, we were in Columbia again, and I had just gotten my antique automobile magazine. This fellow in Columbia had a picture of his old car in that magazine. To have something to do, I said that I would give him a call. He wanted me to come on around and see him, so I did. He was a Church of Christ pastor. We had a very nice visit for about an hour or more. He asked me if I saw that old tractor in front of Stan’s Truck Stop. I told him I did, and that when I was growing up, I used to run around with some boys whose family had one just like it. He said that he used to own that old tractor. He was the person who sold that old tractor to Stan’s Truck Stop.

Stan’s Truck Stop put that old tractor out there for the men to look at. They went one step better than that: they put a rose bush beside the old tractor with bright red roses for the women to look at.

During the summer of 1989, I was back in Columbia, Tennessee, and I went back to Stan’s Truck Stop to take a picture of the old tractor. This fellow walked up to me and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Sebring, Florida. He said that he was from Gainesville, Florida and was visiting his son. His son worked for a building contractor in Columbia. I told him I was visiting my daughter and her family. He said that he worked for a building contractor in Gainesville. He said that contractor built that big Catholic Church around the lake in Sebring 30 years ago. He said that he helped build that church. I knew right away that he was talking about St. Agnes Episcopal Church.

That old tractor once was owned by a pastor and here we were standing there beside it talking about church. The old tractor likely felt like it had religion. I was back in Columbia the summer of 1994. The old tractor was still there then. I didn’t get out to Columbia again until September of 2004. The old tractor was gone. Some fellow told me that some man bought the old tractor and restored it. So you see, after that old tractor sat out in the field in front of Stan’s Truck Stop for over 20 years in all the rain, sun, and snow, it missed the graveyard, and was reborn again and got a second chance at life.

 

Growing Through Change

 

Will be updated

Looking to the Future

 

 

 

 

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