BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Yvonne Wilson fondly remembers her childhood days romping around the house her grandpa built. His own sweat beading on his brow while his hands worked to not only build but also remodel the home he lived in with his wife, and his two granddaughters that he raised.
“I think if he had gone to school he would have been an architect,” said Wilson who recalls carrying bricks along with her sister to help out her grandpa. “It was gorgeous the way he did it, it was one of the nicest houses.”
But a few years ago the house that grandpa built, the house Wilson deemed the pride of the block, was demolished. A ward of the court after the passing of both her grandparents some 13 years ago, the house which back in the day had a quaint front porch and back porch to boot, was just a ramshackle of cement and wood.
“It was home,” she said remembering how the residents of the area were all a close-knit bunch. How everybody knew everybody. “There was a lot of love in there.”
Still living in St. Petersburg on the south side of town, Wilson made a point once the house started deteriorating to avoid the land where she once grew up, its vacancy too much for her to bear. And even though she still attends the same church along Ninth Avenue South and 21st Street that she did when she was little, Wilson would cringe when she had to witness all her grandpa’s hard work amount to a deserted plot just whistling in the wind. The oak tree she once planted along with her sister regally standing there, a reminder of what once was.
But not anymore.
Wilson realized as she entered St. Petersburg College (SPC) along 22nd Avenue South to see about signing up for classes, that the new Midtown campus was scheduled to be built right over her grandpa’s plot. Right where her old house used to stand.
Wilson admits her grandparents never walked through the doors of a college, not even graduating high school. But the idea that the land they used to own is now the future site of some 45,000 square feet of concrete block, brick and mortar – an institution that stands for learning at its best – is something she knows her grandparents would be tickled pink to hear.
“I’m just happy,” Wilson said although she still feels sad with the way her childhood home just ebbed away. “I’m just happy there is something good that came out of it.”
And although the oak tree that she held dear for so long was uprooted in preparation for the new SPC campus, Wilson has other memories to hold onto. Raised on religion, there was a lot of prayer going on. “My granddaddy was the one that actually kept the family together,” she said as she recalled family dinners, birthday parties and going to Sunday service.
Now Wilson is hoping having a college on her old stomping grounds will bring the high quality to the neighborhood that it deserves. That it has been lacking since its heyday in the 50s and 60s. “When a college is going up in the area, it can’t be anything but for the better,” said Wilson. Such is progress.
At 55, Wilson wants to finally fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. “It’s always been my passion,” she said, “but life somehow or another just keeps you from doing your passion in life.”
Wilson tried twice before to earn her degree, only to give up her dream to marry and then again when she fell ill trying to do too much as once. “Too many irons in the fire,” said Wilson.
And now not only may her dream of heading back to school come true, but the icing on the cake will be walking through the doors of the new college knowing that she used to once call it home.
“Knowing me I would be like, ‘this was my room right here, this is the kitchen,’” she joked thinking how neat it would be walking through the prestigious hallways of the school.
The modern glass windows designed to overlook the four-acre campus would probably not even phase Wilson who may strike up a tune humming the old church hymns grandpa would sing as he read his bible, sitting on the porch late at night.
Perhaps when she sits down in the newly constructed library to read over her notes, visions of when she was a little girl hoarding the one and only bathroom in the house in order to read her favorite book, to the ire of her grandpa, will fill her head.
Yes, when the college stands there promising its new patrons bustling around the corridors the hopes of laying a foundation for their new lives, Wilson will have other things on her mind. “It will always be home,” she said, a reminder of an old life that paved the foundation of her future.
The $14 million SPC Midtown campus, which will be named after Douglas I. Jamerson, Jr., a former state legislator and Florida Education Commissioner, is set to be finished in March of next year with the new classes scheduled for May 2015.