A local legend passes

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –From the outside, Connie’s Bar-B-Que may not look like much. A smiling pig with a fist full of bacon painted on its exterior, but for nearly 30 years the barbeque at Connie’s has enticed and mystified all those who take the trip out to 1795 16th St. S. in order to grab a bite of the smokin’ delicious ribs.

“It’s history,” said Melvin Hall, owner and Connie’s son. He took over the business some 15 years ago when his mom wanted to retire. He’s referring to the secret mustard based sauce, of course, but also to the longevity that Connie’s has had in the community.

Connie Legend 2But on Saturday, part of that history was lost. Carneatha “Connie” Siermons, founder of the famous barbeque joint passed away quietly at her home. She would have been 85 in November. “In the transition from this one leaving and that one coming, she died,” said Hall. “She didn’t want to do it when none of us were with her.”

Family members had joined together, taking turns caring for Connie, making sure she always had company. She had muscular degeneration, her health progressively deteriorating over the last few years. A few months ago her doctor recommended placing her in a nursing home, but Hall knew this was the last thing his mom would want. Instead they arranged for Hospice to tend to her at home, making her time left comfortable.

“She never complained a day that she was hurting,” said Hall who routinely asked his mom how she was feeling only to have her reply she was fine. An independent woman all her life, Connie wasn’t one to have anyone fuss over her. In her retirement years she enjoyed gardening, travel and just relaxation. “She lived a good life, yes she did,” said Hall.

Connie Legend 1For nearly an hour, Hall took a trip down memory lane reliving some of his fondest moments with his mom. As a boy, Hall spent most of his time in Georgia living with his grandmother who he was very close to. Each summer his mom would make the trek north and transport him to St. Petersburg where he would learn the ropes.

 “It’s always been a family business,” he said. His sister and nieces all pitching in. Even Hall’s daughter helps out at the local eatery when she can. But staying in St. Pete didn’t stick for Hall until after his stint in the military. He owned his own trucking business for a while taking to the road as much as he could.

But Connie was getting tired. A workhorse, she tirelessly provided for her family not slowing down until the day she decided to retire. “One day when I came in, she told me: ‘You’ve been on the road long enough and I’m tired,’” revealed Hall who immediately sold his truck and started working with his mom to learn the ins and outs of the business.

“I wasn’t really interested in it,” Hall recalled. It wasn’t his lifelong dream, but when he was running the barbeque stand like an old pro, Connie released the reins for good. “She started sneaking on me. Her days at work started getting lesser and lesser.”

A long ago singing sensation, Connie used to hang with Rev. Goldie Thompson, a well-known gospel disc jockey credited for bringing black radio to WTMP in Tampa during the 50s.  A member of Goldie Thompson and the Teenagers, she became a part of history before she even thought about barbeque.

But her greatest accomplishment has to be the feeling of love she left behind in her family and close friends. Hall, the only male among three children is now 66, even though he doesn’t look a day over 45.

“She made sure we had a good life,” said Hall. “She made sure we didn’t want for nothing.” Hall feels his mom prepared him and his sisters for the day when she would no longer be there. “She would always tell us, ‘If anything happened to me, you all will be fine.’”

But her legacy lives on in him. Every time Hall shared a story of his life growing up with Connie, whether it be reminiscing about how she would try on clothes for him before purchasing them to see if they would fit, or how Connie would let him have it, blasting her opinion and then walking away as if it all was settled, water under the bridge, he would laugh, remembering a lifetime of moments in a positive light. “We had our differences, but they lasted about three seconds and then it’d be over,” he chuckled. He remembered being loved.

As a boy, Hall also remembers the kindness his mother would show the community, her patrons and her friends. Each New Year’s, even when she was out on 22nd St. during her decade long tenure at Geech’s BBQ, she would feed anyone who needed a bite to eat.

“You go in there and say you are hungry, you gonna get something to eat,” Hall recalled. “She would not turn anybody down.”

It’s a trait Hall hopes to be able to emulate in the years to come. A lot like his mom in attitude and values, Hall wakes up each day ready to carry on the family name and keep the small barbeque stand up and running for its devoted customers.

“We have customers that have come ever since we’ve been here,” said Hall who takes pride in knowing that for 30 years both the recipe and the service has remained the same. “It’s so funny; they even come the same day every week.”

A memorial for Connie will be held on Friday at Friendship Missionary Baptist, 3300 31st St. S. at 6 p.m. A public viewing will precede it at Smith’s Funeral Home along 18th Ave. S from 4:30 –5:30 p.m.

“We’re taking her back home,” said Hall. The family plans to drive to Georgia where Connie hailed from. In her final months, she expressed a want to return there and on Monday it will become her final resting place.

Connie will be remembered fondly by her customers, her friends and her devoted and loving family.

She leaves behind three children: Beverly Thomas, LaWanda Walker, Melvin Hall; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

One Reply to “A local legend passes”

  1. caren says:

    MRS.CONNIE WILL BE MISSED O THANK GOD FOR OPPORTUNITY OF MEETING HER.

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