Friends of Ridgecrest Senior Holiday Gala honors area seniors

FOR President Wanda McCawthan and board member Vernon Bryant

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

LARGO – In a historic area initially settled and developed by Black families who were not allowed to live within the City of Largo’s limits, the Friends of Ridgecrest, Inc. (FOR) have continued to support the Greater Ridgecrest Area residents for more than 40 years.

A manifestation of that support was this year’s Senior Holiday Gala Drive-Through held Dec. 13. The 10-year-old event — typically held indoors at the Ridgecrest YMCA — was conducted this year as a drive-thru due to COVID-19 restrictions at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, 13255 118th St. N.

Shiloh MBC, led by Pastor Willie D. McClendon, was the perfect location to enable seniors to drive up, remain in their vehicle, and receive the love and attention of volunteers, who met them with warm smiles and arms full of holiday cheer. Pastor Steve Sorrell Pastor of Christ Church of Universal Love also shared a prayer over the event.

Soulful holiday sounds pumped from the speakers of John D. Feazell’s “Fea Funk Productions” sound system as area seniors cruised through the church driveway. Greeted by the volunteers decked out in Santa hats, they receive freshly prepared dinners with all the fixings.

FOR President Wanda McCawthan shared, “This is the 10th year of the Friends of Ridgecrest Senior’s Gala. We normally would do it inside the Ridgecrest Y – full blow-out with all the decorations and everything, but this year because of COVID-19, we couldn’t. But we were still going to recognize our seniors for everything they’ve done for this community, and it turned out beautifully.”

McCawthan extended special thanks to the area churches that continue to help throw the event over each year, as well as the Ridgecrest Y, Young Life, GRAYDI, Pinellas Senior Services, and other community support networks.

The Greater Ridgecrest area is bordered by Largo on three sides and is comprised of 11 neighborhoods: Ridgecrest, Taylor Lake, Harmony Homes, Oak Village, Baskins, Baskins Heights, Rainbow Village, Martin Terrace, Kerry Court, Gulf Terrace and Dansville.

FOR board member Vernon Bryant noted the organization was initially started by several influential white families who wanted to help the Ridgecrest community survive. Later, community members took control – including the husband and wife team of Tasker and Daisy Pearl Beal, who were among the area residents that helped the community grow.

Daisy Beal was the first secretary of FOR. Before she married, and as soon as she finished business school, she began serving as secretary.

Her husband was the esteemed Tasker Beal, whose name blesses the community center that houses FOR. Tasker Beal, a physicist who worked at first for General Electric and later for Constellation Technology Corp, was directly responsible for bringing paved streets, streetlights and fire hydrants to the then-still rural area.

Daisy Beal remembered when Blacks weren’t allowed to live in the City of Largo.

“There were several families that owned quite a bit of property here, and they purchased property here,” she said, noting that one of those people was her father-in-law, and another was Dan Henry, for whom the Dansville neighborhood is named.

Henry worked in the orange groves owned by J.A. Walsingham, as did others who would come to live on the land Henry and his brother began purchasing in 1928. (Listen to Henry’s son, Moses Henry, discuss how his father and others brought the land in The Floridian.)

Bryant praised the community-minded spirit of the area and acknowledged the seniors’ contributions who were being honored.

“It was an idea to celebrate the seniors — the people that have bought us through and bought us over, these folks that are 65, 75, 85, 95; we got a couple of 100-year-old folks that live in the community,” added Bryant.

“This community has a rich history; generations have lived here. And it is just a blessing to be able to celebrate them and celebrate on our legacy, and the legacy of this community.”

Regular FOR activity includes the weekly thrift shop, open on Wednesdays.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com

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