The Celebrators go way back

How many of you remember Mr. Peabody (a cartoon dog) and Sherman (his adopted, bespectacled, red-headed boy) who appeared in an animated television series in the late 1950s and early 1960s?  Mr. Peabody, the self-proclaimed “smartest being in existence,” invented the “Way Bac Machine” as a birthday present for his son.  Traveling back in time via this amazing contraption, he was able to introduce Sherman to famous people such as Ben Franklin, King Arthur and Leaf Ericson.  They were also able to attend a series of “firsts” – the first golf match, the first bull fight and the first Indianapolis 500.

Join me as I channel Mr. Peabody to roll back the clock to witness some “firsts” for the Celebrators.  Our journey begins in the spring of 1997 when Celebration was in its infancy.  At this time, construction had begun on the Main Village and Lake Evalyn with probably only about 100 or so folks actually living here in town…

During this time, Kathy Johnson was the Executive Director of the Celebration Foundation.  One of her roles was to help shape the “Community” Cornerstone by working with residents to identify and form civic, social and service groups.  (For those of you who may not be aware, the other Cornerstones are: Place, Technology, Education and Health.)  Kathy contacted Jim Bailey, one of our first settlers, to help brainstorm some options.  Jim, in turn, contacted some of his new neighbors to provide additional input.  It was discovered that many of our founders were retired and wanted an avenue to meet and get to know each other.  Conversations continued and it was decided that that there should be a group for our town’s citizens that were at least 50 years young.

Word of this new club spread and 15 individuals gathered for the first meeting in September of 1997 in the Jones Room that was part of the Windmill Tavern at the Golf Club.  Charter members included Rod and Peg Owens, Mike and Lorraine Turner, Dorothy Johnson and, of course, Jim Bailey to name just a few.  Chatting over coffee, the group had many decisions to make.  Arguably, one of the most important decisions was selecting a name for this new organization.  Mike Turner proposed the moniker “Vintage Celebration” as an option but, in Mike’s own words, it “did not go over very well”.  One of the attendees, a Lake Evalyn resident, pointed out that it made them sound “too old” and suggested that the group be called “The Celebrators.”  Perfect!

The obvious choice for first President was Jim Bailey (1997-1998), followed by Gail Donofrio (1999), Rod Owens (2000) and Mike Turner (2001-2002).  Eleven others have held this position in the years since…many serving multiple terms.  Carol Coelho, our current president, has held this post since 2016.

It was during Mike Turner’s term that we began one of our most long-standing traditions – our first “Happy Hour.”  Plans were made with the Celebration Hotel (now the Bohemian) well in advance and the date of Wednesday, September 12, 2001 was selected.  As it turned out, not the best choice.  Just the day before, our nation suffered a vicious, terrorist attack and our country was mourning the loss of thousands of lives.  Because the club had a contract with the hotel, our members still gathered at the appointed time.  Solemnly and almost instinctively, they soon clustered around the piano and began singing patriotic songs.  It was their way of trying to come to terms with the devastation and uncertainty that was left in the wake of such unimaginable violence.

Fast forward to 2020…The Celebrators membership has swelled to 359, however, we are no longer “just a club.“  We have become a fraternity of active seniors promoting service, mutual support, education and, of course, friendship.  As the description of the original “Community” Cornerstone under which we were founded suggests, “The memories and bonds of friendship that result are the glue that holds Celebration together, ensuring a bright, long-lasting future.”  So far, so good…


This article appears in the July edition of the Celebration News