They come to the Old Lutz School, on U.S. 41, bearing casserole dishes and memories to share.
These are men and women who have deep roots in Lutz and Land O’ Lakes.
Their families helped settle the area, and every year they come to celebrate the connections they feel to the community and each other.
The size of the annual gathering has diminished over time, as people have died or can no longer attend.
“We have some people who won’t be with us anymore, like Cliff Dennison, bless his heart. He used to do this with me. He’s in a nursing home now,” said Annie Fernandez, the event’s organizer.
“This year, I pretty much did it myself,” said Fernandez, who was born in her grandmother’s front bedroom, off the edge of an orange grove, in 1942.
The annual get-togethers with descendants of Lutz pioneers used to be organized by Elizabeth Riegler MacManus, a local historian, who co-authored with her daughter, Susan A. MacManus, an extensive history of the area called “Citrus, Sawmills, Critters and Crackers: Life in Early Lutz and Central Pasco County.”
Elizabeth MacManus organized the event for 20 years but, after that, Dennison and Fernandez took over the duties.
The group has met in three different locations over the years. First, they gathered at a church, then at the Lutz Community Center, and for the past few years, at the Old Lutz Schoolhouse.
“We have this event every year because everybody likes to get together and chit-chat about things that happened to them a long time ago,” said Fernandez, whose family ties to Lutz date back to around 1920.
It’s a true potluck, said Fernandez said, noting the menu is never known completely until the participants show up with their dish.
At this particular gathering, diners found plenty of options, including fried chicken, broccoli casserole, collard greens, lima beans, potato salad, Swedish meatballs, fresh veggies and other foods. They could wash it down with iced tea and lemonade, and top it off with a piece of cake or other desserts.
Sonya Salter was busy in the food room, arranging items as they came in. Fried chicken was in one spot, salads in another, desserts and so on.
She’s not from Lutz, but came to help both last year and this year because she’s Fernandez’s friend. She said she thinks its great that people get together to share their memories.
Bodde O’ Steen, who was at the gathering, too, said he’s lived in Lutz since 1937.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes. When I got here, there weren’t many people here,” he said, guessing there were about 300 people living in the general vicinity.
People cared about each other, O’ Steen said.
“If you needed help, everybody helped out everybody,” O’ Steen said.
The area has changed enormously over time, he added. “Everything was orange groves and truck farming.”
The Dennison name is widely known in Lutz, with some of the Dennisons spelling the name with two Ns in the middle, while others use just one.
Regardless of the spelling, the family has strong ties to the area.
The Dennisons came to Lutz shortly after the Coopers, who arrived in Lutz in 1832, said Jim Dennison, a family historian.
“Allen Scott Denison drove the stage coach from Fort Brook, which is Tampa to Fort King, which is now Ocala. That was the Concord-Apopka Stagecoach Company.
“They carried the U.S. Mail. And he lived off County Line Road,” he said.
Jim Dennison’s family lived near the intersection of State Road 54 and Livingston Road.
“Where the Raceway’s gas station canopy is — that’s where our house stood,” said Jim Dennison, who moved away from the area for 22 years but came back when his parents needed him.
He’s been attending the descendants’ gatherings since around 1982.
“My dad (Milford Dennison) used to like to come out, and I would bring him,” Jim Dennison said.
He keeps coming because he enjoys the event.
“This is my family — my family and childhood friends,” Jim Dennison said. “Old-timers like to get together and tell stories on one another.”
“A lot of people just like to come in and chat, and have a little refreshment. We have a good time,” Fernandez said.
Published October 14, 2015