If you want to learn a thing or two about local history — particularly as it pertains to Wesley Chapel, Dade City and Zephyrhills — a telephone call to Madonna Jervis Wise will put you on the right track.
Wise has written books about all three communities.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” she said. “We’re sitting in my dining room, and these are some of my family heirlooms that came on a covered wagon from Pennsylvania,” the retired educator said, during an interview in the Zephyrhills home she shares with her husband, Ernie.
Her interest in the history of people, places and things began early.
As a little girl, she would go with her father, who was a farmer in Indiana, as he went out to plow fields.
As he worked, he would have her wait in the home where he was plowing.
“One of those people that I remember, when I was about 6 or 7, was Mrs. Hefley. And, I remember her showing me the crochet work and the tatting work. She would begin to tell me about the family and the experiences they had. I just always made those connections.”
She also recalls spending an enormous amount of time with her grandparents.
“My grandfather was a blacksmith during World War I,” said Wise, who began her career in education as a history teacher.
She’s always been a writer, for as long as she can remember and, wherever she’s worked, people have turned to her to do newsletters and other writing chores.
Her foray into authoring local history books began while she was working as the principal at West Zephyrhills Elementary School and she began compiling information about the community of Zephyrhills.
“I just started researching it,” she said. “I would get more and more stuff. I was like, ‘This has to be preserved.’ That’s kind of how it happened.”
To capture that history, she self-published a book called “Zephyrhills – An Anthology of its History Through Education.”
The book was a family affair. Her husband and daughter, Mamie, edited the volume.
Around the same time, she published a book called “Juanita in Blue,” a four-year project showcasing her mother’s recipes.
“My mother was an extraordinary cook. She ran this little restaurant in Indiana. It was called The Rainbow Café.
“After she passed away, I had all these boxes of recipe cards,” Wise said.
So, she created cookbooks for each of her three kids: Jervis, an attorney in St. Petersburg; Mamie, an attorney in Tampa; and Rachel, who is studying to become an attorney, in Gulfport.
The three community history books that Wise has written are part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.
The publisher, which has now merged with History Press, invited Wise to do a local history book about Zephyrhills. After that, the publisher invited her to do books on Dade City and Wesley Chapel.
Before accepting the offer to do the Dade City book, Wise said she cleared the idea with various groups from the Dade City community because she didn’t want to be presumptuous or intrusive.
Any concerns along those lines were alleviated by Dade City folks who not only encouraged her to pursue the local history book, but helped her in tracking down the documents and photographs that she needed to tell the community’s story.
“It really came together,” Wise said.
Next, she tackled the task of compiling Wesley Chapel’s history.
Figuring out how to approach that took some thought, she said, because unlike Zephyrhills and Dade City — which are municipalities with city records — Wesley Chapel is unincorporated.
So, she turned to genealogy skills to help track down the families who have shaped the community’s history.
Initially, she thought the book would focus primarily on ranching, and would include some ranching artifacts.
But then, she went into some genealogy sites and plugged in some key names, which led to interviews with families.
One interview led to another, and the story of Wesley Chapel emerged.
A desire “to preserve the stories” motivates her to do the research, conduct the interviews, gather the photographs, track other documents and compile the local history books, she said.
Wise said she enjoyed digging into the history of residents who settled in Pasco County, adding they remind her of the people in Patrick Smith’s book, “The Land Remembered.”
“It’s a young history, relatively speaking,” Wise said. It’s an area where “rugged people cleared the land and settled and persevered. I’ve always been drawn to those stories.
“I become really enamored with the people,” Wise added. “That was a hard life. The mosquito-ridden frontier of Florida — no air conditioning.
“It was something else,” she said.
Published September 20, 2017