Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Old LaBelle

Commentary by Terry Hamilton-Wollin

Perhaps you never knew the 'old" LaBelle. That was surface-gentility made up of tough pioneer stock. These were folks who were willing to leave their homes and familiar things to try a new life in an unknown and very rugged environment.On surface the life was easy, a lovely tidal flow with folks ritualistically heading out to call on the ill and infirm. It was their duty.

Ladies played afternoon bridge, wearing their mother's pearls, and hoed the acre-or-so vegetable garden before the sun went down. Henry Goodno had a vision of a better life and made it his life's work to attract settlers to the untamed territory of LaBelle. And they came. They endured snakes, malaria, annual floods, tropical heat and loneliness, but they came and they stayed. The town grew, and grew civilized.

A part of that history was the cobbler, Joe Risley. From what I can tell, Joe came to LaBelle c 1910 from Tampa, and shortly his young son Joe Jr joined him. He lived in his shoe shop, and raised young Joe there. As the generations grew, so did the number of Joseph Roland Risleys: Joe Jr, then Joseph III "Pete" and finally Joseph IV "Jody." Joe Sr died in 1977 at approximately 85 years of age. 

Tragically, Joe IV, Jody, was killed in a car wreck in 2005.A few months later Joe Jr died at age 85 yrs. Then just this week, Joe III, Pete, died at the very young age of 63 yrs. His funeral is today. Joe Sr died before LaBelle began to change, and Jody was young enough that he never knew the way it used to be. But both Jr and III saw the unbelievable changes, the flight from a small town to larger cities, the influx of new residents. Everything changed.

And this week the last of 4 generations of pioneer LaBelle stock left us. There is no Joseph V to follow. That important piece of our history is finished. It is remarkable that the town could have changed so much in such a short, 4 generations actually, period of time. I can't help wondering whether there is anyone left to notice, or to care.

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