In the news (2000s) ...
Historic little Aripeka church finally joins the information age (2020)
ARIPEKA — God, it is said, works in mysterious ways, and that’s a good thing, because for Joe Sims, the pastor of the historic little Aripeka Baptist Church, there are few things as mysterious as the internet.
“I’m a dinosaur when it comes to computers,” Sims admits, but he likes how much his parishioners are enjoying the church’s website, which went live recently.
In part because joining the information age was long overdue, and in part because some of the church’s members have been hesitant to attend services while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it was decided it was high time for the church to go virtual. The web address is www.aripekabaptistchurch.com.
The web project was spearheaded by Paul Mabry, who lives next door to the church and is its music director and assistant to the pastor. Longtime Aripeka resident, historian and assistant at the little fishing village’s tiny library Lou Charity worked on website planning and its features, while his son Wayne volunteered his time to build it.
“It was a labor of love,” said Sims, who gives 100% of the credit to the three men who “made it happen.”
Since the pandemic, attendance at the church has been off about 50%, estimates Charity. Having the website, which includes weekly videos of sermons that can be viewed from any net-connected computer or smartphone, has been important for some, he added.
The site also keeps parishioners connected to the church, which has been around since 1910 — one of the oldest in the region. Prayer requests can be submitted via the site, a feature some already have are made good use of, said Sims. Until the pandemic subsides, he’s happy parishioners have an alternative to attending in person if they are uncomfortable being in public.
Though all the services, including the Sunday school are now operating at the church, Sims understands that some, particularly the more vulnerable elderly, may be hesitant to mingle.
“If they want to come, who am I to say no?” said Sims, adding that he also doesn’t ask anyone to take a risk by coming. He said the smaller gatherings on Sundays do allow for easy social distancing.
Mabry said he’s pleased the work to create the website appears to be paying off.
“We’ve had a tremendous response to it and we’re glad to finally get into the modern era,” Mabry said.
It was a big step for a traditional small-town church like Aripeka Baptist, where attending services is such an important part of everyone’s weekly social and spiritual life, Mabry said. But given the pandemic, there’s no question in his mind that the online presence is needed so parishioners can enjoy the services from the safety of home.
“The church’s goal was to find a way to serve them,” said Mabry, adding the website looks to be accomplishing just that.
Sims said the plan is to continue to improve the website and keep adding new content, even once COVID-19 subsides or is defeated. Not only will the site strive to meet spiritual needs, it will serve as an online resource that includes history, events and other information about the town of just some 300 people.
“We want to support the community in any way we can,” he said.
Sims said anyone who wants to attend can come to a free anniversary lunch provided by the Women’s Missionary Union after the 11 a.m. service (around 12:30 p.m.) Nov. 22. The event is to celebrate the church’s 110th year. The church is at 18731 Aripeka Road, which heads west off U.S. 19 just north of Sunwest Park in Hudson.
Founded in 1873 as Gulf Key, then later Argo, the town was renamed Aripeka after the local Seminole chief of the same name in 1885. Originally within Hernando County, the town was divided when Pasco County was formed in 1887, and the village now sits in both counties. Aripeka is known as a favorite vacation spot for baseball legend Babe Ruth and other sports figures. They came to fish, play cards and drink late into the evenings. The original Aripeka Baptist Church was located on the Hernando side until it burned down. It was relocated to where it is today, south of Hammock Creek on the Pasco side.
Article by Nick Stubbs, published in the Suncoast News on November 4, 2020.
Aripeka Baptist Church Celebrates 100 Years (2010)
The “friendly little church by the sea” lives up to its reputation.
“You’re a visitor the first time; after that you’re considered home folks,” said Pastor Joe Sims in his soft, southern accent. “that’s just the spirit of the church. Not only friendship but familyship.”
Aripeka Baptist Church celebrates its 100th anniversary as a congregation this weekend. The small white church sits tucked away in a fishing village on the west coast of Pasco County, north of Hudson. And while many things have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant. The old fashioned church is the hub of the close-knit community. But people now come from all over to share in its charm. “You don’t choose your family, but your spiritual family you do choose, and we really are a family,” said Simms, who is in his sixth year at the church. “We worship together and have outreach in the community, doing what’s right and right is according to the word of God.”
Louise Geiger, the unofficial historian of Aripeka, jokes that she fills that role because no one else wants to. “I’ve been a member longer than anyone else,” she said. “I went to church there before I was born.” Her grandfather, James Kolb, or Papa Kolb, donated the land and helped build the original church on the front of the lot. That building is now the fellowship hall. A fire a couple of years after destroyed the church, so he rebuilt it exactly like the one that burned, Geiger said. She has pictures and documents she’s collected over the years, which she keeps at her house, just off the main road.
For now, the Aripeka folks run their own post office aand everyone in town knows each other. The church attracts people from the surrounding communities, including Hernando Beach, Spring Hill, and even Port Richey. But the “old-timers” serve as the matriarchs of the town and the church. “It’s taken on different personalities,” Geiger said. It was once a plain building with just a front door. Then they closed in the porch and added another porch with a walkway, and then added the steeple. The church sees bigger crowds now. While they used to have just 14 members, they now have more than 100. Her mother and aunt both went there until they died, as well as her aunt’s family and her seven children, who are still in the community.
“I don’t miss a service, period, unless I’m sick,” Geiger said, including Wednesday prayer meeting, Sunday school, and preaching Sunday morning and evening. Geiger’s cousin, Verna Sloan, just celebrated her 70th birthday and boasts that she also hasn’t missed a service. “I told everybody I was born on Sunday and that’s probably the only day I missed going to church,” she said. “I’ve been going there all my life. It’s a very, very friendly church and everybody helps each other. I’ve been to some bigger churches that were not as friendly.”
When Sloan found out she had cancer, she learned just how much the church and the community mean to her. She has been getting chemotherapy treatments and now wears a hat. On Sundays after church, she goes with her friends for lunch, then they take walks along the marsh, go shopping, and come back for services that night. “That’s when it’s nice to have a small church because they all rally around you,” she said. “I love those people. …They’re my second family.”
Some of her family members moved away, but they all retired back to Aripeka. She has seven siblings in the area. Geiger is her “double first cousin” -- two brothers married two sisters. “A lot of the town people will come and then just keep coming,” Sloan said. “People out of Spring Hill like to come to a small church.” “And the close-knit community welcomes them.
Sloan explains one of the practical reasons Aripeka hasn’t changed over the years: You cannot build on marsh grass. And since the Gulf of Mexico is on one side and marsh grass is on the other, that doesn’t leave much room for development. “There’s very little, if anything, left to sell here,” she said.
Carol White, 63, recalls the days of outhouses and no electricity. “There’s a lot of changes,” said White, who is Sloan’s sister. “A lot of people have come and gone,” but “It’s still a small country church.” She remembers walking to church and Sunday school as a kid. Her children and grandchildren also went there. “Everybody knows you and everybody goes to the church,” She said. “It’s what we’ve always known and what we’ll always know.”
Pastor Sims is hoping for a big turnout this weekend, including regulars and newcomers to Aripeka Baptist Church who want to cross the bridge for some Southern hospitality and old Florida charm.” “As I tell everyone, we still ring the bell for Sunday school. It’s a throwback to the way things used to be,” he said. “We believe the old ways are the best ways.”
Article was written by Mindy Rubenstein and appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 20, 2010.
Volunteers Brighten Aripeka Cemetery for Memorial Day
It’s 7:35 a.m. on Thursday, May 25th, and the sound of a lawnmower echoes through the air. It’s Steve Sloan loading up Wayne Norfleet’s lawnmower and heading out to the Aripeka Community Cemetery.
Family and friends all arrived at the cemetery around 7:45 a.m. in order to clean up all of the winter debris, according to community leader Nancy Norfleet. “We clear the leaves off the gravesites and mulch the rest in during mowing,” said Nancy Norfleet.
Over a period of two hours, Wayne Norfleet, Carol White, and Joe Norfleet mowed the grounds while Steve Sloan removed the weeds from around the gravesites with a weed whacker. Volunteer Bonnie Whiting could be seen raking away the leaves that had fallen on the gravesites, while others collected the leaves and placed them into black garbage bags.
Richard Acreman and James Norfleet were in charge of debris removal, and by the end of the day had hauled two large trailer loads of debris to the Hernando County landfill where the debris would be mulched and turned into compost.
“We recycle the debris,” noted Nancy Norfleet. “We had three bags of leaves” from the gravesites alone. With the Memorial Day ceremonies to be conducted by American Legion Post 186, residents of Aripeka – a small fishing town in Northwest Pasco – geared up for the annual pre-Memorial Day Aripeka Community Cemetery beautification.
The cemetery – a five-acre tract of land donated by the Ellis family in 1912 – rests on Hunter’s Lake Road in Hernando County. It is a privately held cemetery where generations of Aripeka residents have been laid to rest since 1906. Pioneer families, include the Bondurants, the Kolbs, Newtons, Norfleets, Littells, Whites and Wood families.
With the debris cleaned up and hauled away, Aripeka Community Cemetery was as ready as it could be for the Memorial Day ceremonies when some 25 veterans would be honored.
The cemetery is located on Hunter’s Lake Road on the east side of US 19 in Hernando County. Driving north on US 19 from County Line Road, Hunter’s Lake Road will be a right turn. A small cemetery sign is present, but those wishing to attend will find it easier to look for Friendly’s Car Wash where you will make a right turn onto Hunter’s Lake Road. The cemetery is approximately one block east on Hunter’s Lake Road.
Article written by Janel Heflin, Special to The Laker – Pictures shown also by Janel Heflin. ~2010.
A Graveyard Shift
A century after its first burial, the Aripeka Community Cemetery has seen better days.
Several hundred feet of wire fencing along Hunter’s Lake Road, which fronts the five-acre graveyard, is beyond repair and needs to be replaced. The main entry gate and sign also need replacing. Twenty-eight graves are not marked. A couple hundred headstones bear witness to the passing of the earliest settlers – the Kolbs, Norfleets, Littells, Newtons, Whites and Woods – of the tiny fishing community straddling the Pasco-Hernando county line just west of U.S. Highway 19. Small white wooden crosses and American flags mark the graves of 25 veterans. Each Memorial Day, American Legion Post 186 pays homage to them with a ceremony. This year’s event is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Legend has it that a young girl was the first to be buried on the land, a hilltop overlooking Hunter’s Lake, after she drowned in 1906. The owners of the property at the time, Richard and Leonore Ellis of Hillsborough County, allowed her parents to lay her to rest there after they couldn’t find a suitable place elsewhere. Six years later, the Ellises transferred the deed to the property to trustees of the Aripeka Baptist Church, specifying the land be used as a cemetery. The deed also stipulated that Aripeka residents receive free burial plots, if they wanted them.
The property is about four miles from Aripeka, which abuts the Gulf of Mexico. Underground water tables made it impossible for pioneers to bury their dead in town. A five-member board assumed control of the cemetery and included three trustees from the church and two from the community. Then, as now, upkeep and improvements depended on donations.
Nancy Norfleet married into one of Aripeka’s founding families. James and Amanda Kolb and their daughters were among the earliest to settle there. The Norfleet’s came soon after, with sons in tow. “When they say you marry a man’s family, it’s really true,” said Norfleet, smiling. Since she and her husband, Wayne, retired to Aripeka in 1997, Norfleet has taken a personal interest in supporting the community her husband grew up in.
The cemetery has become a pet project. Norfleet has been leading an effort to raise about $8,000 for a new fence and gate. Donations and proceeds from fundraisers –- fish fries have been a staple money-maker –- have brought in about half of what’s needed.
Once the fence and gate are taken care of, Norfleet hopes to raise money to buy 28 grave markers. Nothing fancy, just flat rectangles of cement with names and dates etched into them. But the best price she’s found is $300 each.
Most of the unmarked graves are of folks who died with no family or came from families who could not afford headstones. Norfleet has a personal interest in the unmarked grave of Mary Littell, a descendant of a pioneer family whose husband was unable to purchase a headstone, Norfleet said.
Several Norfleet family members – Nancy and Wayne included – join with other community residents at the cemetery about once a month to mow the lawn and tidy up. Bonnie Whiting spent at least half a day there helping with a pre-Memorial Day cleanup. Her parents, Beryl and Valda Shamblen, are buried next to her husband, Kenneth Whiting, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War who died in October 2002.
She said she appreciates the efforts to improve the final resting spots of her loved ones. “It’s really shaping up to be a decent small-town cemetery,” Whiting said.
Article written by Reporter, Lorie Jewell. ~2006.
A Promise In Passing
The sparse grass had grown almost knee-high since Carol White’s last visit. Smilax vines curled around headstones, and the sandy ground was littered with moss-draped branches.
White, who had come here to bring order, looked purposeful in her sun visor and gardening gloves. Her husband, Roye, would pull up shortly, towing her prized mower. But, she didn’t intend to hurry. She wouldn’t let work keep her from visiting. “Sometimes I want to fuss at them,” White said, kneeling to pull spindly weeds from the pea-gravel bed over her parents’ graves. “Mom, why didn’t you live long enough to help me raise kids? I didn’t know anything about raising kids.”
Aripeka is a famously tight village of about 200 houses surrounded by salt marsh on the Pasco-Hernando county line. Less well-known is that its communal feeling is extended to deceased friends and relatives. In a time when populations are transients and burial is an industry, the people of Aripeka maintain a true community cemetery – and a living relationship with the dead.
“If I pull back and look at it with cold logic, it doesn’t matter to me where my body ends up; it’s like disposing of a fingernail, basically,” said White’s brother, Wayne Norfleet, 66. “But it matters to the living. This is really for the living.”
If residents of Aripeka are not rich, they sometimes sound as though they are. They have the same sense of privilege, as though just by living there they got lucky, that they have been granted an unusual gift.
That’s certainly true of the cemetery, which was deeded to the town in 1906, after the drowning of a young girl. When word spread that her family could not find a place to bury her in the low, wet ground near town, a couple living a few miles inland donated 5 acres for a graveyard on the bank above Hunter’s Lake in what is now Spring Hill.
Every Aripeka resident has the right to be buried there ‘regardless of religious affiliations or belief,’ according to a history of the cemetery compiled by members of Aripeka Baptist Church. The only payment expected is in labor -- to help keep up the graveyard as residents have for 99 years, meeting before every funeral and almost every month during the growing season.
White, having turned off U.S. 19 opposite the KFC, was the first to arrive for the last cleanup of the fall, rolling down the limerock road to the cemetery, a grove of oaks and cedars sealed off from the sprawl of Spring Hill by a fringe of woods. White’s husband came next, then a brother, a sister-in-law, two more brothers and couple of friends she has known for more than 30 years.
The cleanup crew is mostly Norfleets, because most of he town seems to be part of this very close family, said White, who was born a Norfleet: “We don’t have a family tree, we have a family bush.”
She paused at the grave of her grandparents, Aripeka pioneers James and Amanda Kolb. “I think they were first cousins,” she said. “Two of their daughters married Norfleets. All six of White’s siblings live in Aripeka, and they, along with their children and grandchildren, visit the family homestead – White’s house – on Christmas Day. “Last year, we hung 86 stockings,” she said.
Family, inevitably, is what comes to mind while you work in the cemetery, said Wayne Norfleet, who stood and talked for a few minutes while the rest of the crew fired up tractors and trimmers or began picking up sticks. And the person he finds himself thinking most about, he said is his uncle Fred Wayland Kolb, b. May 1913, d. Jan. 1998.
He remembered helping his usually law-abiding uncle spotlight and shoot a deer that had been raiding his pea patch. “That was highly illegal, of course. And Uncle Fred was very honest. But eating your peas. …That was bad,” Norfleet said.
Shortly before his death, Kolb started to tell one of his standard tales – of catching a fish so big it pulled a heavy cypress boat out against the tide. His wife, Jessie, said, “Fred, you’ve told that story 100 times.” And he said, “Well, it won’t hurt them to hear it again. ”So he told it again, and we listened, Norfleet said.
Long with his stories, Fred Kolb passed down a habit of forgiving his nephews when they borrowed a tool or boat motor and returned it broken – which was often. “Uncle Fred would never yell at us, He’d just say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t break it.’ And, ‘I’ll fix it,” Norfleet said.
Now, when younger relatives remark on his similar calm, Norfleet said, “I tell them, “You can thank Uncle Fred for that.”
Carol White raced back and forth on her mower, working levers to pivot instantly at the graves of a former pastor, a Sunday school teacher and various cousins and uncles.
“It brings back all these memories: who made the best cookies when I was a little girl, who gave out the best Halloween candy – and, White said, who made moonshine in the woods outside of town, Romaine F. Equevilley, 1890-1968.
“Isn’t that terrible?” she said. “I probably wouldn’t be able to picture his face, but I remember his still.”
The other natural thought of graveyard maintenance workers, especially when most of them are retirees, is mortality.
Nancy Norfleet, 61, an Indiana native who married Wayne Norfleet when he worked for General Electric, Co., babysat her niece’s 2-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter as she picked up sticks. She imagined someday talking to them, just as her in-laws talk to her. “I’m going to tell them they have to get out here and mow,” she said.
“I like the seamlessness of it, one generation following the other,” Wayne Norfleet said.
“When my father, (J. Leverne Norfleet) started using a cane, he said, ‘After the cane, comes the crutches, after the crutches, comes the wheelchair. And after the wheelchair comes Hunter’s Lake.’ So I’m sliding down that same path behind him.”
“When I’m dead, I’m dead,” White said. “I won’t know where I’m buried. But this is free, and we worked for it. And it’s around friends and family. I couldn’t imagine going on to one of those big fancy places.”
By the time she finished mowing, she joined her brothers John, 70, and Wayne. Their faces darkened like coal miners’ by the dusty work, they stood and talked about the improvements they hope to make in the next few years.
Some of the oldest graves are marked only with letter-sized sheets of aluminum stamped with the names of the dead and dates of their birth and death. They’d like to replace those with marble or granite headstones, they said.
Rust has eaten away wide gaps in the fence along the road. They’ll use money raised from fish fries to put up a new one, and to rebuild the collapsed, concrete-block gate.
But they also agreed that the cemetery looked better for their afternoon of work. The grass was not as green or neat as the fertilized and buzz-cut hybrid at some of the nearby cemeteries; there were no showy floral displays.
But the lake could be glimpsed through the woods, which was brightened by wildflowers and beauty berry. The headstones stood out cleanly, freed of weeds and the clumps of tallgrass. “This ought to last ‘til March or April, unless we have somebody die on us,” John Norfleet said.
“At our age, that could happen at any time, right Johnny?” His brother said. “That’s right.”
Article written by Dan DeWitt, Times Staff Writer, appeared in the Floridian section of the Times on December 5, 2005
In the news (1930s - 1990s) ...
Cemetery filled with old families of Aripeka
Carl Henderson says he’ll be buried there – and he already has picked out his plot. “You got to be buried somewhere and everyone I know is buried there,” Henderson said recently, as he stood outside his garage in Aripeka, wiping his hands on a greasy rag. “Course I suppose it doesn’t make too much difference where you’re buried after you’re gone, but me and Sidney Littell, we can sit up on the tombstones and talk all night after we’re gone,” he says.
“There” is the Aripeka Memorial Cemetery, a little graveyard off Hunter Road, north of the Pasco-Hernando County line. The cemetery isn’t actually in Aripeka; it’s near Hunter’s Lake in southwest Spring Hill. But somehow that makes sense to most Aripeka dwellers. “Most times the land was just too low and wet to bury anybody in Aripeka,” Henderson explains. “So they started this cemetery over there so’s the people here would have someplace to be buried.
“It was here before I came here in 1911,” says Lizzie Belle Jackson, 54, another longtime resident, who says the land for the cemetery was deeded to the Aripeka Baptist Church in 1912 by R. A. Ellis, a resident.
If it weren’t for a large sign with a red arrow on U.S. 19 that reads “Aripeka Memorial Cemetery,” the graveyard would be hard to find. Even now, the cemetery lies off to the side of a dusty road and, enclosed by a rusted fence, is fairly well hidden. A few flowers adorn a recent grave, and a few large tombstones stand on several plots.
But Aripeka people don’t seem to mind. “It’s only for people who live in the community, or for people who used to live here. We’re afraid if we open it to the public, we’d run out of room,” says Jackson.
A committee composed of church and town members keeps it tended, raising money by donations and bake sales. According to an eyeball check, around 70 people are buried there, the most recent laid to rest less than a month ago.
The names on the gravestones are familiar to Aripeka habitues, – Norfleet, the family that runs the Aripeka General Store, and Conners, a family who operates a nearby fish camp, and many more. “There are very, very few old-timers left here anymore. With so many people coming from up North, a lot are sent home for burial,” Jackson says.
“But some of us old-timers will be buried in the cemetery. I know I will”
Article written by Deborah Bacon and published in The Tampa Tribune on Mar. 19, 1984.
Bridge Transformed Into Sunrise Church
As the sun broke through the Easter morning haze and warmed the 60 degree air, Lizzie Belle Jackson leaned over the concrete railing of the South Fork Hammock Creek Bridge and watched five young people get baptized in the cold water below. She had been baptized in Hammock Creek back in June, 1924, a few hundred yards from the spot in rural northwest Pasco County where the five young people – three girls and two boys --- were being immersed by the Rev. Buddy Mathis of the Aripeka Baptist Church.
Mathis instituted the Easter morning baptism idea a couple years back. The church, established in 1910, has been having sunrise services at the bridge site for about 18 years. About 6:15 a.m. this Easter Sunday, Mathis and a few volunteers arrived at the bridge in a yellow and green pickup. In the back of the pickup was a electronic organ. Nestled beside the instrument was a couple hundred feet of extension cord and 55 Baptist Hymnals. In front of this equipment was a simple wooden lectern.
The portable church never left its place as the truck became an altar. By 6:30 a.m., people began arriving at the service. Some had parked their cars on the north side of the bridge. Others had simply walked out of their Aripeka homes and trekked to the site where they would stand for the next hour or so. At y6:44 a.m., Mathis checked his watch. “About a minute left,” he said.
Sidney Littell had already started playing the organ. Sitting on a folding chair on the ground near the tailgate of the truck was Ruth Brookings positioning her accordion. Nolan Pierce Jr., the church’s music director, readied his trumpet. The 55 hymnals were passed out to the congregation which by now numbered about 120.
As strains of “The Old Rugged Cross” filtered through the morning air, the concrete structure over Hammock Creek seemed less a bridge than an open air cathedral. After the congregation finished singing the hymn, a few verses of Scripture were read. Then Alice Hope, the soloist, sang “Let Me Be Worthy. “I had another song picked but when I prayed about it, the Lord changed my mind,” she said after the service. The song was a cappella and Hope’s voice mixed with the morning chorus of chirping birds and whispering wind and other less distinguishable sounds.
A brief sermon from Mathis followed and the people and the trees stood in silent anticipation of the message. For a moment, it didn’t seem to matter that the people stood on brushed concrete instead of cushy carpet; it didn’t seem to matter a windy nature provided a cloudy sky instead of the fragile stained glass images of a church; it didn’t seem to matter that the pulpit was a pickup bed instead of a rich wood-furnitured platform.
“We’re not here this morning to be a part of this day,” Mathis said, his voice echoing back seconds later. “But we’re here to celebrate the one who conquered this day.”
When the service ended, Mathis took off his coat and headed to the water. He had worn tennis shoes with is Easter outfit as preparation for his watery ceremony. Yvonne Holland, Kim Wilkens and Penny Wetterauer, all 15-years-old also headed to the water. Also being baptized were Louie and Huey Harris, 17-year-old twins. Huey, who walks with crutches, was carried into water by his brother and the minister. Mathis dunked each of the young people into the water. When the immersion was done, the congregation sang “Let Us Gather At The River.” Then the six soggy Christians made their way back to shore where friends and relatives helped them dry off.
With the baptism over, people began to straggle away. Soon everyone was gone except Lizzie Belle Jackson who stopped to lean over the concrete railing to look at the spot where she had been baptized in 1924. When she left, Aripeka’s Hammock Creek Bridge stopped being a church – until next Easter.
Article was written by Jim Lamb, Tribune Staff Writer and appeared in The Tampa Tribune on Mar. 27, 1978.
Having written about cemeteries elsewhere in this area in recent years, we were asked where the old Aripeka burial grounds were located since none is to be found near the community of Aripeka.
We pointed out that in the old days, cemeteries were usually located on the nearest hilltop on the edge of any town. In the case of Aripeka, lying as it does in the low coastal plain bordering the Gulf of Mexico, how many hills are to be found?
Which probably explains why the cemetery is about four miles east of Aripeka. It is on Hunter’s Lake Road, about a half-mile east of U.S. 19. The road itself is half way between Spring Hill and the Hernando-Pasco County Line Road. Hunter’s Lake lies 300 yards east of the cemetery, next to the Spring Hill properties.
Visiting Aripeka Cemetery a week ago, it appeared almost as it had when we first went there about 30 years ago when Phillip Alonzo Conner was laid to rest. An area pioneer, the Conner family settled here in 1917 and many of them still live here. Their huge cypress log cabin, built in 1925, sits atop the hill just 200 yards east of the cemetery overlooking Hunter’s Lake. Nearby are perhaps a dozen mobile homes, inhabited by folks who appreciate the pretty view, the peaceful solitude and who enjoy fishing.
When P. A. Conner was born in 1877, Hunter’s Lake was already a good fishing spot. Conner’s Fish Camp aided its reputation in recent decades. Even today there are photos on the fence leading to the lake which picture scores of bass from 5 to 12 pounds held by proud and lucky anglers who visited this pristine retreat.
Probably the best known fisherman ever here was Babe Ruth, pride of the New York Yankees. The home run king loved to get away from spring training in St. Pete and relax at old hotels in Hudson and Aripeka. (which were then near the Old Dixie Highway, predecessor to U. S. 19)
The Bambino was taught to cast by P. A.’s son, Billy, who said “the baseball slugger cast many a plug to parts unknown before he got the hang of it.” (Bill Conner lives in Hudson)
James B. Kolb 1877-1945 is buried in this tiny cemetery. A strong political figure in West Pasco and leader of the Aripeka Baptist Church, he was the first president of the Hudson-Aripeka Board of Trade which was formed to promote those areas.
The board’s aborted plans included a fish and vegetable cannery and a proposed highway along the Gulf from New Orleans to Cape Sable/(Naples). It was to be called the Scenic Boulevard. Many towns were interested, including Clearwater and Cedar Key. Quite a project to be instigated in 1923.
Mr. Kolb and his wife, Maude, also buried here, were among Aripeka’s first pioneers, coming in 1911. Their daughter, Lizzie Bell Jackson, may be the oldest resident in terms of years lived in town and recently retired after being the Aripeka postmaster for many years. She is best known to old-timers as “Baby Child” as she was called in her early years, not being named until she was three.
Not far from the Kolb plot rests Henry Norfleet: 1901-1964, who was the Kolb’s son-in-law. Some of this family were also 1911 pioneers. The name is well-known in Aripeka for their long-time and popular Norfleet’s General Store, mostly run in recent decades by Vern and Carl Norfleet. It is located next to the old bridge over Hammock Creek, which was the former name of the immediate area, and to the north was Aripeka.
Just south of the other branch of Hammock Creek was called Wheeler, but took the post office and Aripeka name when the P. O. was given up in the north end in the 1920s, according to local sources.
Another familiar name in Aripeka Cemetery is that of Romaine Equevilley and his wife. Some of the family still lives in this part of Florida. They used to live in what was called the “Christmas House.”
Article written by Glen H. Dill Sr. and published in the Suncoast News on April 27, 1977.
The Aripeka Cemetery Board Of Control
On August 23rd, 1912, R. A. Ellis and wife deeded to the Trustees of the Aripeka Baptist Church and their Successors in Office a five acre tract of land to be used as a “burying place for the people of Aripeka, regardless of religious affiliations or belief.”
On October 18th, 1935, John M. Weeks and wife issued a “quit-Claim” deed to the Trustees of the Aripeka Baptist Church, and their Successors in Office, for the same five acre tract aforementioned.
The Aripeka Cemetery is located on the East Side of U.S. 19 North, overlooking Hunter’s Lake, about five miles from the present Aripeka Post Office.
On May 29th, 1963, the Aripeka Baptist Church, at a special called business meeting, authorized “The Aripeka Cemetery Board of Control,” consisting of five members, and their Successors in Office, to have complete authority in the management and the maintenance of the Cemetery, and with full authority to solicit donations and to make disbursements from same.
The members of the Board of Control receive no pay for their time or for their expenses.
It is the aim of the Board, with your help, to establish a modern Cemetery that will be maintained in a manner in which our community can be most proud, and in which, no grave will go unmarked or unattended.
The Cemetery plots are free to all the residents of Aripeka, and in order to improve, maintain, and provide for future care, it is necessary to appeal to the residents of Aripeka for donations and bequests.
Please make your donations payable to “The Aripeka Cemetery Board of Control,” and give it or send it to the Board’s Treasurer at P.O. Box 32, Aripeka, Florida, or give it to any member of the Board.
In order to provide for future or perpetual care, any resident may make a special donation or bequest to be used for a specified Cemetery improvement.
Any resident who can afford to donate for a certain improvement at this time, such as a fence around our Cemetery, shall be awarded a plaque in our Cemetery commending his or her special contribution.
It is a well-known fact that you cannot help your Community without helping yourself, and, the only thing we save from this life is what we give away – our money – our time and services to our neighbors and to our Community.
We feel that providing proper care and respect for those resting in our Cemetery is the privileged duty of all our residents, even though, many of us, including some members of our Board have no intention of using our Community Cemetery for their own use.
Those of our residents who already have loved ones resting in our Cemetery should feel an “Extra Responsibility” to use their resources and cooperation in an effort to make our aims for a most modern and well maintained Cemetery a complete success.
We are confident that the People of Aripeka will provide their individual and total cooperation in order that we shall attain our objective in this most worthwhile Community endeavor.
Memorandum from The Aripeka Cemetery Board Of Control to the residents of Aripeka on September 1st, 1963.
Parsonage Nears Completion
Two buildings of public interest in this small town in the northwest corner of Pasco County, which have been under construction for several weeks, are nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy in the next two weeks. . . . The Baptist Church parsonage is the first church owned home that the organization has ever had in 50 some years existence. It is located on church property next to the sanctuary.
Excerpts from an article appearing in The Tampa Tribune on Aug. 29, 1961
Aripekans Join For Community Project
The enthusiastic know-how people in the village have launched the third “do-it-yourself” project in the community. Members and friends of Aripeka Baptist Church, the only church in the little village, have started to construct a pastorium for the church.
About a month ago, the first $100 was donated toward the pastorium. The members decided to begin the building with free labor, on faith that contributions would be forthcoming for materials to complete the structure. O. D. Reece, chairman of the building committee, estimated the cost of the building, considering time and work given gratuitous as $7,500 to $8,000. Last week, donations totaling $250 were received according to Mrs. Verne Norfleet, church treasurer. Two years ago, two “do-it-yourself” projects, the Community Center, the largest of its kind on Florida’s west coast, and the first aid station were started about the same time. The Community Center was opened last March and the first aid station will be dedicated to the public next Saturday.
Article appearing in The Tampa Tribune on Jan. 21, 1961
Need Church Bell
The Aripeka Baptist Church at Aripeka has an imperative need for a church-bell for the belfry. Anyone having one that they are not using, it would be appreciated. Please get in touch with the pastor at 5300 28th St. N., Lowe’s City Annex, Apt. 9, St. Petersburg. Thank you.
Article appeared in the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 23, 1959
Tampans Participate In Ordination Service
Solon Bates, new pastor of the Aripeka Baptist Church, was ordained yesterday at an all-day service in which several Tampans participated. Among the Tampans Participating were Dr. W. P. Head, E. J. Barnes, L. l. Roberts, A. Riggsby, J. O. Bell and the Rev. W. A. Hamlett.
Article appearing in The Tampa Tribune on Jul. 19, 1932.