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The party starts at 4:15

Conversation, company and cocktails are served at a South Tampa retirement community's Friday afternoon happy hour.

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002


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[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Francis Bevis, left, and Lucille Oster chat during happy hour at Grand Court. The 12-story building near Bayshore and Gandy boulevards is home to 163 residents.

BALLAST POINT -- Jack Meyer, 85, sits on the throne of his motorized scooter, scotch in hand, flanked by a row of nicely dressed women.

There's cause to celebrate. One-eyed Jack, as friends call him, is days away from knee surgery. Soon he'll be walking.

For now, he's parked and frisky.

He spots a new face, female, coming his way through the cocktail crowd.

"Are you married?" he asks. "Do you like older men?"

So begins a Friday afternoon ritual, happy hour at the Grand Court retirement community, home to 163 South Tampa retirees who mark the day as many adults do, with relief and a little splash.

They gather in the lobby of a pink, 12-story building near Bayshore and Gandy boulevards, where many have come to spend their final years.

Older men? Julius Moller is 104.

For intrigue, there are women with foreign accents; others, with their own cars.

For atmosphere, Hillsborough Bay glistens through floor-to-ceiling windows.

"You live for Fridays," Meyer says.

There's an open bar, tended by George Walker, who ordinarily styles hair in the building's salon but styles shots of J&B and Smirnoff on Fridays.

"It ranks right up there with their meals," he says.

Outside, Bayshore Boulevard drivers barely notice the fuss, slowed only by the turning cars of family members, who have a standing invitation to attend. The action starts at 4:15 p.m. Elevators open, spilling bingo champions and bookworms, some leaning on canes, others walking briskly to the bar.
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Mary Baur, left, and Jack Meyer sip cocktails during last week’s happy hour at the Grand Court.

Drinks are included in the $3,100 a month they pay for two-bedroom, two-bath apartments with water views, maid service, daily dinners, scheduled transportation and other amenities.

They take seats at tables decorated for the season -- blue for Memorial Day, with patriotic napkins and tiny American flag centerpieces. Sometimes, Gasparilla pirates come bearing beads.

Mary Baur, 88, slips into the empty chair next to Meyer, their backs to the setting sun.

"He's my boyfriend once a week," she teases.

Baur, a retired high school English and humanities teacher, arrives fresh from bridge games. She played all afternoon, only to lose by 10 points, a defeat that cost her a quarter.

She has lived in Florida for 62 years, the last three at Grand Court. She moved to Tampa to be near her son.

Meyer comes from Michigan by way of Fort Myers. He once designed the interiors of office buildings.

He manages to say things that make women shake their heads.

"You have to take a Breathalyzer test to move in here," he says with a wink.

"You can't believe everything Jack tells you," Baur warns.

The way she sees it, company and conversation are the big draws.

"Everyone gets together and chats," she says. "I really don't think it's the liquor."

The cocktail set includes Belgium-born Lydia Mutolo, 80, who sailed to the United States with her Italian husband as a young woman. That was 55 years ago. She remembers waking to the sight of the Statue of Liberty as their ship neared New York.
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Ron Bowlus sings a tune at a recent Grand Court happy hour. Residents are treated to weekly Friday get-togethers.

Now she sits on Fridays listening to the newly hired Ron Bowlus sing God Bless America.

"I think it's nice," she says of the happy hour, "because people can come down and meet friends and grow closer."

What does she drink?

"Scotch," she says.

A friend whispers to her.

"No, I used to drink scotch," Mutolo says. "Now I drink vodka on the rocks."

Ethel Dosik, 84, is here. So are Kathryn Caldwell, 91, and Peg McDonald, 90.

Pauline Cembor has brought her oxygen tank. She moved into Grand Court after leaving her three-bedroom house in Port Orange, near Daytona. She has a 10th-floor view of Hillsborough Bay. Her friend, Mae Ackerman, also on the 10th floor, left a four-bedroom house.

On the other end of Bayshore is Davis Islands, where Cembor's son George lives. He was the reason she came to Tampa.

"He said, 'Mom, you've got to sell the house and move near me,' " she says.

She has emphysema and says it's getting worse. She speaks of the good life she has had.

"I look forward to these get-togethers," Cembor says. "You get to meet different people and talk to them.

"I think a drink or two makes them less to themselves."

Her choice is orange juice with gin.

The clock nears 6 p.m.

"I'm going to get one more drink before they close the shop," she says, getting up to go to the bar.

Ahead is dinner, then a week of water aerobics, exercise classes and crafts.

There will be trips to museums and plays down the road, a group outing to Red Lobster.

Little holds a candle to happy hour.

Meyer has an idea.

"We want it every other day," he says.

Mutolo shakes her head.

"That's just Jack," she says.

-- Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or pryan@sptimes.com

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