Woman's generosity reflects her love of park
By RICHARD DANIELSON, Times Staff Writer
TARPON SPRINGS -- Until two or three years ago, Rose Phifer was a familiar sight at Pinellas County's Anderson Park.
With her shepherd-mix Molly at her side, Mrs. Phifer would walk the park several times a week and chat with county staffers. She lived right next door and felt strongly about the place, having sold the county 30 acres of orange groves in 1973 for a park expansion.
" 'The park is looking good,' she would say," Anderson Park supervisor Michael Zubler says.
And to county employees, neighbors and others, Mrs. Phifer often said one other thing: One day she wanted her lakefront home and 1-acre lot to become part of the 128-acre park.
"She did love the park very much," neighbor Laura Stenchever said. "Not even on several, but on many occasions she said that she was going to leave the property to the park."
These days Mrs. Phifer, 89, is in an assisted living facility receiving around-the-clock care for Alzheimer's disease.
Recently, however, the court-appointed guardians who have managed her affairs for the past two years took steps to make good on her promise, which she included in a will made out in 1997.
In May, a judge approved giving her home and property on Tookes Road to Pinellas County.
"It is Mrs. Phifer's request that the property be made a permanent part of Anderson Park in her memory," the guardian of her property wrote to county officials. The guardians said donating the land now made sense because the home was rundown and probably would be razed if sold and that making the gift while Mrs. Phifer is alive could reduce the eventual taxes owed by her estate.
Whatever the reasons, county officials were grateful for the gift.
Officials have said the property will provide more space for waterfront recreation at the park, which is on the western shore of Lake Tarpon. The lot is shaded by many tall pines and ancient live oaks. An appraisal done by the bank set the value of the land alone at about $230,000. Parks officials aren't sure what they'll do with the two-story, 2,275-square-foot house.
Before she needed help managing her affairs, Mrs. Phifer had lived on the property for decades and had impressed acquaintances with her business savvy.
"She was an extremely nice lady, but when she was conducting business, it was business," Zubler said. "She knew what she was talking about, and she wasn't afraid to speak her mind."
For decades, Mrs. Phifer owned most of a city block on Cleveland Street in downtown Clearwater, including the building that housed Aunt Hattie's Towne House Restaurant. She also served for 10 years on and was chairwoman of the Clearwater Downtown Development Board.
In 1973, she sold the county 30 acres for $750,000 so that Anderson Park could be expanded south of Tookes Road, but she continued to live next door with her husband, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charles W. "Bill" Phifer. The two traveled all over the world, compiling scrapbooks from Africa, England, Russia, South America and Hawaii. He died in 1990.
In recent years, the Phifer property became overgrown. Park officials say they'll need to trim the massive oaks, get rid of insect nests and eliminate nuisance potato vines before the land can be used. They also plan to post a plaque that puts in writing what officials have told Mrs. Phifer before.
Six or seven years ago, when Mrs. Phifer called county real estate manager Ellyn Kadel to say that her land should be added to the park, Kadel told her "how very generous I knew she was being and we really appreciated it. . . . That's a fantastic piece of property."
-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or Danielson@sptimes.com.
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