Man's 'sanity project' spans a double-wide
While caring for his terminally ill wife, a mobile home resident finds solace by building a scale model of the Sunshine Skyway.
By PAUL SWIDER
Published April 3, 2005
The Golden Gate mobile home park is like many such adult communities with three-wheel bicycles in the driveways, lawns neat as a pin, and various homespun decorations: bushes, flowers, ceramic animals, garden gnomes. And the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
"I enjoyed building it," said Roger Peterson, a vibrant 72-year-old Michigan man who winters in Pinellas Park. "Everybody in the park seems to enjoy looking at it, too."
The bridge is not some gaudy contraption but blends in with the color scheme of Peterson's double-wide. At 24 feet long and about 4 feet high, the bridge is built to scale, Peterson says. Except for the occasional anole that hops onto the support columns like Godzilla. And the fish.
"People just come by and leave things," Peterson said of some toy cars and fish that are now part of the display. The cars fit, but the fish underneath are the relative size of cruise ships.
The bridge is made of wood, but Peterson carefully chose concrete siding for the road surface to create a realistic impression. The support columns are from cyclone fence, underpinned by PVC. And the cable stays are made from 230 feet of yellow plastic rope. It is an unmistakable replica.
"It's sort of a sanity project," Peterson said. Retired after 40 years with General Motors as a setup man and all-around mechanic, Peterson put the bridge together in the course of a day. He needed a break from caring for his ailing wife, Annette. Peterson's wife, 66, a former nurse, is terminally ill with her fourth cancer in 10 years; this one has migrated to her spine. The couple departed Saturday to head back North so they can be at home with their three children and 11 grandchildren. Annette was given a year to live a year ago.
Ironically, though Peterson's wife has suffered ill health for 30 years, Peterson himself is the picture of vitality. Not only does he walk 2 miles a day and sail his 16-foot Hobie Cat summers in Michigan, he builds things, lots of things. He has spent most of his free time the past dozen years doing volunteer work for an organization that builds mobile churches. There are now dozens of facilities he's worked on from India to Africa to South America to the United States. Peterson has touched people closer to home, too.
"I think he did it for his wife," said neighbor Charles Bainum, a casual friend and admirer of Peterson's bridge. Peterson insists he built the bridge to replace bushes that required too much work, but he shows such care for Annette that others feel the bridge is somehow for her.
Peterson is taking a break from construction now as he packs all his tools in a van for the drive North. His wife will fly for comfort, and he will meet her there. He says he'll come back to the bridge next year, maybe decorate it for Christmas. He also plans a cruise ship to sail beneath it. But mostly, he tries to help his wife.
"There've been lots of changes in her medical care, trying to make something work," he said. "The chemotherapy really tears her blood down. But finally they've got something that seems to help and make her feel better.
"We're making it. She's a real sweetie."
[Last modified April 3, 2005, 00:09:18]
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