tampabay.com

After all these years, they're making many happy returns

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published October 21, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - Derrill L. McAteer grew up the way a lot of boys here do, even only 10 years back, even still today: shooting deer, killing wild hogs, fishing for snook in the creeks by the gulf. Then he left. McAteer, Hernando High School Class of '95, went to college at Wake Forest in North Carolina, then law school at the University of Florida, then to a job with a big firm in Tampa.

But now he's a husband. And he's a father. And he's back.

Five months or so ago, McAteer, 29, decided to return, he said, for many of the same reasons he originally wanted to leave.

"When you're 17, what do you care if it's a nice place to raise a family?" he said. "You're bored. Now I've got a family and the things that seemed boring 11 years ago now seem great. There was something attractive about bringing up my child in the same community I was brought up in.

"There was an emotional tie."

McAteer is one of the latest faces of a reality that sometimes seems to get lost in this town in the talk about the Wal-Mart and the Applebee's and all the added lanes on the truck bypass and U.S. 41. People come back. Many of the younger members of Brooksville's older families either never leave or leave and then return.

Perhaps most telling, though, is that McAteer and his peers, the next generation, in their late 20s and early 30s, are still doing that - even with all the growth and change.

"The young crowd," said Addison Sullivan, Class of '97. "It's here. It's happening.

"We drift back."

Sullivan is sixth-generation Brooksville. He went to Florida State and graduated in 2001 and came on home and lives in a house on Olive Street downtown.

"We started with five or so of us," Sullivan said. "Now we've got 10, 12, 15."

Andrew Runge finished high school here in '02 and graduated from FSU last spring. He came back.

"All my friends still live around here," he said.

Which is the modern-day version of an age-old truth about the history-rich Hernando County seat.

"I think Brooksville has stayed pretty much intact due to the old families," said Freddy Law, Class of '55, the son of Neil Law Jr., whose father and grandfather both were sheriffs here. "It's the old families that keep the town together."

"At some point in time you're just not going to have four, five, six generations of families here because the area is just growing so much," said Dan Merritt Jr., Class of '81. "But there is still a core group of people who are here who remember."

"What makes Brooksville Brooksville is the people who live here," said Jeanne Gavish, a real estate agent who moved here from upstate New York in 1987. "There's a cohesion to this community that's based on the relationships - that sense of continuity from generation to generation. I find that here."

All eight of her children still live in the county. "I defy anybody to find that in Hudson or New Port Richey," she said.

Don Whitehead, Class of '91, hung around the ball field when Don "Duck" Frazier, Class of '80, was a Hernando High baseball star. Duck taught Don how to throw a curve.

Bert Snow, Class of '95, hung around the ball field when Whitehead was a star.

Steve Blanton, Class of '01, hung around the ball field when Snow was a star.

Now Whitehead is the head baseball coach.

And they all hang out at dart night at the Coney Island Drive Inn hot dog place.

That is Brooksville.

"A lot of us said we were getting out of this town when we were kids," said Dave Donato, Class of '75.

"They say that," said Jason Yungmann, Class of '92. "But then we come right back."

"Like everybody, yeah, you want to see what else is out there," Whitehead said. "But this is home. In L.A. or New York, you're a stranger in your own apartment complex, but here you know everybody."

McAteer is the son of Derrill McAteer, 74, a local developer and banker and a longtime Swiftmud chairman. The younger McAteer went to the Methodist School Center at the First United Methodist Church downtown. He hunted hogs on his dad's land off Powell Road south on U.S. 41 and took his kills out to Bayport and caught redfish with friends and made a barbecue pit with cinder blocks and a metal grate and had good-ol'-boy Hernando County-style surf and turf.

He met his wife, Megan, also an attorney, in law school. She's from Tampa. But he says she likes it up here.

"He always said he was coming back," the elder McAteer said.

He works at the local Hogan firm and joined Kiwanis and the Hernando County Bar Association.

He volunteers as a teen court judge.

And he goes to happy hour with a group of his high school friends Friday early evenings at the Red Mule Pub.

"I like the idea of being in a place where people know who you are," McAteer said. "Some people want to be anonymous. I was more comfortable with the feel of a place where people did know me.

"I'm looking forward to raising my child here, to see my child experience the same things and places I grew up with," he said. "That's neat. It's a rare thing these days with people moving around so much."

Clara McAteer is 18 months old. She'll be going to the Methodist School Center about a year and a half from now. She's already on the list.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.