Not ready to concede the beach concession stand

A woman takes a stand, hoping to continue to run her deceased lover's rental business - his way.

Published January 10, 2007

They met 10 years ago, as she lay on the sand, hiding from the chilly autumn breeze behind his rental stand at Archibald Memorial Beach Park. As a form of greeting, he tickled her feet.

Howard Henning was married at the time, and 17 years her senior, but Jane Lattimore fell in love. When they eventually moved in together, she happily adopted his beach lifestyle. She helped him run the concession stand he had managed for years in Madeira Beach, urging him to be more personable to customers, and watching as he carefully reviewed his sales records every night. At night, they swam laps together in their backyard pool, and in the mornings she prepared a hearty breakfast of fish, vegetables and fruit.

But this past May, Lattimore awoke to find her partner's body had grown stiff next to hers in bed. It was 2:30 in the morning, and she was cold, but when she pushed him to tell him so, she found his body too silent. There was no pulse, and his mouth seemed wired shut, preventing her from performing CPR.

The doctors told her he suffered a fatal heart attack, probably about an hour before she had awakened.

And just like that, healthy Howard, deemed King of the Beach by his friends and customers, and celebrated for his curly golden mane and virile physique, was dead at 64.

Now, eight months later, Lattimore is pleading with the city to allow her to continue to run Henning's shop.

It is just a small shack at the end of Madeira Way with lounge chairs and canvas umbrellas for rent, but to her it is her last connection to someone she loved.

"I know he would want me to do it," she said. "I was trained by the king, so give me back the concession because I know exactly how Howard would want it to be done."

Until October, the city allowed her to continue running the stand under the terms of a longstanding contract it had with Henning. But, in fairness, they felt the contract should be put up for public bid.

The City Commission was scheduled to discuss whether to award the contract to Lattimore on Tuesday night. Seven other hopefuls also applied for the job.

Lattimore was expected to be named the winner. Her bid promised the greatest profit for the city, about $9,000 a year.

To the couple's friends and admirers, it is inconceivable that anyone else would be selected.

"People respect her fortitude for going on with this," Mayor Charles Parker said.

Director of Community Services Michael Maxemow said the city never had one problem with Henning in the nearly 30 years he managed the stand.

"I still think of them out there together," he said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.