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Cape Kids — City Leaders: Elmer Tabor — Realtor, Cape pioneer

By Staff | Sep 18, 2020

“I was 8-years-old when I came to Cape Coral in 1960. My family had a grocery business in West Virginia and my grandfather had recently retired and was vacationing in Fort Myers Beach around 1957.

“When the Rosen brothers started developing Cape Coral, my grandfather went over to talk to Jack and Leonard (Rosen) to see what they were doing. In that conversation, the Rosens were very interested to hear that my dad had a grocery store in West Virginia and asked my grandfather if he could get him down here. My granddad called my parents and said, ‘Why don’t you pack up the kids and come down here and open a grocery store?’ My dad said, ‘Gee, that might be a possibility, how many people are in this town?’ My grandfather said, ‘Well right now there’s 13.’

“Needless to say you know what my dad said to my grandfather. Well, since he’s married to my grandfather’s daughter, she won and we ended up coming down here and opening up Elmer’s Supermarket.

“Tabor, my grandmother, stayed in West Virginia operating the two stores we had up there.

“Well, when we got down here, it was a whole different story from what he knew visiting my grandfather in Fort Myers Beach. I mean there was nothing, but nothing, and even more nothing down here. The only thing that a kid could do growing up is watching big canals being built or go sit on the bank somewhere and fish or walk around in the woods. My grandfather built his house in Cape Coral in 1959 down on Riverside Drive and I spent a heck of a lot of time over there fishing off of his dock and boating and swimming in their pool. It was a whole different atmosphere in growing up both for young kids and adults.

“I never thought of myself as a pioneer when we moved down here in 1960, but looking back, we literally were the pioneers.

“It was tough on the kids because the city was so small, everybody knew everybody. You’re always getting in trouble because somebody was catching you doing something.

“Childhood memories I’ll never forget are going to J. Colin English in the days of sulfur water and the whole place smelled like rotten eggs. I couldn’t walk into the lunchroom without getting sick.

“When they built Tropic Isles Elementary they moved us there and then I went to North Fort Myers Junior High and by that time the Cape was old enough and the bridge was put in where Cypress Lake was an option for kids that lived in the south end of the Cape.

“The first road they put pavement down on was Cape Coral Parkway. It was really interesting to see how fast the city grew and how the construction went nuts. It got going and appeared to never stop. They were always going to another plot of land to develop and so there were always new parts of the Cape.

“We used to waterski over by the Santa Barbara/San Carlos canal and they were doing a development out there — they’d build the canal and start the roads — and there weren’t houses anywhere around, you could run boats wide-open down most of the canals. Most of the waterskiing at the time was done in the canal system. We really revolved around boating.

“The opened the teen center in ’62 for the kids to have something to do, they did the movies down at the Yacht Club so that was exciting to see all of that in the early days. It was exciting to see the Rose Gardens growing up; it was the attraction for the Rosen Brothers to get people to Cape Coral.

“As you drove down Del Prado — of course we called it the 7-mile road — you saw the development moving north on a regular basis.

“There was enough activity, but it still wasn’t your old home with your old buddies. A lot of people went through that — to leave the homes of generations before and all of your friends. It was a culture shock for any age.

“1970 comes around and we become incorporated and once we stated getting a base infrastructure such as dry cleaner, hardware stores, grocery stores, post office, things like that, then it became a beautiful place for retirees. At one point for several years I think every general and colonel that retired came to Cape Coral.

“We used to have to joke that we would have to put ramps on the sidewalks.

“As things kept progressing, then families and the city started building parks, and fire houses and such.

“The same problem we faced back then are the same we’re facing today — our success. We were so successful because the Rosen Brothers did such a damn good job of developing and selling Cape Coral that our growth, our success, caused infrastructure issues. Now today, our growth is doing the same thing. If we didn’t have the success, we wouldn’t have to expand the utility system as fast as we do, or have $60 million bonds for parks.

“As I sit here today and look back over the 60 years I’ve been here — and I get emotional over this — I’m living in a community that is constantly getting recognized and receiving accolades as the first or second safest place to live in the United States, or the best place to raise a family in the country, the best place to retire. Who in the heck could have created a community like that — that is ranked in the top 10 in everything? I guess through the trials, tribulations, agonies, pains and financial crushes and all we went through, dammit we turned out pretty good.

“Half of our canvas, we have not painted yet. We’ve got enough schools and employment now that we didn’t have growing up that you can be anything you want to be when you grow up and stay in the Southwest Florida area, something very different from when I was growing up.”

— Compiled by CJ HADDAD