Lazars have made LaBelle their own

(Submitted photo/Patty Brant) Jeff and Terri Lazar have proven themselves part of the group that has made LaBelle what it is today.

LaBelle has been blessed with many hard working, unselfish sons and daughters and adopted sons and daughters, whose lives have enriched us all. Throughout their years in LaBelle, Jeff and Terri Lazar have proven themselves to be bona fide members of that group.

Raised in Miami, Jeff is a graduate of the University of Florida. He went to work for Honeywell in Minneapolis, retiring from that company after 31 years. While there he worked in many places all over the world (including places like the Alaska North Slope, Japan, Costa Rica and Israel).

He enjoyed a career pioneering in brand new technologies. One of his most notable experiences at Honeywell was putting forth a proposal for the space shuttle engine controls. He left the company before it was actually developed, he said, but it shows the level at which he worked. In fact, he was recognized as one of Honeywell’s 20 best engineers at one point.

His years in engineering were very rewarding, but he said at the time he never stopped “to smell the roses.” He was consumed with his job and retired at age 51.

He said he also dabbled in real estate all that time – a very successful buyer, but not such a good seller, he admits. Over the years he even taught night classes at UF for a year and for a time served as a bank director in Clearwater.

But he has a brother here and LaBelle was calling him. Jeff bought property here in the late 1970s and became a permanent resident in 1988.

Terri has enjoyed an equally eclectic life style which eventually pulled her to LaBelle as well.

A career secretary in Philadelphia, she owned a sumptuous and spacious stone house in an upscale neighborhood that she shared with several friends. She is fond of relating that, when she met Jeff, she walked away from that grand lifestyle to live in a trailer nine miles north of LaBelle. Terri was enamored and soon succumbed to the tug as Jeff did. She had met her future and besides, she reasoned, “Why would you not want to live in paradise?”

Since becoming residents, the couple has worked hard every day keeping up their rental properties throughout LaBelle.

Both grew up in large families – nothing fancy. The families didn’t have anything to brag about, but they laid solid foundations for their children. Jeff recounts that he had a brilliant, though not very successful, father from whom he learned, as Jeff put it, “not enough.” He said his mother brought the children broken things to put together, because it would help them learn. Also an intelligent person, his mother worked to instill language skills and a good work ethic into the children.

Terri’s mother died at a young age, but Terri recalls her “wonderful work ethic” and respect for the value of work. She recalls how her mother taught her father to read because it was important to him – a marvelous practical lesson in the value of learning.

Once firmly planted here, the Lazars didn’t remain strangers in LaBelle for long. Local icon Ida Kirby pulled them into her unique and wonderful social world, Jeff recalls, and over the years the couple has packed a lot of living into their time here. Because of Miss Ida’s generosity of spirit and the Lazars’ commitment, many worthwhile local organizations have been blessed.

A strong believer in doing his part as a citizen, Jeff kept a keen eye on local government for many years and was a fixture at city and county commission meetings – a regular reminder of the work the commissions’ duty to the public.

Everybody needs a little play time and Jeff said he has enjoyed many “toys” including cars, and even a plane. He said he’s past all that now. Riding his motor scooter with training wheels every day keeps him centered these days.

Terri likes to roll up her sleeves and get her hands in the dirt. “I get the most pleasure from working on projects – not being in charge, but physically active,” she commented. To me, Terri said, “home, order amd balance are most important.” If she has changed over the years, she believes, it is to have acquired more confidence.

She is a 50-year member of Beta Sigma Phi business women’s association. She was a member of the Swamp Cabbage Festival Board of Directors and has been a force in putting on the annual Old Timers Dinner. She voluntarily helps keep the landscaping at Bob Mace Park in good order. Terri has her light side too, graduating from Clown college and taking on an alter ego as “Fluffy.”

Jeff and Terri can usually be found together, often working on one of their rentals or volunteering with a local group.

Both have enjoyed being members of the Gourmet Club and taking part in a square-dancing group that started at LaBelle Woods. In addition, they have given their time and efforts to many organizations including the theater, museum, LaBelle Garden Club, Audubon and Bromeliad Society.

Of all their projects and interests, The LaBelle Firehouse Community Theater has probably been the most fun, Terri noted. The Lazars and five other couples helped build the theater after Mayor Sheri Craichy managed to procure the old firehouse for the group. Each has been involved both on stage and backstage at one time or another. Jeff has handled the lighting and sound and was in a production of Arsenic and Old Lace (he quickly notes that he was assisted by Terri in learning his three lines).
No job is too small, but he does have his limits. He explains that an argument that drew blood led to his retirement from popcorn duty.

For her part, Terri has acted on stage in various productions, sang and even directed productions.

Jeff said that the most satisfying of all their community activities is supporting the LaBelle Heritage Museum. He helped move the buildings that originally comprised the museum, the Rider House and Office, twice (first from their original places on SR 80 to their Lee Street location, then to their current site on Bridge Street). He also negotiated with First Bank to purchase the historic old Poole store to round out the museum.

The Lazars have led very full and rewarding lives, but Jeff said the one regret they do have is putting off travel. In 25 years they have only taken three cruises and several day trips. After working nonstop on their rentals and community commitments for years, they are now seeing their responsibilities decreasing and may just take the time to enjoy some travel.

Recently the Lazars capped their many years of community service with large unconditional donations to the Museum and the Theater. There was one simple reason for the generosity, Jeff said. “Because we wanted to.” He noted that you do things when you’re in a position to do them. The time was right, he reasoned, so why wait till your dead when you can give a gift and actually see the impact it has?

Patty Brant, can be reached at cbnews@newszap.com

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