K I N G S L E Y L A K E . O R G
For all of Elaine Thorntons life, the sight of Kingsley Lake has brought to mind happy thoughts of her family and memories of work and play.
What we see now is a ghost-like silhouette of what's been our way of life, and it's hard, she said.
Thornton is the eldest daughter of Frow Woodrow Strickland, who for 56 years owned and operated Strickland's Landing, one of North Florida's favorite swimming holes, perched on Kingsley Lake next to Camp Blanding.
Frow Strickland died April 15, 2002 at the age of 90, and two days later his five children learned their lives and the Landing's would be taking a drastic turn. Before the cloud of grief had even lifted, they learned that Uncle Sam would be expecting a check for estate taxes by January, a check so large that the only way to pay it was to sell the estate their father had spent a lifetime building.
Daughter Gloria Valinski, the youngest of the kids, says there was agreement they'd all like to keep it open, but also a realization they had no other choice but to close and sell.
The 20 acres of sandy beachfront is more than just a business. Frow's father, Alonzo, owned it before him. Frow was born there, and he and his wife Beth raised their family there.
I learned to swim before I could walk, said Thornton. We were raised on the lake, so the lake was part of our lives.
It was the place where generations of kids from Jacksonville to Gainesville learned to swim. It was a favorite spot for church picnics and family reunions.
As Frow Strickland ran it, fun was the rule, but there were limits - no alcohol, no skimpy bathing suits, in fact there used to be a "no G-strings" sign by the front gate.
He didn't put up with any messin' around, so to speak, Valinski said.
And, Thornton said, that was part of the appeal.
He had a very strict set of rules, and he didn't relax them regardless, Thornton said. It didnt change, and thats what people liked about it.
And with the guests held to such high standards, employees and family members had to serve as examples.
At Frow Stricklands memorial service that was held at the landings boat ramp, Valinski recalled one story told of a young lifeguard who arrived for his first day at work, walking through the gate five minutes late, wearing only a bathing suit.
Her father promptly gave him an about face order, and told him to not come back until the next day, on time, with a shirt, shoes, sunscreen and a fresh haircut to go with the bathing suit.
Every family member had a job to do - actually several jobs. Thornton said her father did cut the three girls a bit of slack, when they were exempted from the dreaded trash picking duties.
She said her first job was at age 10, working as a secretary, answering the phone, taking reservations and messages.
I always had a lot of responsibility, she said.
And that went for the other four children as well. Thornton said the trash picking and restroom cleaning were the least favorite jobs. The most favorite?
I think they all took pride in making cotton candy, she said.
Thornton said one of her favorite things to do as a child was to go down to the waterfront, wander amongst the guests and take great pride in sharing a little information.
I would tell them that my daddy owned this place, she said. And if there were disbelievers, she would track down her father to set them straight.
Frow Strickland earned a football scholarship to Stetson, where he earned a degree in business, and then returned to Kingsley Lake to start his lakeside empire.
He set the same rigid standards for himself that he required of others.
In the beach setting, he arrived to work with dress pants and a short-sleeve button-down shirt, always with two pockets, to hold his pens.
Just short of six-feet, with crystal clear blue eyes, he had curly auburn hair as a kid that gave way to a balding fringe in his later years. His head was usually covered with a Gator ball cap. Even though the hair under the hat was scarce, it was combed.
When we buried him we put a comb in his pocket, because he always had a comb in his pocket, Valinski said.
At his memorial service one person described him as 20 years in the past and 20 years in the future at the same time.
About his only diversion from work was a little bit of fishing and Gator football. He held his 50-yard-line, row 31 tickets for decades. Up until January he went to work every day.
He was a workaholic, for sure - vacation was torture for him, said Valinski. It wasnt something he saw as work, its what he did with his life.
He could talk your ear off, but it was always about business. He wasnt a real socializer when it came to parties.
The beach at Stricklands Landing offered a clean place to swim, without the shivers that come with a dip in the springs. The combination of sun and sand apparently did more than produce golden tans.
Lots of people met their husbands and wives out there, Thornton said.
But now, at the time of year when business would be moving to its summertime peak, the front gate is sprouting a closed for business sign.
Thorntons husband, Donald, the long-time manager, is now busy with all the details of selling and settling the estate.
Valinski said every day there are people who drive up to the gate who havent heard the news until they read the sign.
Its gut-wrenching to watch; theyre so disappointed. They kind of just don't believe it, she said.
We hope to post additional info about
Stricklands & Kingsley Beach soon.