Myakka putting on festivities for historic school house

Lipizzan stallion performance, southern cooking planned for Sunday

jajones1@bradenton.comMarch 5, 2014 

MANATEE -- Myakka City knows how to throw a party.

Serve fried green tomatoes, gator bites, and barbecued ribs, and top it off with homemade ice cream.

For entertainment and inspiration, throw in a performance by Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan stallions.

And of course, add a worthy cause: saving Myakka's 1914 wooden schoolhouse.

The fun begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at 32755 Singletary Road.

Also planned at the fifth-annual Taste of Myakka will be funnel cakes, chicken, pulled pork, games for children and crafters.

Marilyn Coker, president of the Myakka City Historical Society, has been working to save the school house for more than 20 years.

"It's like having a tiger by the tail and you can't turn it loose. We keep plugging along as best we can," she said.

"We need to save the school for the use of the community. This community has no auditorium, or large meeting space. We need a library. It's 20 miles to the closest library," Coker said.

Aside from the practical reasons for saving the building, there is also the historic significance of a 100-year-old structure that means so much to a community.

There is something of the schoolhouse in the DNA of many Myakka families.

Coker has it in hers, and so does Bonnie Carlton.

"My husband, his father, and my daughter all attended school there. That's three generations," Carlton said.

Coker, a 1955 graduate of Manatee High School, attended third through ninth grades in the old Myakka school house.

"There were no blinds, no screens and no fans. When I went to school there, they had just gotten electricity. They had a tower to feed water by gravity to bathrooms and sinks," Coker recalls.

In 1914, the building was built from heart of pine, but the years and exposure to weather have taken a toll, and much of the original lumber has been replaced.

Even so, Coker felt the country school sent her to Manatee High School with a very good foundation.

Other than the school and church, life in Myakka seemed very slow to Coker back in those days.

Her father raised cattle on six sections of land leased from William Selby, five miles outside Myakka City. The closest neighbor was a mile away. There was no TV, and little radio reception in Myakka.

"My parents gave me piano lessons," she says of what she had for entertainment.

Those lessons paid off, and she has played piano for 45 years for Myakka City United Methodist Church.

Funds raised by the Taste event in 2013 are being used for termite eradication, repairs and operating expenses, including insurance and electric.

Money raised this year will go toward painting the building. Scott Paint has donated paint for the exterior.

A $50,000 grant from Mosaic will provide a new roof, a fire alarm and drywall.

"We are not sure how far we can make it go," Coker said.

A big draw for Taste will be Herrmann's Royal Lipizzans doing a special presentation of flags saluting all of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

"We are very grateful that Gabby Herrmann supports the school that she attended," Coker said.

In addition to the Taste event, the historic society continues to search for grants and is offering sponsorships for each of the 34 windows in the school.

"The amount of money we raise will determine whether we will be able to get our certificate of occupancy this year," Coker said.

An open house at the school is planned Nov. 1 to share with the community the progress that has been made.

"Our heart's desire is to get that building used," Carlton said. "That building means so much."

Gates open at 2 p.m. Sunday, and the event starts at 4 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children. Information: 941-322-1304 or 941-322-1035.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1.

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