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Seeking perspective on 2009

Whenever the locomotive of growth and development that defined East Manatee for a decade gets back on track, it will no longer be a runaway train.

As the harsh economic year draws to an end, there is a glimmer of hope that the housing market has started to improve, with more resales in November than have been seen in a while.

Developer Pat Neal, who had let his 795-residential unit Central Park project at Lakewood Ranch slumber for 15 months, says he senses a change in the economy. He brought the project out of hibernation recently and hopes to open models in July.

We now understand reasons for the super-heated housing market that produced a national economic meltdown, even though we have a hard time understanding how government regulation and prudent business practices could allow such a thing.

But whatever the economy, life went on in 2009, and often the stories of inspiration were to be found in individual lives.

Lakewood Ranch resident Ken Quinn, second mate aboard the container ship Maersk Alabama, helped fight off Somali pirates in April off the coast of Africa. Despite national media attention and a welcome home at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and Lakewood Ranch, Quinn took it all in stride:

“I just never expected this. I don’t feel like parade material,” Quinn said, adding he just wanted to get reacquainted with his family and go for a ride on his motorcycle.

Quinn’s return home came as Keith Stansell, another Lakewood Ranch resident, published a book on his 2008 rescue from communist rebels in the jungles of Colombia. Stansell and two other Americans were rescued after 51/2 years in captivity.

Inspiration of another kind was provided early in the year when Palm-Aire resident Harriette Merolla learned that “Hymn to Freedom,” a song born during the American Civil Rights struggle, would be performed at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Merolla, who wrote the lyrics for the song, said, “It will be a very moving day for me.”

East Manatee residents often looked to their faith and their community for strength.

Congregations as diverse as Risen Savior Lutheran Church and Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch were either moving into new sanctuaries or making plans to do so.

And in Myakka and Parrish, where residents have long yearned for their own community centers, there was good news. Parrish’s historic schoolhouse went through several years of renovation and restoration and reopened to host everything from community gatherings, to YMCA programs and the annual children’s Christmas party.

Myakka residents are hoping they, too, will have a stand-alone center built in 2010 with about $500,000 of county funds.

At Lakewood Ranch, citizens are seriously studying the wisdom of incorporating. The conversation has been quiet as of late, but it will crank back up early in 2010. At the Lakewood Ranch Democratic Club meeting Jan. 5, members are getting ready for a discussion on the pros and cons of incorporation.

Has its time come? Well, that probably depends a lot on the dreaded “e” word: the economy.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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