Former Camden Avenue residents walk down memory lane

Naomi Parsons, Chloe Johnson, Ray Walker, Faye Chambers Walker, Tom Parsons, Chase Johnson, Jeff Parsons and his wife Gina

Naomi Parsons, Chloe Johnson, Ray Walker, Faye Chambers Walker, Tom Parsons, Chase Johnson, Jeff Parsons and his wife Gina

It was a stroll down Memory Lane for more than 20 Camden Avenue childhood friends and former neighbors, who gathered with their families for a first-ever reunion in St. Nicholas March 19.

Reconnecting through Facebook with their neighborhood friends from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, childhood best friends Anita Tiffany Dunford of San Jose and Linda Wood Hills of Mandarin orchestrated a Saturday evening walk down Camden Avenue for their childhood buddies before heading over to the Mudville Grille in St. Nicholas for a reunion meal.

Including spouses and other family members, 40 with Camden Avenue ties took part in the walk back in time. Joining in the fun were Roger Curry of St. Nicholas; Dunford’s sisters Melanie Tiffany Bird of Avondale and Marie Tiffany Howell of Ortega;  Phil Spiak of San Marco; Wayne Ballasso of St. Nicholas and his wife, Laurie, as well as Wayne Ballasso’s ex-wife, Cindy, of St. Nicholas; Wayne Ballasso’s mother, Marilyn Wilkins Ballasso, and her sister, Tena Wilkins Dancy; Wayne’s son, Sean Ballasso, and his children, Blake, Samuel Cash and Olive Ballasso; Barbara and Jim Brinkman; Frances Daniels Rogers; Layton Hartley and his sisters Patsy Hartley Selang and Dede Hartley Noyes; Jeff Parsons and his brother, Tom Parsons; Ray Bunn; and Margo Olcott Wilson.

Camden Avenue residents Bebe, Margo and Skipper Olcott in the 1960s.

Camden Avenue residents Bebe, Margo and Skipper Olcott in the 1960s.

Chris Meide of San Jose, as well as Hal Schemer and Marty Schemer and their families missed the walk but were expected to join the group at the Mudville Grille. Wayne Ballasso’s sister, Tammy, who currently lives on the street, also was absent from the walk but made it to the dinner. Her son, Jonathan Sandroni, grew up on Camden Avenue, but currently lives in Jacksonville Beach and was unable to attend the festivities.

Tom Parsons, who lives in North Carolina, traveled to the reunion from Afghanistan, where he has been working as a contract firefighter for more than five years. “I would have quit my job to come to this,” he said.

Also traveling from afar to see their old friends were Patsy Hartley Selang and her sister, Dede Hartley Noyes, who live in the mountains of Tennessee.

Presently living on the street is Roger Curry, who grew up on Camden Avenue, moved away for a few years, then back into his mother’s home after she passed away.

Wayne Ballasso’s grandparents built the house at 2014 Camden Avenue, which he currently owns, and five generations of his family have lived in that house or in others nearby. Wayne currently owns three Camden Avenue homes, which he rents. He formerly lived with his wife, Laurie, at 2104 Camden. His ex-wife, Cindy, and his sister, Tammy, are also Camden Avenue residents. “It was beautiful back then, and I knew everybody on the street. We knew everybody,” he said.

A short street that intersects with Beach Boulevard, Camden Avenue is a dead-end in the heart of St. Nicholas near the headwaters of Miller’s Creek. It currently consists of 23 small homes, said Dunford, noting when she was growing up, the end of the road was commonly referred to as “the ditch.”

The oldest former resident to attend the gathering was Jim Brinkman, who is 88. His family built the first house in 1933, a residence with no inside plumbing and outhouse in the backyard. Brinkman said prior to moving to Camden Avenue, he was born in a house at the corner of what is now Beach Boulevard and Schumacher Avenue. At that time, Camden Avenue was unpaved and named Roosevelt Road. “This was long before there was a Beach Boulevard,” said Dunford. “There was a train station just a short walk away, and the train went all the way to Atlantic. Hogan Road was a dirt road leading to the street.”

Since the time the group resided on Camden, four to five more homes near Beach Boulevard have since been demolished to make way for several commercial properties during the 1960s and ‘70s, she said.

“Growing up, the road pavement ended at ‘the hill,’ near the end of the street. Why, no one knows. A few of the homes are still owned by family members,” said Dunford.

Most of the children on the street walked to Spring Park Elementary or Assumption Catholic School, she said. Later they advanced to Landon High School or Bishop Kenny.

Sisters Anita Tiffany Dunford of San Jose, Marie Tiffany Howell of Ortega and Melanie Tiffany Bird of Avondale in front of their childhood home on Camden Avenue in St. Nicholas.

Sisters Anita Tiffany Dunford of San Jose, Marie Tiffany Howell of Ortega and Melanie Tiffany Bird of Avondale in front of their childhood home on Camden Avenue in St. Nicholas.

During their childhood years, St. Nicholas Shopping Center thrived with several businesses, including Preston’s Pharmacy (now the Mudville Grille), A&P Grocery Store, Sew and Trim (alterations), a launderette, a shoe repair shop, a uniform shop, Curry Thomas Hardware, which is still in business today, and St. Nick’s package store and lounge, she said, noting that Curry Thomas has been housed in the old A&P for many years.

“The neighborhood was like Leave It To Beaver, with quite a bit of heavy drinking, recalled Margo Olcott Wilson.

“It was a modest neighborhood,” Dunford said. “Everybody owned their own home. We didn’t have curbs, and the road was more narrow. Everybody had bigger lawns, and it was shadier,” she remembered. “There’s no way you could drive down this street if you grew up on it and not have your heart warmed.”

“My fondest memories are playing in the Tiffanys’ backyard playhouse and playing Tarzan with the Bunn boys,” Linda Wood Hills recalled.

Dunford also remembered the playhouse in her backyard. “The playhouse had a front porch and a stoop. It also had a little bench and a built-in hutch inside. We would play house and school in there. It was the gathering place for the girls,” she said.

“It was just a comfortable place to be,” said Dunford’s sister, Melanie Tiffany Bird. “There was always somebody to play with. When our mother would call us to come in, our next door neighbor, Ruth Cox, had a parrot named Polly, who would imitate us and tell our mother we were coming. Polly would say, ‘Coming,’ and she would imitate our voices. It was funny,” she recalled.

Former Camden Avenue residents and their families strolled down Camden Avenue in St. Nicholas March 19.

Former Camden Avenue residents and their families strolled down Camden Avenue in St. Nicholas March 19.

“Marguerite Olcott (Margo Olcott Wilson’s mother) was Miss Camden Avenue. She ran a barber shop out back,” Dunford continued. “She would sweep her lawn with a broom.”

Marguerite Olcott was also the neighborhood barber, cutting everyone’s hair from a small shop in her backyard, recalled her daughter, Margo.

She and Marie Tiffany Howell were the youngest children on the block and grew up as best friends who lived across the street from each other, Wilson said. “There used to be a dent in the road between our houses. If she wasn’t at my house, I was at hers,” she remembered.

Also in the mix was Patsy Hartley Salang, who lived nearby. “We were inseparable. To be punished meant we couldn’t see each other for a day,” she said.

“We had a glider and a rocker on our front porch and mother would sit me in the rocker with her,” Wilson recalled. “The neighbors would come and wave and join us. There was laughter all around. We had a nice childhood. We were blessed,” she said.


By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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