Let me tell you a little about Rodney MacRae.
If Homosassa had a mayor, it’d be Rodney. Easygoing, quick with a smile, pure Homosassa in every way. Just look at today’s selfie. That’s Rodney all the time.
The MacRae name is nearly as known in Old Homosassa as the river itself. Who hasn’t hung out at MacRae’s bait shop at least once (or dozens in my case) idling away watching in fascination as fishermen cleaned their catch just a few feet away (to the delight of pushy pelicans).
Wilma MacRae still lives in the old hotel that’s been the family residence since the mid 1990s. Duncan MacRae Sr. died in 2006.
Rodney is the MacRae I’ve gotten to know. We’re not close or anything like that, but Rodney knows he has a listening ear anytime he reaches out to me.
Which is exactly what happened seven years ago when Rodney and fellow Homosassian Roger Cullen asked to meet them at some property on the river.
The pair had big ideas about developing a park for the community. Seems that Homosassa, while being a working waterfront community, had no public access to the river outside of the county boat ramp next to MacRae’s bait shop.
They weren’t looking for a swimming hole or another eyesore to park boat trailers.
Rather, as Rodney explained to me Thursday, Roger’s vision was simply a place to enjoy a morning cup of coffee watching the river ease by.
The story of what resulted — the Homosassa Heritage Park and Working Waterfront — is the stuff of local lore.
I wrote an email Thursday to someone explaining the significance of the project. In part:
“Until a few years ago, Homosassa had several reputations and few of them were good. The publicized ones (I wrote a lot of those stories) were of very deep internal bickering. This beautiful community was going nowhere.
“That’s when a small group of folks started looking for community riverfront park property. Holy cow, here they are. The Homosassa Civic Club owns the property, it’s a working waterfront, historical, fits perfectly with the character of Homosassa. It’s a true community success story, Homosassa’s version of Three Sisters Springs.”
With Rodney right in the middle.
I’m confident the Homosassa residents and community leaders (of which there are many) behind this effort would have found success nonetheless. But having Rodney lead the charge not only put the project over the top but gave it true Old Homosassa legitimacy.
Rodney’s an interesting guy. Like I said, mild-mannered. Unless he wants something, which is practically every time we talk, then he can be pushy as hell. And he was pushy as hell to me, county commissioners and state legislators — all with that trademark Rodney folksy grin. As if HE knew that YOU knew he’d get what he wanted so let’s not waste time talkin’ and get down to the details.
It wasn’t an easy road, getting this park. Dealing with the government never is. The county wouldn’t put up any money, but it offered staff time and assistance in other areas.
Former Senate President and now Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson is the one who steered Rodney and friends to the Florida Community Trust, where the civic club was able to secure a grant to buy the property.
The park will include a fishing pier with boat slips so that folks can drop in for a visit.
And, looking across the river, Rodney pointed to a patch of wild land that is about to become civic association property thanks to Byron and Cindy Rogers, owners of Crump’s Landing, who donated it to the community.
Rodney, who has more Old Homosassa heritage stories than anyone I know, started telling one about that property across the river. The names and dates didn’t register with me, but he said the vision is to build a boardwalk and name it after the Trotter family, another well-known Homosassa name.
I spent about 10 minutes with Rodney and he didn’t stop smiling. I said I was proud of him.
Homosassa, like many hamlets, has family names that are instantly relatable. The children of these pioneers grow up in their parent’s shadows, knowing that their actions are watched closer than others.
It isn’t easy. The MacRaes had their challenges like anyone else.
Rodney told me Duncan MacRae instilled in his children a sense of community. Never entitlement, instead, leadership through hard work and example. It can be challenging. Not everyone shared Rodney’s park vision and they were blunt about telling him.
I didn't follow Rodney closely before 2016 but I’ve sure seen that leadership since. This beautiful heritage park, which is already frequented by locals and visitors alike, stands in large part because of a man named MacRae.
Well done, Mr. Mayor.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.