100-year-old man who built park says 'working hard' is secret to long life

Credit: (Christal Hayes/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: (Christal Hayes/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Every day for the past 30 years Woody Blevins has gone about meticulously landscaping about an acre of land bordering his home, turning it into his own private park.

He dons a straw hat and often spends eight hours a day with his mower, trimmer and clippers to make sure the manicured lot along State Road 19 keeps its curb appeal. But like a lot of older people who have spent too many days mowing, pulling weeds and sweating, he finally decided it was time to cut back.

He's now 101.

Blevins and his wife, Leah, recently donated the land to the tiny Lake County town about 35 miles northwest of Orlando so it can serve as a public park for residents to enjoy beyond admiring it from the road. Howey-in-the-Hills has taken over maintenance, although Blevins can't resist helping out.

"I didn't realize I was making a park," he said. "I just thought my lawn looked good."

The lot is bordered by oak trees, and at the center sits a flagpole and a large circular shrub. Blevins dug trenches and installed an intricate electrical and irrigation system for the lot, which houses about a dozen large globe lights and 200 plants, including bougainvilleas, gardenias and lilies. He used concrete bricks to border plants and has poured about 300 bags of river rocks and mulch throughout the area.

"I love working hard and would much rather be outside helping grow something beautiful than out golfing," Blevins said. "Everything you see out there, I did. I'm happy it's going to be something that everyone will enjoy for years to come after I'm gone."

An Ohio native, Blevins worked as a contractor for engineers and in construction, which helped provide him the skills to transform the lot from an old orange grove along the highway that cuts through the community of 1,200 into a park.

His lot has become well-known in the area through the years, drawing admiring glances from passing motorists and occasionally causing someone to stop with a blanket and picnic basket, not realizing it's not public property.

One of Blevins' neighbors, Richard Messersmith, has watched the land take shape for two decades.

"It's amazing. He's out there for hours and hours every day, making sure everything looks perfect," said Messersmith, 76.

Blevins' green thumb has spread around the neighborhood. Many homes, including the one of Messersmith and his wife, Susan, also have well-groomed yards and polished gardens.

Blevins has invested about $25,000 in the park, but when the town's water rates increased, it got to be an even more expensive project. He said his water bill one month topped $400.

Mayor Chris Sears said Blevins had approached him about his water bills, and the pair came to an agreement that gives the Blevinses free water for life in exchange for the land, which is on the tax rolls for about $24,000.

"I told him we'd name the park after him, and it would serve as a great tribute to all the work he'd done to make it such a beautiful display of Florida landscaping," Sears said. "It's just a win-win situation for everyone."

The mayor said the lot is in a great location because motorists coming into town and traveling through to Clermont or Tavares pass by it. Blevins said it was an easy decision to donate the lot to the town, which was incorporated in 1925, when Blevins was 9.

"I could have sold it or built a few houses there, but I don't want the money." Blevins said. "I just wanted someone to take care of it since I couldn't."

Sears said Howey's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has been making plans for the park, including an idea to transform it into a tribute for veterans and call it Blevins Patriot Park. The town is responsible for upkeep, but Blevins still helps out occasionally while also tending a small landscaped area near his home.

"Of course, I get a bit worried about him out here, but this is what he loves doing," said Leah Blevins, 86, who says she's her husband's "backup quarterback."

Woody Blevins, who has one daughter, a grandson and two great-grandsons, said he doesn't have any plans to limit his time outdoors.

"My doctor says he can't find anything wrong with me. In fact, one of the last times I went, he told me I was in better shape than him," Blevins said, laughing.

He attributes his health to two words.

"Working hard."

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