Original Fountain Lakes Homeowner Celebrates Becoming a Centenarian
By Craig Handel
As Betty Zimbro talks of turning 100, five balloons float around inside her Fountain Lakes home. The six bouquets of flowers she received are gone, but a gifted orchid remains, as well as cookies she froze and 80 birthday cards.
“Each one had something written on them,” she says proudly. “I’m still getting cards. I also got gift cards and strawberries—chocolate strawberries—that were so big!”
Friends and family treated her like a celebrity with three separate parties.
A women’s group from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Bonita Springs held a birthday luncheon. Her grandson William put on a party that was attended by her daughter Carole, grandson Bobby, great-grandson Reese and cousin Wendy, whom she hadn’t seen in 30 years. Employees at the Bonita Beach salon where she gets her hair done also hosted a lunch for her.
“I didn’t expect this,” she said. “I knew my grandson was planning something, but I didn’t know exactly what.”
Betty said she and husband Bob became the third residents to buy a new-construction home in Fountain Lakes when they came to Estero in 1989.
“We had friends who lived in Venice,” she recalled. “They said if we wanted to stay down here, it should be on the west coast. We always went to the east coast, the Fort Lauderdale area. One time when we were going home, we drove across the state and went up the west coast. We stopped and looked at different developments. This one stuck.”
With Estero having a population of about 850 in 1989, Betty said she sometimes saw more wildlife than people.
“You didn’t dare go out at night,” she said. “You might meet a bear.”
Today, Fountain Lakes has 900 households, and Estero has a population of about 38,000—and growing.
“This area is pretty well developed,” Betty said. “I don’t like all the development…but that’s progress.
“But I have been here during the best of times,” she added.
Born June 14, 1923, Betty is a native of Maryland. She became secretary, then manager, of a private men’s club which included doctors, lawyers and other professional people. The supervisor of luncheons and parties, she often worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Betty met her husband when he moved to Maryland from West Virginia. Shortly after they married in 1944, Bob left to serve in the military during World War II. When he was stationed in Florida, she followed him. During this time, Betty gave birth to daughters Carole and Barbara. Afflicted with cerebral palsy, Barbara died at the age of 23.
Bob spent 26 years in the U.S. Army. After he retired, he wanted to return to Florida.
“He loved it here,” Betty said. Unfortunately, Bob died unexpectedly a few years after they moved to Fountain Lakes.
Betty stayed active in the community as president for Sunrise, the Fountain Lakes Community Association, and served on a variety of social and charitable committees.
Today, Betty continues to contribute to the community by working at Penny Wise Thrift Shop at St. Mary’s one day a week. She also makes infant hats of various colors for the mission of neighbor Charlene Forsythe.
“She sends the little hats to babies overseas,” Betty said. “I’ve made close to 100.”
Betty enjoys “just being able to be alive and doing as much as I can.”
“She’s very sharp,” said neighbor Joe Pavich. “She drove by our house every day for 33 years until recently.”
Being 100 is fine with Betty. What she doesn’t like is being told she can’t drive anymore, which takes away her independence.
“I don’t like to be obligated to people and having to ask someone to take me to the hairdresser,” she said, then added, “But everyone has been so gracious.”