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Neighbors in Longleaf Plantation are telling on each other.

For 22 years, Joyce Moran and Florence “Flossie” Spanninger have lived side by side in the neighborhood on DeLand’s south side. 

They share memories, enjoy similar hobbies, and admire each other. 

The longtime friends share a pact: Whoever dies first bequeaths her sewing supplies to the survivor.

Recently, Moran contacted The Beacon to encourage us to write about Spanninger, her crafty neighbor, who, for more than two decades, has been making teddy bears for children who are in need of comfort and reassurance. 

“Do you have to use my name?” Spanninger asked as the interview commenced. “I prefer to be known as Grandma Flo.”

Scores of thank-you cards addressed to Grandma Flo, a devoted and skilled seamstress, attest to her preference.

One enormous card stands out. Angled cuts in the sturdy pink polka-dotted paper indicate that the author meant creative business.   

Inside is an album. Its photos speak more loudly than words ever could.

Page after page features a different young mother-to-be cradling a teddy bear made by Spanninger. The soon-to-be moms are but children, themselves. 

Their smiles are big and genuine. It’s clear that in embracing the brightly patterned, button-eyed bears, they feel the love Grandma Flo sent along with the bear. 

The young women are residents of DeLand’s Destiny House Group Home, one of several group homes operated by the Children’s Home Society.

Spanninger and her daughter Rhonda deliver the bears to the Children’s Home Society’s Family Harmony House Visitation Center in DeLand, for distribution to Destiny House and Sunshine House, according to Melinda Granzberg, a Harmony House staff member.

Granzberg said some bears are given to children at Harmony House, where the youngsters have visits with parents who are trying to regain custody.

“When they’re looking at the end of the visit, especially if they’re crying, having to leave their parents, we give them a teddy bear for comfort,” Granzberg said. “The kids love them, and we can always count on Flo to bring us more almost every month.”

Grandma Flo appreciates the thank-yous.

“Long ago, the girls gave me these pictures,” she said, smiling. “I don’t ask for anything. I don’t want anything. That’s not donating. But the heartfelt things these kids send … .”

This week, Spanninger will leave about 15 more of the stuffed animals at Harmony House. She figures she and her daughter have dropped off about 52 since January. 

“We just load them up on the sofa in the spare room and take them right down there on Voorhis to the Children’s Home Society,” Spanninger said. 

She’s been doing this for about 20 years. 

Before retiring from her job as a pharmacy technician, Spanninger made blankets for Project Linus.

“When I was newly retired, my son saw an ad in the paper, in need of donations,” she said. 

She turned from blankets to bears, and hasn’t stopped stitching the cheerful companions.

Spanninger has been sewing for as long as she can remember. A display of old wooden spools of thread on the door of her sewing-room closet belonged to her mother. 

“My grandmother sewed — she had six daughters — and my mother sewed,” Spanninger said. “My daughter made costumes for Universal [Studios]. It gets passed down.”

It was a given that Spanninger would start sewing as a youngster.

“You didn’t do anything if you didn’t sew,” she said.

For her, the same is true today.

“Wouldn’t it be detrimental to just sit here and do nothing all day, or watch TV all day, when you can do something for someone?” Spanninger said. “I have something to do.”

Quickly, she retreated from the subject of her accomplishments, and began pointing out the artistic creations of her daughter and granddaughter displayed throughout her home. 

She also pointed a finger at the neighbor who tipped off The Beacon about Spanninger’s good works.

“What she didn’t tell you,” Spanninger said of Moran, 94, “is that she’s in a band, and every week she plays the piano in the nursing home.”

Moran has been in a band for 30 years, her daughter Robin Beckman, a West Volusia Realtor, said.

Currently, Moran and her friends, renowned artist and musician Don Nedobeck and Elder Chief Walter Finch, spiritual leader of the New Hampshire Abenaki tribe, perform regularly at Alliance Community for Retirement Living and Parkside Health and Rehabilitation Center in DeLand, Beckman said. 

“She doesn’t read notes, music,” Beckman said. “She plays by ear. She says it’s amazing, how she enjoys seeing these people perk up, that they start clapping, keeping beat with their toes. They just look forward to Mother and the guys coming.”

Beckman’s admiration for her adventurous and giving mother runs deep.

Moran belonged to a local songwriters association and has written many songs, her daughter said. 

“One was played at Daytona Beach Community College in a play,” Beckman said.

At 23, Moran became a licensed pilot and parked airplanes at an airport in Taylorville, Illinois, according to her daughter, and sometimes helped deliver correspondence to workers in the coal mines. 

As a young woman, Moran also was the Ladies Tennis Champion of Green Bay, Wisconsin. At 25, she enrolled in the dental-hygiene program at Marquette University in Milwaukee. She put herself through school and, by age 27, was a licensed hygienist.

As the wife of a career Marine, Moran moved a lot with her husband and the couple’s four children. When the family came to Florida, and found that Moran’s hygienist license would not transfer, she simply studied, took another test and got a Florida license. 

“My mother’s like Lucille Ball,” Beckman said, laughing. “I used to think my mother was ‘I Love Lucy.’”

She means that, like Lucy, nothing daunted or stopped Moran, who bravely cared for her young daughter Kelly before Kelly died from leukemia.

“My mom went through hell then,” Beckman said. “But she survived.”

Moran always sewed her children’s clothing, and later, Beckman said, secured a contract with the University of Florida to make hair ties and garters featuring the Gator logo. 

She also sold handmade wares, including tote bags, to retail clients in St. Augustine and Mount Dora. 

“Now her fingers are arthritic, and she stopped driving last spring,” Beckman said. “It’s harder for her to play the piano.”

But Moran soldiers on. 

Both her mother and Spanninger delight Beckman, who said their friendship is enviable, and their deeds even more so.

“They’re not just sitting around being miserable,” she said. “They’re out there doing things to make other people feel better. How great is that?”

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