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St. Peter Catholic Church formed an important foundation in my early life in DeLand.

Both of my parents and all of my childhood friends were parishioners. In the very early 1960s, an effort to fund and build a new church (the one now standing) was a priority of Father Patrick Malone, a dynamic Irish priest.

The old church was still in use as a classroom. This sat on the site now occupied by St. Peter School. It was a classic, Florida Gothic church design with a steeple and all stained-glass windows.

The congregation had outgrown the old church, and for a time, St. Peter’s services were conducted in the still-existing DeLand Armory on South Alabama Avenue. A new facility was badly needed.

The old church was now a classroom used by students. Directly and high above the altar was a semicircular stained-glass window with a portrait of St. Peter in a beautiful design and brilliant colors. Through a series of lucky events, that window now belongs to me, and I am looking at it as I write this account.

My story is not about this window or even the old church. It is about the first St. Peter’s Fall Festival. I think the year was 1961.

Father Malone and the church members had come up with an idea to raise money for the new church by staging an elaborate festival. DeLand in that era did not have a lot of entertainment choices, so a festival in the middle of town proved to be very popular.

This was not the St. Peter Oktoberfest event that we know today, with carnival rides.

At the time, the Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers Circus was headquartered in DeLand and lent its big top for the event. It was a huge and colorful tent and provided a festive atmosphere.

I can’t remember all of the booths and food stands, but I can remember roulette-style gambling (25-cent maximum bets) where even a 10-year-old could participate. I think I won around $5, and the men called me “moneybags.”

It may be hard to believe, but there was even a whisky-shot booth. Just like it sounds, adults could buy a shot of whisky (I think it cost $1) and go on with their night.

But my most vivid memory was of the dunking booth, borrowed from the circus. It was the real thing. Someone would sit on the crossbar above the water tank, and participants would pay to toss a baseball at the target. If you hit the target, the person would fall into the water.

The booth was expected to be a great success and money-raiser, but sales were lagging. It was suggested that some of the more important church members step forward and volunteer to be dunked to raise more money.

They tried to get my father to sit in the booth, but he hesitated. Even Father Malone was reluctant. Then Clyde Lankford stepped forward.

In my mind, Clyde Lankford, owner of Lankford Funeral Home, was one of our city’s most memorable citizens. He was great friends with both my father and Father Malone, even though he was not a church member.

Clyde was an impeccable dresser: silk suits, bright white shirts and colorful ties. Clyde even wore a diamond pinkie ring. In today’s world, you would call it “bling.” It was accepted that Clyde would always be the best-dressed man in the room.

Clyde announced he would volunteer to sit in the booth, if the minimum fee was greatly increased. The festival participants loved it, and lined up for a chance to dunk the resplendent undertaker in all his custom-tailored finery.

It happened over and over. Clyde was dunked. Then a succession of other men, my father and Father Malone included, would take their turns. The dunking booth was a huge success that night, in faraway 1961, in a much different DeLand.

— Mancinik is a fifth-generation Floridian and a native of DeLand. He has been an active Realtor for more than 40 years.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hey!
    Very cool article! In my much younger years, I was Teresa Pancratz. Most of the people we knew attended St. Peter’s. I think that I was a year ahead of your sister, Missy at St. Peter’s Grammar School. I remember Father Malone, his assistant, Father McPoland and masses at the armory, plus a couple masses on the lawn of what was once the rectory, where the “new” church now stands. It’s so bizarre to realize that the “new” is now sixty years old.
    Both my 5th and 6th grade classes were in the old church with Sister Loretta Marie. My sister, Monica, five years younger also had classes in there. I miss those stained glass windows and the floor furnace.
    Terrific that you have the big window! I hope that you will e-mail me a pic of it. I recently learned that Cyndie (used to be Drucker) now has one of the stained glass windows in her Arizona home. Do you happen to know where the others are now? I’d love to see pics of light shining through them again. My good friend, Ed Combs, does not remember the stained glass windows.
    I remember a window each for (I think they were) Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the lower area of those windows were the names of whoever had paid for and donated them.
    Mary Mattingly remembers windows there depicting the stations of the cross.
    Some of my most pleasant memories are from that first fall festival! Before setting up the tent, the elephant was brought across the street, where the whole school came spilling out to see it. Some of the braver kids were allowed to touch it. We had to return to class, so did not get to watch the generous layer of sawdust being put down and the elephant helping to drive the stakes, which would help to secure the big tent.
    It was so exciting the evening that event started! What a charged atosphere! My folks were very generous with change, since the money was going to a good cause. I was fascinated by the white mouse running around on the spinning numbers. Fishing for prizes was fun! I was 10ish.
    My late dad reminiscing about that era, mentioned that Clyde Lankford and Father Malone were good friends. Great that your father was friends with them too! I’m sure that meant a lot to Father Malone, since he was across the ocean from Ireland.
    I hope that you’ve been safe during this pandemic.
    I hope that you will send me an e-mail pic of your stained glass window.
    Thanks for the memories!

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