Four generations of Perkins family still call Zephyrhills their winter home.
Zephyrhills has been a prime destination for seasonal residents for generations. Among those snowbirds flocking to this bedroom community of Tampa Bay is one particular family representing four generations.
Their primary connection to Zephyrhills is shuffleboard, though most of them don’t even play. And their legacy is at the Zephyrhills Shuffleboard Club for all to see with the shuffleboard courts being named “Perkins Courts.”
Bob Perkins’ bloodline traces back to one of the city’s founding fathers of shuffleboard – his grandfather Albert, who first arrived with his wife in 1927 – and Perkins has carried on that tradition by buying the shuffle courts in 2007 from the Tourist Club and donating it back to the Club’s members in 2011.
“Shuffleboard has been a big passion in my life, that’s why I bought the courts,” Perkins said, who is also in the process of writing a book on the sport’s history in Zephyrhills. “I found my grandpa was listed in shuffleboard results (Zephyrhills News) a number of times.”
What is most impressive to Perkins and his relatives however is being part of four generations that still call Zephyrhills their winter home. None of them live here year round, but would not miss a winter here.
Great-grandson Rick Unbehaun never met Albert Perkins, who died before he was born. “It’s a lot of history,” Unbehaun said. “I have fond memories of coming here.”
“The four generations of the Perkins’ coming to Zephyrhills since 1927,” Perkins said. “The Perkins’ family has put their stamp on Zephyrhills.”
Shuffling in Zephyrhills can be traced back to the 1920’s when folks from Wisconsin came to Tin Can Camp, setting up tents and homemade camps around Zephyr Park. Initially, the popular pursuits of folks from up north were horseshoes and shuffleboard with Perkins’ grandfather excelling at “shoes and checkers.” Noted grandson, Unbehaun, tried shuffleboard and played horseshoes, “I was never as good as grandpa.”
Two crude shuffleboard courts were built at Lincoln Cabins, now the site of Winters Park. In 1932, the Tourist club on 7th street initially put in two courts, which later expanded to five. “The courts were so busy you had to take turns playing; all day and they played at night,” recalled Perkins, who still has an old wooden shuffleboard stick from the 1930’s.
Bob’s sister, Charlotte Radtke, never thought she’d be one of the players but she is and is a member of the ZSC Club.
“I’d seen those older men playing shuffleboard all the time and never dreamed I‘d be one of them,” she said. Now, I’m very enthusiastic about it too. It’s the thrill of the competition.”
Today, the Zephyrhills Shuffleboard Club’s, Perkins Courts are completely covered with high output lights installed. There are 16 courts and the facility hosts numerous State, District and Area tournaments annually. Most of the 148 members are seasonal.
The primary reason Perkins purchased the courts, he explained, was because the Tourist Club primarily catered to the Club's dancers and card players. “The shuffleboard courts were fine, but there were rumors that they intended to tear it down or sell it commercially.” Perkins said. “I went to the Tourist Club made the offer good enough that they couldn’t tear it down, so they accepted.”
After the purchased was completed, membership increased and members contributed to make necessary improvements to the roof, rest rooms, patio and other amenities.
Pete Lothrop, a longtime shuffler from Maine, recalled how Perkins, in essence, saved the shuffleboard club. “The Club used to be like playing by candlelight,” Lothrop said, adding that once Perkins made that financial commitment “everybody got involved and started donating. It just blossomed. It was like planting a seed when he took ownership.”
Perkins said his hands-off approach was a key strategy in getting members more involved with the Club,” After a corporation and board were formed, “I told them I would never run the Club, he said. “ I felt that this was the only way I could get cooperation and get people to do things if it was their club.”
This article was orginally published in the Zephyrhills News in 2011