Meet MMHS Board Member Gabriele Dempsey and learn why she loves Mandarin. Gabriele, an interior designer, heads up our Facilities Committee and is always looking for new volunteers to help with the many park clean-ups she coordinates during the year.

“My husband Bruce and I moved to Mandarin 40 years ago, coming from Tallahassee where we both taught at Florida State University. We came to visit a friend and lo and behold, we moved to Jacksonville shortly after my husband was offered a job. Mandarin reminded us of Tallahassee…many huge live oaks and certainly rural.

We bought property that was an old nursery, not far from the corner of Mandarin Road and County Dock Road. We raised our children Max and Kate in the area, which at the time had no sidewalks. San Jose Blvd. was a sleepy two-lane road that extended to Switzerland and the William Bartram Trail.

I remember after we built our house I opened our back door and a feral pig went charging past the door. People regularly rode horses on Mandarin Road, not much traffic in those days. The kids went to County Dock almost everyday when school was out, jumping off the dock for a dip. They begged me to buy a canoe, and I broke down getting a gheenoe with a small motor, which was used to explore the river. We didn’t worry that much in those days…as long as they had their life preservers!!

Mandarin Supermarket was the only grocery store then, owned by Betty and Joe Cury. The market was the hub of the neighborhood and was located where our Publix on Mandarin Road currently resides. This was in the day before credit cards. Most of us had ‘open accounts’ and you would shop and sign your grocery receipt, and at the end of the month you settled up with one check. Betty Cury would hold our kids when they were babies while we gathered what we needed. Those were the days when we had a real butcher who could ‘dress’ any kind of meat you needed to order, by hand…no band saws!! And no Purell!! We had no concept of germs.

I say to myself almost every day…I should have taken pictures of what San Jose Blvd. looked like then, two lanes with many many trees lining the road. I never expected that it would look like it does now, just a sea of shopping centers on either side of the road, for miles. Of course this was before cell phones, that we really use as cameras today. What we could have been recording!!

MANDARIN MUSEUM – One of my biggest joys was the building of the Mandarin Museum and Historic Society, where I have been on the board for several years. We walk our dogs through the park almost every day, and no matter the weather, we soak up the sounds of the birds and the smell of citrus blossoms in the air.

THE RIVER AND BOARDWALK, the mosquitoes, the humidity, it’s all part of the Mandarin experience.

CITRUS – Mandarin is an explosion of citrus blossoms and it is like an aphrodisiac. I am transported to the days of Harriet B. Stowe when that scent comes wafting through the air. She called the budding of the flowers ‘the week of pearls.’ I have a small grove of 14 trees that are my treasure. My husband has become an orange marmalade expert!!

THE MAPLE LEAF – What a pleasure it has been volunteering at the museum with Dr. Holland who discovered the Civil War vessel still in the depths of the St Johns River. He and his amazing band of divers come once a month to weave their magic of the tales of this historic vessel.

THE SCHOOLHOUSE – What a wonderful addition to our park done through the diligent work of our volunteers. What an effort it was to preserve the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph and their work to educate the children of the slaves after emancipation.

There is so much more to say – music from the JAMS, the explosion of FROGS!!

ORDINANCE 2016-805 – How proud I am of all the work that the residents of Mandarin put forth to stop 21 homes being built on a postage stamp of property. The battle is not over, but the community came together, and what a force we were.