Fearing God, loving people and maybe hoping for a little political mileage, J.O. "Jake' Downley threw a Labor Day picnic in this little community for some 8,000 of his fellow toilers.
There was fried chicken and cole slaw and rolls and baked beans. Coca Cola, parachute jumpers and speech makers, gospel singing and country music, sack races, fishing contests, searched for 100 one-dollar bills in a haystack and a game where married people and just friends lobbed raw eggs to (not at) one another.
The delaying celebration drew young families, middle-aged couples and elderly from nearby towns like Ocala to this lake-studded countryside in rural North Florida. Speeding past pine trees nailed with signs that read "Jesus is coming," they seemed happy to oblige a businessman yearning to show them a good time.
Twenty years ago when he was a West Virginia coal miner. Jake Townley couldn't have laid out a spread on his own 116 acres of rolling, tree-shaded land.
Broke and beset with marital problems, as he tells it, he came to Florida in 1963 and started over. He opened shop in a 100-car garage and began making mining equipment.
"The Lord saved me. That's when I really got started," he explained. Today he employs about 125 people at Townley Engineering and Manufacturing Co., Inc. making equipment to process phosphate, coal and copper. His annual sales are "in the range of $5 million" and he has small plants in Arizona and West Virginia as well. His wife and six children work with him.
But Townley, 57, works hard at remembering the coal mine he was and the spiritual force that lifted him from that life. Townley and his corporation support an average of 20 missionaries, give money to the building of churches and send out letters on stationary carrying Bible verses.
The vice president of a Pentacoastal church organization, Townley also orders his employees to attend Tuesday morning "devotionals." "They don't mind getting paid for sitting." he says. "They can plug up their cars."
The West Virginian brags about the pensions and profit-sharing plan he has for his employees, and black supervisor and secretary he has hired and his $3 minimum hourly starting pay.
What he doesn't like are what he calls efforts to block new industry from coming to the county. When he wanted to put an industrial plant on his own 116 acres, he ran headlong into the country zoning law. That started him in politics and picnics.
"The fact is, zoning is Communistic I don't care what anybody says. It allows a few to manipulate. The poor can't do that," he insisted.
Townley fought the zoning code and became interested in a bigger politician who shared his views about "the little man." He invited Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace to speak at his first picnic three years ago. Last year Townley made his own quite unsuccessful run for Congress and this year he says he's just working at his business for now.
Townley said his picnic Monday wasn't designed to spread his name in the district. For the past two years it has shown up as a business expense on the corporation tax forms.
"The wage scale here is very, very low, and people are beat low. There's no middle class. They're either rich or they've got crumbs. These people you see here today, some of them this is the only meal they'll have today, the only entertainment they'll get all year."
Fortunately, the situation didn't seem as desperate as that for everyone. Picnickers repaired occasionally to the air conditioning of their late model cars, and there was anticipatory talk of September bowling leagues.
A local law enforcement official put the crowd at 8,000-9,000, although Townley estimated 5,000.
One man leaving the grounds with his son and father rated Townley "a nice guy" for throwing the party, even though "he wants you to vote for him sooner or later."