HAROLD SCHWARTZ – H GARY MORSE – THE VILLAGES
By Stephen A Duncan
If you decide you want to live in The Villages, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to know a little history of The Villages. I haven’t heard a single negative word by anyone that would give you or me pause about living there. In fact, if you ask people how they like living in The Villages you hear nothing but positive comments. I decided to do a little research on my own. By the way, The Villages name or Logo has its own following I discovered. Just ask an older adult in Indiana, Michigan or Ohio about a place in central Florida called The Villages and you might hear something like this. “Oh, I know that place, so-in-so retired and is living in the Villages.” When you start nosing around there are two prominent names that made The Villages what it is today: founder Harold S. Schwartz and son H. Gary Morse.
Mary Louise in a red dress
Let’s start this story with Harold S. Schwartz first. His wife Mary Louise (“Mema”) Brown-Schwartz divorced Harold S. Schwartz and moved from Chicago back to Central Lake, Michigan, where she was raised. There were two children as a result of the Schwartz marriage, Harold Gary Schwartz and Mary Louise Schwartz. Mary Louise (former wife of Harold Schwartz) later married Clifford H. Morse and started what would become Brownwood Farms (a tourist attraction in Northern Michigan) in about 1944 with one building, the Honey House.
GARY & SISTER MARY LOUISE (“MAR”)
Because the war was in full swing, she was fearful the Schwartz name of her children might be an anti-Semitic target in case the Nazis invaded the United States. Clifford Morse adopted the children and their names were legally changed to his (Morse).
H GARY MORSE
H GARY MORSE AND FAMILY
H GARY MORSE MAKING A COMMERICAL FOR BROWNWOOD..
JENNIFER PARR, H GARY MORSE, (FAR RIGHT) MARK MORSE
Son, Harold Gary Morse (his mom preferred to use his middle name) later started and operated the Farmhouse Restaurant with his Mom and his wife, Sharon.
THE BEGINNING OF BROWNWOOD
What was, and is known as, Brownwood in Northern Michigan started with one building, The Honey House.
THE HONEY HOUSE
Then, they added a building called the Grass Lake School House as an additional tourist attraction.
GRASS CREEK SCHOOL HOUSE
The next building was a log cabin and the most famous building of all the old Stage Coach Stop, three miles down the road. The Morse family moved the Stage Coach Stop to Torch Lake and later the building became known as the Country Store.
Joyce Beleck (Washburn) of The Villages says, “Mr. Schwartz bought my great grandmothers farm and acreage on Torch Lake and put his wife Mary Louise and her mother in the farm house. Mary Louise opened a place on the property called The Honey House where she sold honey, jams and beautiful jewelry. I used to love to walk up to the Honey House from my grandparents cottage on Torch Lake. I spent time there every summer. It wasn’t until after they bought the property that they called it Brownwood Acres. After Mrs. Brown passed they made the farmhouse into a restaurant but it is no longer open and the farm is all boarded up. I’ve been back several times and have stopped at the Honey House. They still make the jam and have a Tea Room which is run by Mary Lou Detar.
H Gary Morse’s sister, Mary Lou (“Mar”) Morse-Detar married David S. Detar and continues to run the Honey House with her son, Stephan Detar. “Mar” still lives in Central Lake and Gary visits her often.
Harold S. Schwartz continued living in Chicago and later married Bernice Newman (about 1946) and together had three other children, one of which is Richard A. Schwartz (who lived in Eden Prairie, MN. for a while). Gary’s half-brother, who lives in The Villages is no longer involved with any of the operations of the corporation.
1950 – 1980
Before the internet brought the world together, there was something called AM radio stations. The biggest were located on the Mexican side of the border and called border radio, or “border blasters”. These mega-watt powerful “border blaster” radio stations evaded U.S. regulations restricting their power that was located just across the border in Mexico. They beamed programming across the United States and as far away as South America, Japan and Western Europe.
These heavy duty AM radio stations have an eventful history of border radio programing and some of the commercials were classic. From its beginning in the 1930’s one commercial sponsor stands out more than all the others— the “goat-gland doctor”, J. R. Brinkley. Brinkley came up with the idea of transplanting goat testicles into men after a local farmer came to him and asked if there was anything he could do to cure his virility problems. After the procedure the farmer began making testimonials for Brinkley after he and his wife later had a son.
Mexico radio station XERF also featured Hall of Fame announcer Paul Kallinger and Robert Smith, a man who became better known to the world as Wolfman Jack in the 1960s. These stations gave a blue print on how border broadcasters pioneered direct sales advertising, helped promote the power of electronic media as a political tool, aided in spreading the popularity of country music, rhythm and blues, rock, and laid the foundations for today’s electronic church.
Radio station Fort Worth 11, Texas, with an address of station XEG in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, was another spot on the dial familiar to border radio listeners. From 1950 to 1980 Harold S. Schwartz controlled the advertising on station XEG and became one of the most influential mail-order merchants on the border. A Chicago-based marketer, Schwartz’s varied interests also included advertising and promotion for Moose Magazine, management of a photographic company called Mansfield Industries, ownership of the Illinois Merchandise Mart and Alumina tablets, a medicine for relief from gaseous indigestion.
BORDER BLASTERS ON THE BORDER
Schwartz eventually contracted for all the advertising time on station XERB near Tijuana, as well as, XEG. He operated both stations until he gave up his border interests to acquire ownership of radio stations in the United States and started running a successful land-development project in Florida and Texas. According to another border radio hand, cowboy evangelist Dallas Turner, “Harold did eventually become a millionaire and it couldn’t have happened to a more wonderful person.”
HAROLD SCHWARTZ THE SALESMAN
Looking at some of the early magazine ads for Orange Blossom Gardens, which would eventually become The Villages, it’s easy to see Harold’s experience as a direct marketer shining through. Harold overcame objections with this catchy phrase, “IMPORTANT! You do not rent the lot – YOU OWN IT OUTRIGHT”, to the bullet point list with attractive (progressive even) features such as all underground utilities, and my favorite line of all…”No Salesman will call.” Harold knew how to sell.
Having had a hand in showbiz, Harold also understood the importance of making guests feel like stars. “Live like a millionaire on a retirement budget” was not just a slogan used in advertisements, Harold’s actions embodied the quote.
In the early days of The Villages, when prospective residents came to town for their Lifestyle Preview visits, Harold picked them up at the airport in a limousine. Talk about making a good first impression!
From other stories I’ve heard, Harold was frequently seen working his way around the town squares, meeting his neighbors and potential future residents. Quite a change from how things are done today.
Harold Schwartz the Entertainer
You don’t have to spend much time in The Villages to put your finger on one of the most important draws: Entertainment. While the early success stories among 55 + communities, such as Sun City in Arizona, focused primarily on activities like golf and amenities like clubhouses, Mr. Schwartz made sure he put an equal amount of emphasis on entertainment. A few examples are the nightly entertainment options available to residents and the venues in which residents have to enjoy them.
And let’s not forget about WVLG 640 AM, “The Voice of The Villages”. I’m left to wonder how much influence Mr. Schwartz’s Border Radio days had on creating The Villages’ own radio station.
1957 Back in Michigan
Meanwhile, back in Northern Michigan Mary Louise Morse, Harold Schwartz first wife, decided to take her dreams to the next level by buying the bustling Eastport Inn/Post Office/Stage Coach Stop and moving the building to the family’s Torch Lake property where it would become the country store. She decided the quickest way to move the building would be to put it on skids and pull it across the frozen lake. It seemed power lines couldn’t be moved, so moving the building down the three mile country road was not an option. The path of least resistance was to get a big truck and pull it across the frozen lake. As a large crowd stood on the shore to watch the building being pulled, the impossible happened. One of the runners snagged on the ice, and the building and the truck pulling the building, fell into eight feet of water.
TRUCK PULLING THE BUILDING TO THE LAKE
BIG TRUCK PULLING THE BUILDING ACROSS THE LAKE
THE BUILDING GETTING READY TO SINK INTO THE WATER.
Unbelievably, after the second story was removed the rest of the building floated to the surface and was later put back together at Brownwood, where it rests today. The building, now known as the Country Store, quickly became the center of activity at Brownwood. Everyone had heard about the building that fell into the lake and the building itself became a Brownwood tourist attraction.
The country store offered customers everything from haircuts to homemade candy to beds for rent. The bright red truck pulling the building across the ice was also pulled out of the lake at the insistence of the local government. The original farm house was also converted to a very successful restaurant.
Harold S. Schwartz, a Michigan businessman, began selling land tracts via mail order in the scrub land that would be known as Orange Blossom Gardens, (Later called The Villages) in the 1960s. Unfortunately, for Schwartz and his business partner Al Tarrson, a Federal law was passed in 1968 that banned the sale of real estate by mail order.
Harry and Louise Miller were settled into the mobile home park by Christmas 1969 as the first residents. They were the only residents until April 1970. It was reported that the Millers had to run off the cows wanting to graze in their yard. Harry was often seen shagging golf balls on Vermont Avenue.
Harold Schwartz purchased the Orange Blossom Garden manufactured home park in the early 70′s. Stuck with considerable portions of Florida land, after the federal government banned the sale of land by mail order, Schwartz and Tarrson had no choice but to go forward and develop a mobile home park, called Orange Blossom Gardens, in the northwestern corner of Lake County. Both single and doublewide homes were available from different manufactures until the decision was made to feature only one manufacturer, Fleetline homes. A model home was set up on Vermont Avenue alongside the Chapel of all Faiths church. A variety of model homes with a wide range in both size and cost were offered.
THE BIG HAND FELL OFF THE BILL BOARD AT SOME POINT
Around 1983 Harold convinced his son, H. Gary Morse, to join him to help build and run his enterprise, consisting now of 783 residents who enjoyed an active lifestyle. The Villages concept was born! As a side note, the first active club started was the “Solo Club.” The Solo Club is now called the Singles Club.
Around 1983, after buying out his OBG partner, Albert J. Tarrson, he was ready to retire. Gary, Sharon and their three children, Jennifer, Mark and Tracy, moved to Paradise Drive. Harold returned to Chicago for two years then came back to live on Aloha Way in 1985. Together, Harold and Gary had a bright vision for a retirement place they eventually named The Villages. Morse noted that the successful retirement communities (such as Del Webb’s Sun City developments) offered considerable numbers of well-maintained amenities to the residents and were also surrounded by diverse amounts of nearby commercial development. Thus, Morse began to significantly upgrade the development which worked out well. The mid-1980s saw improvement in sales and Schwartz then began to buy large tracts of land in nearby Sumter and Marion counties for future expansion.
LAKE SUMTER LANDING – THE VILLAGES
BROWNWOOD SQUARE – THE VILLAGES
You don’t have to spend much time in The Villages to put your finger on one of the most important draws… entertainment. While the early success stories among 55 + communities, such as Sun City in Arizona, focused primarily on activities like golf and amenities like clubhouses, Mr. Schwartz made sure he put an equal amount of emphasis on entertainment. A few examples are the nightly entertainment options available to residents and the venues in which residents have to enjoy them.
Morse officially changed the overall development name to The Villages in 1992. The development is still controlled in all major aspects by descendants of Schwartz and Morse. For example, H Gary Morse had three children: Jennifer Parr, is the Director of Sales and the spokesperson on the sales video sent out to prospective buyers and is Schwartz’s granddaughter. Tracy Mathews holds the title of Vice President of the Design Division and Mark Morse is Vice President of Operations.
TRACEY, H GARY, MARK, JENNIFER
H. Gary Morse lost his wife, Sharon, to cancer just before New Year in 1999. He is now 74 years old and loves to spend time on his 143 ft. yacht named “Cracker Bay” with his second wife, Renee. H. Gary Morse and his wife, Renee, own a house in The Villages worth more than $1 million.
H GARY MORSE
Morse is known for keeping a private life, making little contact with other residents and not giving interviews to the media. “He’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz,” Andrew D. Blechman, author of “Leisureville,” a book on retirement communities, said. “He’s the man behind the curtain. No one really knows him at the Villages.”
Harold S. Schwartz died just before Christmas, 2003. He was 93 years old, he had 5 children, 16 grand-children, 28 great grandchildren and shook thousands of hands on the Town Square.
HAROLD S SCHWARTZ
HAROLD S SWARTZ – FOUNDER – THE VILLAGES
In 2011, the Holding Company of the Villages Ltd., which is owned by Morse and his family, generated at least $550 million in revenue according to regulatory filings. Based on the value of his various businesses and real estate — plus the almost $1 billion in estimated profits the closely held company has earned over 29 years Morse and his family are worth more than $2.5 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. H Gary Morse has never appeared on an international rich list, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported.
The web site Nordwulf, calls itself “The restless road to nowhere” or as it’s also tagged, “The rich and famous in Northwest Michigan.” The Nordwulf talks about H. Gary Morse’s possible last visit home in one of his private jets just before he died. (https://nordwulf.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/rich-famous-northwest-michigan/)
Gary Morse wasn’t a famous person and he preferred it that way. Morse was raised in Central Lake, Michigan where his family ran Brownwood Farms. Morse’s father Harold Schwarz bought a few thousand acres of land in Florida south of Ocala in 1959. He started selling lots and that’s how the huge retirement community The Villages was started. Gary Morse took over the business in 1983 and continued building the community with homes, pools, restaurants, gold courses and town centers. Morse lived at a secluded home in The Villages but often made the trip back to Northern Michigan where part of his family still lives. When your family is worth an estimated $ 2.5 billion, you travel in style with your own jet. The Villages Corporation actually owns 4 private jets, as well as a 147-foot yacht Cracker Bay which was often seen in Charlevoix. Private aircraft are not uncommon but a large jet aircraft at the small Antrim County Airport caught my attention. Tail number N902YP reveals this Dassault Falcom 900 is owned by The Villages Corporation so a good indication Mr. Morse was visiting his family and friends in the place he grew up in Antrim County. Mr. Morse died on October 30, 2014 at age 77. These pictures at Antrim County Airport were taken on October 5th so possibly his last visit here.
The following links are also stories about The Villages. The link below is a story that made the national press. A couple drinking in a watering hole located on the square in The Villages, decided to walk across the street to the main stage. What happened on the stage is what the story is about.
If you haven’t heard the term “Sink Hole” then you need to read this story.
The story is a little dated, but gives you a feeling of the growth of The Villages.
The preview tour of The Villages is what the story below is about.
I wanted to do the preview tour in The Villages. I relied on a buddy to set it up. Big mistake.
The following story is about CDD’s (Community Development Districts). The Villages has them and you need to know what they are.