Doug and Kelly Young recall the early days of Creek’s first neighborhood
For Doug and Kelly, his wife of 50 years, that sign might as well read, “born in Coconut Creek.”
The Youngs are one of a handful of remaining families who have lived in the city since its developing years. Doug and Kelly, both from Ohio, lived in the Melbourne area after they married; they moved to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970s, after Doug transferred to Florida Atlantic University. Working in insurance inspections, Doug became familiar with Coconut Creek through friends building homes there or moving to the area. In 1972, the Youngs moved to the neighborhood south of Coconut Creek Parkway now known as South Creek—the spot from which the city grew north.
When the Youngs describe those days, they reiterate that “everybody was very friendly.” South Creek was a place where police officers would stop to talk to children, including Doug and Kelly’s son and daughter; it was a place where people would ride through the community on horseback; and where the mayor would invite neighbors over for brunch during the holidays. Neighbors had annual picnics with volunteer firefighters, and friends celebrated their birthdays together at the community center.
“You could walk down any street and you knew half a dozen people on the street,” Doug says. “Any time there was a function, everybody would go.”
The area was far from the growing metropolis of Fort Lauderdale. Doug remembers that, back then, Lyons Road was only two lanes, with strawberry and tomato fields on either side. Before Tradewinds Park became a hub for equestrian activities, South Creek had its fair share of horses.
“You could walk down 45th [Avenue] where the fence was and put a bag of carrots and you could feed any number of horses on your walk,” Doug says.
With a population of about 1,300, the city was just beginning to grow. Yet, “we didn’t even have a 7-Eleven or a McDonald’s,” Doug says.
“Margate had a Winn-Dixie and a Publix [and an Eckerd],” Kelly adds. “If we wanted takeout or anything like that, we’d have to go to Brown’s Chicken down by Holy Cross Hospital [on Commercial Boulevard and Federal Highway]. It was a long way. Everybody thought we’d moved way out [from civilization].”
Over the years, about seven homes in South Creek were occupied by the Youngs’ former neighbors in their Fort Lauderdale apartment complex. Though the Youngs are the only ones left from that group, several other neighbors have stayed—some up to three generations.
The spirit of South Creek was embodied by the Rowe Community Center, completed shortly after the Youngs moved, and the countless events staged there through the years. The community created beloved traditions, like the Christmas boat parade, which started in 1984. The Sunday before Christmas, the neighbors would decorate boats and bring their children to the canal systems that run roughly in the center of the neighborhood, including behind Donaldson Park, where the community center is. The boat parade ran until the year Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida. Doug says his parade costumes included dressing as an elf and Santa Claus, “so I figure [I’m in everybody’s] family pictures.”
A neighbor who was active in the city lived across the street from the Youngs. She introduced Kelly to the Women’s Club, for which Kelly served as president in the mid-1980s; she remains a member to this day. Many of the children in South Creek met through their mothers’ involvement.
“Our kids have all grown up together; they couldn’t do anything wrong because somebody would tell somebody, and it would get back to your mom,” Kelly says with a laugh.
As for Doug, the same neighbor invited him to a committee. Though he admits he didn’t want to go, he went from reluctant volunteer to president of the water management committee in one meeting. That was the start of Doug’s continuous involvement in city affairs. Over the years, he was a member of several committees, including the first charter review committee, a city manager’s selection committee and the city hall building committee. For more than 20 years, he’s been on the planning and zoning advisory board, the members of which are nominated by commissioners.
“I think the citizens’ job, and planning and zoning’s job, is to make sure that whatever gets built here is appropriate to the city, not some developers’ dream to make a lot of money,” Doug says. “With the rare exception, I don’t think we’ve made too many mistakes.”
Besides their involvement in the city, Doug worked as a mortage banker and Kelly was a registered nurse at Holy Cross Hospital before becoming a health tech with the school board’s health education department for 18 years. Kelly is now retired and Doug, although retired from mortage banking, is the chief financial officer of a conglomerate of companies.
While the character of South Creek has mostly stayed the same, the Youngs enjoy the benefits of development, such as Promenade at Coconut Creek.
They are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of Windmill Park, where they used to take daily walks. Kelly appreciates that there are always activities for the children, especially the Butterfly Festival and Parks and Recreation programs. Doug readily praises the sports teams.
In the early ’70s, the Youngs did move for about three years to the Tampa area after a job change. But they came back, moved three blocks down from their original home and have no plans to leave. Doug even jokes that to leave Coconut Creek “they’d [have to] carry me out of here in a box.”
“We couldn’t find another place we wanted to go more,” Kelly recalls. “So we came back to Coconut Creek.”
This is the ninth in a series of articles celebrating Coconut Creek’s 50th anniversary.