HELLO, OCALA! Meet your neighbor: Julie Guess
Julie Guess poses by her large collection of antique Kewpie dolls that are part of her large antique doll collection at her home in southwest Ocala on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Julie and Sam Guess married when she was 18 years old. They lived in Alliance, Ohio, for about two years then moved to Tampa after a friend invited Sam there on a fishing trip.
“He just loved Florida and returned to tell me we were going to move there,” Julie said.
The couple moved to Florida from Ohio in 1956 and spent more than 50 years in Tampa before they moved to southwest Ocala in 2009 to be near their son, Sam, and his family, which includes a grandson and granddaughter.
They loved the “open spaces, farmland, pastoral scenery and friendly people in Ocala,” Julie shared.
For about five years, they traveled between Ocala and Tampa because Sam’s business, Sam Guess Paint and Body Shop and Wrecker Service, was in Tampa. He was associated with the Tampa Police Department for 30 years with the wrecker service.
Sam and Julie are the parents of three children. They were married 63 years when Sam began experiencing health issues. He has since passed away, as has one of their daughters. In addition to their son, Sam, they have a daughter, Delores, who lives in Maitland, with her husband. She has a son, who lives in Ocala.
The family acquired a “weekend place” on five acres in Inverness on the Withlacoochee River, which has become a retreat for family birthdays, holidays and other parties.
“We all love it there,” Julie said, reminiscing that her husband had done an excellent job of making the facility into the comforting and lovely place it is now.
“We have made good memories there, and continue doing so,” she said with a smile, adding that it was Sam’s wish that the property would remain in the family.
Julie was born in a small town in Hungary, near Budapest, where she lived with her parents and two sisters. Her grandmother had emigrated to America as a young woman and her father decided to move the family to America, too, to escape the war in Europe at the time. It was just before World War II broke out there. He left Hungary in 1938, before the rest of the family, and stayed with his mother in America. Just after he left the country, officials came to look for him to induct him into the Hungarian Army, Julie recalled. In 1940, when Julie was 4 years old and in kindergarten, she, her mother and sisters left Hungary to go to America to be reunited with her father. They sailed on the last ship allowed to leave Le Havre, France, for America. She said the area in Hungary where they lived is now non-existent, “and we escaped being there.”
“God had His hand on us to save us,” Julie said.
The trip to America was a difficult and frightful one for Julie, she remembered, as there were daily raids, or drills on the ship, with air raid sirens to instruct the passengers how to exit the ship if it were bombed. They had to go from the bottom of the ship to the top deck and the steps were difficult for a small 4-year-old and the other children to navigate. The “mother” ship was surrounded by 15 other ships during the excursion, she explained, so if it were necessary, the others would be able to rescue the passengers.
The trip was successful, and they arrived at Ellis Island in the United States and then settled in Atwater, Ohio, where her grandparents owned a dairy farm. They were able to work on the farm. While in Atwater, Julie’s parents had a son, Alex, and he still lives at and manages the dairy farm. Julie’s oldest sister is 92 and lives in Alliance, Ohio. Her other sister has passed away.
In 2000, Julie and a friend traveled to Europe and Budapest, and she was able to cross the Danube River into where the town had been when she was a little girl. She can still speak Hungarian.
“It was a wonderful thing to step on that soil where I was born,” she said.
On another trip the same year, the women traveled to Scotland, Ireland and England. It was springtime and she said the country was “just beautiful.” She has traveled to Alaska twice.
Julie recalled that when her mother came to the kindergarten to get her when they had to leave for America, her teacher invited them into her living quarters. On a chair sat a big, beautiful doll and Julie was immediately attracted to it. The image of that doll stayed with her and, in 1972, she began collecting dolls. This was during a difficult time in her life following great personal loss and she feels God put the teacher and her doll in her memory as a diversion to help her through the time because she began to research dolls. Julie said she focused on the history of the dolls she collected, as well as others. Her favorite dolls are Kewpies.
“And I also love all the holidays,” Julie said, noting that she has some holiday-themed dolls and memorabilia.
Some of Julie’s dolls, toys and decorations have been loaned every Christmas season for the past 25 years to the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa. The curator from the museum comes each year before the holidays and transports her choices to Tampa.
“I enjoy that so much,” Julie remarked, “because I can share my collections with others to enjoy.”