Tradition Waves On

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Posted March 25, 2022 | By Sadie Fitzpatrick

Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.

I realized this weekend I’m a bit of a hypocrite. 

I am constantly advocating for Ocala/Marion County to grow, to change, to expand. However, I realized that change has reached my neighborhood, and I’m admittedly a little hesitant.

Trees have been bulldozed to make room for a new 108-unit apartment development across from our neighborhood elementary school. The Publix at Churchill Square has been closed down for a year-long renovation, promising a new and improved shopping experience upon its reopening. 

Yes, these are necessary and exciting changes. I’m just a little miffed about them. 

As the landscape of my neighborhood shifts, I’ve been seeking comfort in the familiar: walking through the historic district under the shadows of the towering oak trees, visiting my children’s favorite neighborhood park, and smiling at the home that has become an intrinsic part of my neighborhood, the Flag House. 

The colorful, unique flags hung outside this tidy, quaint block structure earned the home the nickname “The Flag House” since the flags began flying in the late 1980s. 

The Flag House, on the corner of Southeast 18th Avenue and Southeast 8th Street in the historic Woodfields area, has served as both a calendar of celebrations and a navigational beacon for this small slice of Ocala for the last 35 years. 

Ann Hunter, the creator of the flags, admired the decorative flags she had seen in a mail-order catalog, but thought they were too expensive. She decided to make her own flags out of nylon, creating three-foot-by-four-foot banners to commemorate various holidays for each month of the year. 

The flags flew proudly year after year, reminding passersby to “Smile When You File” during tax season and to wish your dad a “Happy Father’s Day” with her “Yea, Dads” flag. No matter the weather, Mrs. Hunter’s flags were there to greet the day. 

In 2018, Mrs. Hunter moved out of her home. Her two sons put their childhood home on the market, hoping the right buyer would come along to love the home their parents built in 1956. 

Enter James Jackson. He and his wife, Dawn-Marie, had been searching for a home in the Woodfields area for years, but they had yet to find one that matched their budget and wish list. The Hunter home became a dream come true for the couple. 

“In April 2018, one of our friends who knew we were looking at homes called us about the ‘for sale’ sign in the yard,’’ explained Jackson. “We left my son’s baseball game immediately to see the house. We saw the house at 10 a.m. and made an offer at 1 p.m. We attached a heartfelt letter about being educators, wanting to raise our three sons there, and our desire to keep the structure of the house the same.”

At the time of the Jacksons’ offer, there were four other offers on the table. 

“At the end of the day, she chose us. That’s the best way I can describe it. She worked with us to make sure we got this house even when we had bank delays and other hiccups. The family was so patient and kind with us,” Jackson recalled. 

The Jacksons had known this house because of its flags and assumed the flags had been passed on to a family member or sold once the house was put up for sale. 

They were honored when, at the closing on the home, Mrs. Hunter’s son asked if they would be interested in the flags. Mrs. Hunter had been hanging on to them, unsure what she was going to do with them. After reading the couple’s letter, she thought it was appropriate for the Jacksons to have them. 

Along with the flags, the couple received a carefully crafted note in Mrs. Hunter’s looping penmanship listing the month in which they should be flown.

She had two conditions for possession of the flags: do not sell them, and fly them during the appropriate month. 

The Jacksons have maintained them, never adding or redacting from Mrs. Hunter’s original, handmade collection. It is the Jackson family’s hope that the flags will always stay with the home, no matter its owners. 

“This house is known for its flags. We want that history and tradition to stay with the home and continue on,” noted Jackson. 

As my beloved neighborhood changes to reflect the momentous growth that Ocala/Marion County is undergoing, I pray we continue to hold tight to traditions like the Flag House, allowing them to both comfort and ground us.