The Social Network, Sarasota-Style

By Megan McDonald June 1, 2011

Members of the Facebook group 'We Grew Up in Sarasota in the '70s and '80s" reminisce about everything from experiences to old-time Sarasota landmarks.

When we heard about a Facebook group that was dedicated to memories of Sarasota from the 1970s and ‘80s, we knew we had to check it out—and boy, are we glad we did. “We Grew Up in Sarasota in the ‘70s and ‘80s” boasts 3,500-plus members and dozens of daily posts from people all over the world who grew up in our city. Rhode Island-based writer Pamela Hanson, who is one of those people, is also the group’s creator; here’s what she has to say about how the idea came to her, as well as the group’s future.

What made you decide to start something like this?

I was born and raised in Sarasota, and when the idea came to me, my dad was in the final stages of colon cancer. The Facebook group gave us something to talk about—it allowed us to relive memories and, as people posted memories, gave us other things to talk about and helped our relationship as he transitioned out of this life.

Also, I’m 44 now, and I found that there was no one I knew who could really remember the things I did about that slice of time. For example, I remember when Midnight Pass closed and why, and so many others don’t have that history. So the group started for and because of my dad, but it’s also for sharing with others and building memories.

What was your own experience growing up in Sarasota, and living here in the 1970s and ‘80s?

My dad was the operations manager at Palmer Bank on St. Armands Circle. I didn’t live there, but I grew up on the circle. I was out there every weekend of my youth, and even as a five-year-old I got to know the shopowners and these amazing [local] characters.

When did you officially decide to launch the group?

It was June 2010—right around the time of my 25th high school reunion, although I couldn’t go to it. But I was talking to a friend about how we really needed a place to share our memories. I had started another group for the Bahi Hut, and it took off with a big “vroom”—it quickly grew to about 1,000 people, and it wasn’t ever meant to do anything except be a tribute to that little bar. So I thought, Wow, I bet we could do that with memories [of the city], too.

How has the response been?

It’s been incredibly positive—a wonderful outpouring of love and memories. People have reunited with others that they’d lost long ago, and I think it’s clasped a lot of hands that needed to be held. And they share the coolest memories. For example, the Pretzel King was a crazy man who lived near Sarasota High School, dressed up in a toga and was at every event in Sarasota. Parades, art walks, fairs—if the Wallendas were performing, he was there, too. He sold soft pretzels and everyone remembers being at parades and events and seeing him. There was also the Bicycle Lady, who stood by Marina Jack and would sometimes do handstands, and I remember seeing [famous clown] Emmett Kelly outside his house and knowing exactly who he was.

Sarasota is this amazing place. When you grow up here, you don’t really understand it, but once you live elsewhere—as I do now—you realize what you had.

Do you plan to keep maintaining the group?

Yes. I love taking part in it, and I have no ulterior motives. I’m also reluctant to change anything about it, even though people have asked me to change the name to reflect a broader time period, because I don’t want to ruin the magic.  I mean, you can be having a really crappy day in Nebraska—it can be raining and cold—and you can go our group and see something about the sunshiny place where you grew up.

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