Can you imagine 15 acres of beautiful roses? Just picture it: roses of every color. And greeting you at the driveway is a kindly man looking much like a favorite uncle, ready to show off his prize “garden.” I heard he loved visitors who popped in at any moment! Perhaps you’ll get a rose or two to take home! That’s what it must have been like in the 1930s to meet florist William C. Yontz of Brooksville for the first time.
Can you also imagine growing up in the late 1800s? Yontz was born in Ravenna, Portage County, Ohio in 1875, at a time when many states were still recovering from the great Civil War of 1861–1865.
Yontz himself would serve in two wars. He was a major in the Spanish-American War of 1898 at just 23 years old! This seven-month war resulted in Spain relinquishing its hold on Cuba. It also ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States.
In 1917, Yontz was in World War I as part of the Ohio National Guard. He was Captain of “F” Company, one of many regiments on call should the need arise. The state of Ohio was a famous military training ground. Thousands of men were made ready for combat at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio, from 1917 to 1920.
After WWI, Yontz came to Florida. For nearly a decade, he operated a newsstand called the City News Depot on North Franklin Street in Tampa. By 1921, he was selling magazines such as “Moving Picture Weekly,” during a time when some people were skeptical of this new entertainment. He was in Tampa when the Palace Theater opened for the first time in October of 1926. Just think—you could escape into the fantasy world of cinema for the price of 25 cents! He left Tampa shortly after the death of his mother, Elsie, in 1929.
Perhaps it was the loss of his mother or the expense of city living that pulled Yontz away from Tampa. He came to Brooksville around 1930 and started a wholesale-cut flower business. I have heard that the Westover family, another well-known florist in Hernando County, later bought his original shop. Yontz was a popular guest at club meetings, sharing his love and knowledge of plants, particularly his beloved roses.
In 1930, Yontz spoke at a Brooksville Garden Club meeting held at the Women’s Club. The entire affair was devoted to his favorite flower. Even the music complimented his talk on roses. A quartet sang “Roses Roses Everywhere.” Mrs. J. M. Rogers sang “Only a Rose,” and Miss Jean Truitt sang “The Rose.”
In 1932, the Tampa Sunday Tribune reported that Mr. William C. Yontz spoke again to the Brooksville Garden Club. His topic was the culture of roses in Florida. The meeting was held at the Simpson residence. Mr. J. S. Simpson was a Hernando County Commissioner of 1933 and served alongside other county notables such as John Law Ayers.
William C. Yontz passed away at his Brooksville home on May 19, 1947, at the age of 72. In his short obituary he is referred to as Major Yontz, a tribute to his Spanish-American War days.
He’s buried in the Brooksville Cemetery beside his wife Grace, and close to other members of the family. The grave marker simply states the name YONTZ, carved in bold letters.
Today, you might notice Yontz Rd., a quiet road within Brooksville’s city limits. This east/ west route, one to two miles in length, crosses busy intersections such as Howell Avenue and Hwy 98 (Ponce de Leon) before ending west at Cobb Rd., by the cement plant. I like to imagine that somewhere along the way are the remnants of those 15 acres of beautiful roses grown years ago by William C. Yontz!