^pBy JIMMY PETERS
Arcadian Hometown Editor
Florida is the land of endless summers. But if you like adventure, people and hometown heroes, there’s a place here in Arcadia where you can find all of that ... and more.
It’s the Peace River Campground.
Twenty-five years ago George Lempenau retired. This new lifestyle didn’t agree with him, so he began looking for a new adventure. He wanted to move to Florida from his home in New York, so he began searching for opportunities from the Florida Keys to Tallahassee. One afternoon he was driving through Arcadia, discovering what was then a KOA campground. He called his wife Johnny and said, “I think I may have found us a home.”
Today the Peace River Campground is unlike any other in Florida. George has even been a board member for ARVC, or the National Association of RV Parks and Campground, for the past 25 years. George and Johnny’s son, Lenny, now runs day-to-day Peace River Campground operations.
Here at Peace River Campground you won’t find typical pickleball courts, bocci or shuffleboard. What you will find, however, are 165 acres of graceful oak trees and miles of dirt roads for running ATVs. And there’s a mile of shoreline along the Peace River, lots of space for tent camping and RVs, covered shelters, a recreation hall for dances and all kinds of special gatherings, an office with basic supplies and a happy place to congregate.
Popular with kids is a petting zoo that includes Snickers the horse, A.J. the donkey and Godiva the goat. Also there are Tortin and Miss Shell, a pair of African tortoises. Rabbits, chickens and other feathered friends complete the menagerie.
If you’re up to exploring, remains of the 4,000-seat Chautauqua Theatre are on camp property. Construction on this huge structure began in 1927 and the theater opened in 1929.
Independent Chautauquas or daughter Chautauquas were in small towns with good rail service. At the height of the Chautauqua adult-education movement in the 1920s, several hundred existed. It brought musicians, showmen and preachers to rural towns such as Arcadia. But the Great Depression hit in 1929 and people no longer had money to travel and take in shows. Fire destroyed the structure in 1930. The ruins are somewhere on the property. But the location is a secret, you’ll have to search for it.
Living or working in Arcadia, you quickly learn that the Lempenau family takes pride in their campground and in our community, not looking the other way when they see a challenge or a need. For instance, Arc DeSoto’s Special Olympians use the campground swimming pool for recreation and to exercise weekly. DeSoto sheriff’s deputies also scuba train there. George and Johnny are involved in a program for feral cats, and provide an announcer’s stage at all of our downtown parades. And George in his khaki shorts, red shirt and suspenders is a regular at city and county meetings, involved and active.
Another side note in this story is that veterans with the Wounded Warrior Project will get together to canoe the Peace River. The campground has become a stopping point for these heroes, always welcomed with a smile and a cold beer. What started out as a friendly welcome has grown into an annual camping experience for our wounded warriors.
George said that “we sometimes have unique services that we can offer organizations like this ... and we are happy to do it.”
These are just a few of the many projects involving the Lempenau family. It’s reassuring that people with a successful business have the heart to use that success to benefit others in their community ... and beyond. Keep it up, you guys.
And that’s^p a hometown story.