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SHARP-DRESSED MAN — Clyde Lankford, who owned Lankford Funeral Home, is pictured standing fifth from left in this undated photo of Elks Lodge presidents. Native DeLandite Bill Mancinik remembers Lankford as a snappy dresser, which added to the crowd's enthusiasm when he volunteered to sit in a dunk tank at St. Peter Catholic Church's fall festival.

St. Peter Catholic Church formed an important foundation in my early life in DeLand.

Both of my parents and all of my childhood friends were parishioners. In the very early 1960s, an effort to fund and build a new church (the one now standing) was a priority of Father Patrick Malone, a dynamic Irish priest.

The old church was still in use as a classroom. This sat on the site now occupied by St. Peter School. It was a classic, Florida Gothic church design with a steeple and all stained-glass windows.

The congregation had outgrown the old church, and for a time, St. Peter’s services were conducted in the still-existing DeLand Armory on South Alabama Avenue. A new facility was badly needed.

The old church was now a classroom used by students. Directly and high above the altar was a semicircular stained-glass window with a portrait of St. Peter in a beautiful design and brilliant colors. Through a series of lucky events, that window now belongs to me, and I am looking at it as I write this account.

My story is not about this window or even the old church. It is about the first St. Peter’s Fall Festival. I think the year was 1961.

Father Malone and the church members had come up with an idea to raise money for the new church by staging an elaborate festival. DeLand in that era did not have a lot of entertainment choices, so a festival in the middle of town proved to be very popular.

This was not the St. Peter Oktoberfest event that we know today, with carnival rides.

At the time, the Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers Circus was headquartered in DeLand and lent its big top for the event. It was a huge and colorful tent and provided a festive atmosphere.

I can’t remember all of the booths and food stands, but I can remember roulette-style gambling (25-cent maximum bets) where even a 10-year-old could participate. I think I won around $5, and the men called me “moneybags.”

It may be hard to believe, but there was even a whisky-shot booth. Just like it sounds, adults could buy a shot of whisky (I think it cost $1) and go on with their night.

But my most vivid memory was of the dunking booth, borrowed from the circus. It was the real thing. Someone would sit on the crossbar above the water tank, and participants would pay to toss a baseball at the target. If you hit the target, the person would fall into the water.

The booth was expected to be a great success and money-raiser, but sales were lagging. It was suggested that some of the more important church members step forward and volunteer to be dunked to raise more money.

They tried to get my father to sit in the booth, but he hesitated. Even Father Malone was reluctant. Then Clyde Lankford stepped forward.

In my mind, Clyde Lankford, owner of Lankford Funeral Home, was one of our city’s most memorable citizens. He was great friends with both my father and Father Malone, even though he was not a church member.

Clyde was an impeccable dresser: silk suits, bright white shirts and colorful ties. Clyde even wore a diamond pinkie ring. In today’s world, you would call it “bling.” It was accepted that Clyde would always be the best-dressed man in the room.

Clyde announced he would volunteer to sit in the booth, if the minimum fee was greatly increased. The festival participants loved it, and lined up for a chance to dunk the resplendent undertaker in all his custom-tailored finery.

It happened over and over. Clyde was dunked. Then a succession of other men, my father and Father Malone included, would take their turns. The dunking booth was a huge success that night, in faraway 1961, in a much different DeLand.

— Mancinik is a fifth-generation Floridian and a native of DeLand. He has been an active Realtor for more than 40 years.