Although she’s traveled and lived all over the country, something has always called Vanya Neer back to Florida.
Born in Brooklyn, she first headed for the Sunshine State at age 19; she had an aunt in Miami and wanted to see what the world looked like outside of New York.
As it turns out, she got to see a whole lot more than Miami in the years to come. Neer found work as a stewardess for southeastern power National Airlines in the late 1940s.
“I worked the line from Miami to Tampa to Valdosta, Georgia, to New Orleans,” Neer remembers. “Back then, Tampa’s airport was a tiny little pink building, and I worked on a Lockheed Lodestar, which was a 14-passenger airplane.”
It was more than that. The Lodestar was the backbone of National’s fleet, with more than 625 models in use at one point. Prior to that it had served in World War II as the C-60 in the Army Air Force and the R50 in the Navy. With its endurance and reliability, the Lodestar opened up the whole East Coast to Lockheed, which also became the first American airline company to fly into Cuba on a regular basis.
While she loved the work, Neer had one strict rule about mixing business and pleasure.
“I had sworn off marrying a pilot,” she recalls. “We weren’t supposed to really fraternize with them and I knew it was just a bad idea.”
So what did she do?
“I married a pilot,” the 88-year-old resident of Aston Gardens at Pelican Pointe laughs. “I turned around and married a pilot, and we were married for 54 years which just goes to show you that you never know what’s going to be good for you.”
Neer’s late husband was an airline pilot for a commercial charter outfit, and the pair wound up living all over the country as their careers took them to the likes of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, and New Jersey.
Not surprisingly, Florida’s warm climate and friendly folks kept Neer and her husband coming back. She lived in Bradenton for 30 years and Vero Beach for another 10.
After her husband’s passing and with no children of her own, Neer’s affairs were in the charge of her niece who lived in Placida. With Vero Beach more than three hours across the peninsula, Neer decided to make a change.
“I got this idea that I was getting a little bit older, so I should be closer to her for her sake, if not necessarily for mine. I knew Venice a little bit from decades ago, so I went online and looked around,” she said. “I came over and checked it out, then drove everywhere with a friend to check out two or three other places. The best one was Aston Gardens by far; it had a full kitchen and a washer/dryer in your apartment, and that just makes things a whole lot easier.”
As it turned out, Neer’s intuition to move closer to family was a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve been pretty active since I moved here, but I”m losing my eyesight,” Neer says. “I used to be a quilter and an artist and was really quite busy, but my sewing and artwork days are over.”
The loss of her vision hasn’t come anywhere close to slowing Neer down, however.
“I’ve learned to play Mahjong and Euchre; I’d never played either of them before in my entire life,” she says. “But I find the very best thing about Aston Gardens is that there are a lot of wonderful, interesting people here; everyone is from someplace and has some kind of a story from all walks of life. They’ve lived in different places and done all kinds of interesting things.”
There’s so much to talk about in fact that Neer spearheaded an effort to form a women’s discussion group.
“The men had started a discussion group, and a few of us asked if we could join it, but they wouldn’t let us in!” Neer recalls “So we went and started our own. And the rules are: No politics, no religion, no Aston Gardens, and no body parts. Everyone has a problem or they wouldn’t be here.”
The best part is, they never have to enforce the rules, not even once.
“We’re women,” Neer says with a chuckle. “It doesn’t take much for us to find something to talk about.”