Thursday, December 9, 2021

Deltona Duo Were Confidantes to Two of Golf’s Biggest Legends Part 1

Submitted Photos | Eleanor Creighton as Surf Club’s first manager in 1983. She also managed the Marco Island Country Club at the same time.

The Deltona Corporation was still going strong when Eleanor Creighton and Barbara Klimas were hired to work at The Marco Island Country Club in 1973 and 1974, respectively.

Both ladies were young, yet mature, attractive and very capable. They needed to be capable to succeed in the fast-paced environment they were entering into. Little did the ladies know at the time, but they were taking part in a very pivotal part of not only the Deltona Corporation’s history—but also in the early history of modern-day Marco Island. Neither could have suspected that they would end up as confidantes to two of the biggest names in golf history. 

The office at the club, as Creighton and Klimas affectionately call The Marco Island Country Club, was much more than your typical country club office. The office at the club was running nine country clubs across the state, in addition to performing services for recently-completed Marco Beach Hotel and the Marco Island Yacht Club—all Deltona entities. 

It was at the club that Creighton forged a strong relationship with golf legend Gene Sarazen that lasted the balance of “The Squire’s” life—that ended when he passed away in 1999 at age 97.

Creighton worked with Deltona for over a decade, eventually taking over as manager of the Marco Island Country Club. She was also the first manager of the Surf Club of Marco, Deltona’s only foray into the timesharing arena. The capable Creighton held both positions concurrently. 

Klimas had a shorter stint with Deltona, following golf legend Ken Venturi down the road to Eagle Creek, staying connected with the hall of fame golfer and announcer until his death in 2013, at 82. Venturi had been hired as Marco Island Country Club’s professional in 1976.

The two ladies have remained best of friends since they first clicked as co-workers in the early 70s. Creighton was hired as the secretary to Jim Stackpoole, who was in charge of the Marco Island Country Club and all of the other eight clubs that were being run from there. 

Klimas started at the pro shop. Her husband Joe had been hired as the director of the island’s youth center and would go on to become a well-known sports announcer in SW Florida for decades. 

After six months, Creighton was promoted to the office’s accounting position and Klimas moved into the spot Creighton vacated. They were a smooth-working team from the start. 

While reflecting on the past 46 years, both women eagerly talk about their treasure trove of memories together without stepping on each other’s accounts, but rather reinforcing and adding richness to the memories they share.

Of course, any story that includes the Deltona Corporation has to feature right up front the guiding light of the company, President Frank Mackle Jr. There were three Mackle Brothers, Frank, Jr., Elliott and Robert. Frank was the youngest—and the CEO. Deltona was a Miami based construction and development corporation that came to prominence during the post-WWII building boom.

The ladies speak of Frank Mackle Jr. with reverence.

Photos by Scott H. Shook | Joe Klimas, Stan Gober, and Ken Venturi share a song at Stan’s in Goodland.

“He was just an old Florida gentleman,” Creighton recalls. “He was always very kind and nice. And always talked to you. They (he and his wife Virginia) talked to you just like you were their next-door neighbor. We all interacted that way back then. They were really good to their employees.” 

“I think everybody knew where they stood with him,” Klimas said. “If they were good to him, he was good back. You knew where you stood with him. He was just a good guy.”

Both ladies interacted with Frank Mackle Jr. a lot. Neither ever saw the Deltona leader upset.

“Never,” Creighton said. “You knew he was the boss. He was just a good old boy.”

“He remembered everybody,” Klimas added. “He knew absolutely everybody by name. Club members, staff, didn’t matter. He was genuinely interested in everybody’s family. I don’t think anybody had a bad word to say about him.”

Frank Mackle Jr. was the Mackle brother who spent most of the time on Marco.

“You hardly ever saw Elliot,” Klimas said. “You saw Mr. Bob, he’d come over once a month, or every other month, with his family. He would just sit in the office on a chair. Just sitting like this (lying back in her chair in a relaxed position). Just yakking. He was just a good old boy.” 

Frank Mackle Jr. was a fixture on the island.

Photos by Scott H. Shook | An early brochure for The Surf Club of Marco. Creighton was the resort’s first manager in 1983.

“He and Virginia were here a lot,” Creighton said, “they were always on the island.” 

“They had a condo at the Summit House, and they built a house on Nassau,” Klimas added.

The ladies remember the intense sales efforts that were going on in the early to mid-70s when prospects were flown in from all over the Midwest and Northeast.

“We were impressed by the whole convention thing,” Klimas said. “Those were huge conventions for a little tiny island like this. Big productions, really.”

“See they would bring planeloads of people in to sell property to,” Creighton explained. “They stayed at the hotel, but they ate and they played golf at the club. We did banquets and all of that. So you had a lot of interaction that way. Even with all the salespeople.”

Another memorable part of their job at the club was running the Tony Lema Memorial Tournament, an event that enjoyed a 14-year run. The tournament was named in honor of the club’s first pro, Champagne Tony Lema, who rose to fame when he beat Jack Nicklaus by five shots in the 1964 Open Championship at St Andrews, Scotland. Lema’s good looks and personality made him quite popular. He went on to win 22 championships before dying in a plane crash following the PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio in July 1966. Lema was just 32 years old.

Although Stackpoole was in charge of the event, Creighton and Klimas did much of the legwork.

“Of course even though Jim was in charge of it, all of the background work came to us,” Creighton stated. “It was a lot of work. A lot of stress. Barb did the correspondence and putting all of the paperwork together. And I was the financial end of it. Ticket sales and banking. I can just remember sitting in a locked room, counting money, counting money, counting money.”

“At the end of Lema day, we sat together, just the two of us, in a locked room counting money,” Klimas added. “Counting money in stacks. It was just awful. We were so tired. It was fun, but it was a lot of work.”

The tournament was famous for its cavalcade of movie and tv stars, entertainers, professional sports legends and politicians. Joe DiMaggio, President Nixon, Mickey Mantle, Perry Como, the World Champion Miami Dolphins and a seemingly endless list of stars flocked to the island.

Photos by Scott H. Shook | A card from Gene Sarazen’s funeral at San Marco Church in 1999.

“I think Mr. Mackle really enjoyed being around celebrities,” Klimas said. “Not that he touted it. I think he really liked having them around. I think that’s why we had the Lema and that’s the reason why we had Ken (Venturi). Why we had Mr. Sarazen. He just enjoyed being around them.”

Creighton and Klimas knew them all.

“All of them came through our office,” Creighton said. “They all had to check-in at the office. We met everybody. We never got out of the office during Lema.”

Klimas took care of getting everyone there.

“I did all of the correspondence with them,” she said. “Made all of the airline reservations for them.”

“Made all of the hotel reservations,” Creighton added. “It was all done in our office. That was a never-ending job.”

“That was like a nine months out of the year job for me,” Klimas recalled.

The ladies said that most of the celebrities were easy to deal with when they checked in at the office. There were a few memorable moments.

“One that stood out was Glen Campbell,” Creighton noted, “because he came into the office with his cowboy boots with the spikes on.” 

“Peter Falk was wonderful,” Klimas said. “He was at a Lakers game when Ken (Venturi) got ahold of him. He said, ‘As soon as the Lakers’ game is over I’ll get on a plane.’ And he did. He came in early in the morning on a redeye. We had to buy him clothes. The only clothes he had were the ones he was wearing at the game. So we got him shoes and everything—the whole works. And Brad Stackpoole (Jim’s young son) dressed up like Falk’s character Columbo, he had the trench coat, the hat. That was so cute.”

Klimas remembers an instance when she had to deliver a future Baseball Hall of Famer and his all-star teammate.

“One of the funniest things I can tell you,” she said while laughing. “George Brett and Paul Splttorff of the Royals played in the Lema one year. And they had to get back for practice. They were at our pool. I needed to get them to the airport because they had to get back to Ft. Myers. They were going to take a helicopter, I think, to get back in time. And I had to drive them. And I had a little Ford Falcon and I had these two big dudes in my car. I just wanted to be rid of them… go, go!”

The ladies were in agreement about one quite famous actor who made a poor impression.

“Jackie Gleason was not nice at all,” Klimas said. “He was a pig. Demanding, condescending. And we all felt that way. You could ask any waitress at that club and they’d all have a story to tell you. I know one of the waitresses had to go all the way around the course and pour his drinks for him the whole time.” 

“He was a drunk if you want to know the truth,” Creighton asserted, “He was just not a nice person. And that’s not the image the Mackles would ever put up with. I think he was only here one time. He was told never to come back to the island. He was a filthy mouth.”

“He was off the list,” Klimas said. “He would be the worst one.”

Conversely, daredevil Evil Knievel was a pleasure.

“Remember Evil Knievel when he was here,” Klimas quizzed Creighton.

“Oh, gosh, Evil,” Creighton laughed.

“There were a bunch of our kids who dressed up with Evil Knievel shirts and they were his caddies,” Klimas said. “They went around the golf course with him. He was great. Just a regular guy.”

Creighton remembers the disappointment her youngest son, Eric, a big Evil Knievel fan, had the day he was supposed to meet his hero.

“My son Eric ended up that morning in the hospital, having his appendix out,” she said. “All he wanted was an autograph of Evil, which I got for him. So Eric didn’t get to see him. He was so upset.”

As the 80s rolled in, Deltona’s fortunes waned as the country slipped into a recession. The Lema was discontinued. The Marco Beach Hotel had been sold to Marriott in 1979.

During this time, Creighton was juggling her duties as the head of the country club and the Surf Club. She loved her work.

“After the hotel was sold,” Creighton began, “all of those guys stayed at the Surf Club. Because they couldn’t put them up at the hotel anymore. They started sending everybody to the Surf Club. All the Cleveland Browns stayed there. And the Dolphins—that was their R&R place. They played golf at Marco Shores because the club had already turned over. We opened the Surf Club in 1983, and I was still working out of the club. I became their first manager when they turned over and became private. I had that plus the Surf Club for a period of time,” she said with a laugh. “Deltona was done. I was offered a job in Miami, but I never lived in a big city in my life. That wasn’t for me. Jim (Stackpoole) went to Miami to work. But it wasn’t for me. At that point in time, I was director of the high rises and everything for Deltona on Marco. I was the only one left. It was fun, but different. 

“Things changed once the Mackles left here,” Creighton said.

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