The new voices of Century Village

 

An influx of Hispanics is changing the face of the retiree paradise in Pembroke Pines.

FACTS ABOUT CENTURY VILLAGE

History: Century Village at Pembroke Pines was the last of four Century Villages built. The others are in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach. When it was proposed by the Cenvill Development Corp. in 1983, southwest Broward residents ''feared this huge community could swing the elections,'' remembers Pembroke Pines historian erry Witoshynsky. ''That was the initiation of the current single districts.'' The 15,000 new residents meant a big jump in the city's population of 36,000. Before Pembroke Pines, the developers had considered building the condo community on Seminole land, but that deal fell through. Its main pitchmen were comedian Red Buttons and exercise guru Richard Simmons. The original residents were elderly Jewish Democrats from the Northeast.

By the numbers: 14,000 residents, 7,780 units, 141 buildings, 32 condo associations, 23 swimming pools, an 18-hole par 71 championship golf course, three synagogues, six voting precincts, a cafe, a stand-alone gym, tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, sailing lake and a picnic and barbecue area.

Landmark: Its 135,000-square-foot clubhouse houses a 1,042-seat theater, indoor and outdoor heated pools, a party room for more than 900, a billiard room, card rooms and meeting rooms for bingo, arts and crafts, music, ceramics, computer and other classes.

-- ANA VECIANA-SUAREZ

aveciana@MiamiHerald.com

When Sophie and Morris Bock decided to retire to a safe community where amenities abounded, they chose Century Village in Pembroke Pines. That was in 1990. And though Morris died three years ago, Sophie still cannot be more pleased with their choice.

''If somebody can't be happy here, they can't be happy anywhere,'' says Bock, 78. ``There is so much to do.''

That sentiment is echoed by others who move to this sprawling retirement mecca between Interstate 75 and Florida's Turnpike. For them, the end of jobs and careers means trading suits for golf shirts and dancing shoes, five-day weeks in an office for days that flow together in a streaming loop of swimming, shuffleboard and sing-alongs.

Alberto Darby, 81, moved to Century Village from Miami Springs five years ago after a long career in public administration.''They call this Cemetery Village,'' he says, with a wry laugh. ``But it can't be any further from the truth. I've never been busier.''

Darby, president of the Latin American Social Club, and Bock, president of the Democratic Club, represent the faces of a community undergoing the same changes as the rest of Broward County. Long a bastion of English-speaking Jewish retirees from the Northeast, Century Village increasingly attracts Hispanics who, though bilingual, speak Spanish in the hallways and dance salsa in the clubhouse. They are moving up from Miami, lured by the variety of activities, the well-tended grounds, the generation-specific amenities and, in a few cases, by children and grandchildren who have settled in Broward.

GROWING GROUP

Residents estimate that at least 25 percent of Century Village's 14,000 residents are Hispanic and say the proportion is growing.

''Of the 10 people who move here, six or seven are Latin,'' Darby says. ``It's Radio Bemba [Radio Lips] spreading the word.''

Signs of the cultural makeover are everywhere. At Major Value Village Pharmacy, Goya products line the shelves along with Metamucil and kosher latke crisps. The Domino Club has more than 300 members, and the Latin American Social Club's free dance is packed every Friday night. A new Latin American Sing Along Group was started this summer.

Political affiliation is shifting as well. Century Village has always been a Democratic stronghold, but its newer residents tend to register as Republican or Independent.

Nonetheless, ''my sense is that the viewpoint has remained moderate,'' says Pembroke Pines Councilman Angelo Castillo, who represents the area. ``They tend to be very open minded, regardless of their party affiliation. They're socially liberal and financially conservative.''

LARGEST IN BROWARD

The largest condo community in Broward County, Century Village of Pembroke Pines -- there's another in Deerfield Beach and there are two more in Palm Beach County -- has traditionally been a significant political power. But that assumption, too, may be changing. In last year's state House District 105 race, the candidate who lost this condo community ended up winning the election. Voter turnout was unusually low -- 26 percent, compared to 37 percent in the September 2002 primary.

''I'm a little worried because there's been a significant drop,'' Castillo says. ``There's always been a clear tradition to go out and vote in Century Village, and seniors in general have a tendency to vote in greater numbers.''

But whether or not they go to the polls, Century Village residents remain vocal about their needs: affordable housing, taxes and insurance, health care and transportation issues. Their sheer numbers, and the size of this place, also guarantee they will be heard.

Century Village is, by any measure, massive. When it was proposed in the early 1980s -- as the last of the four developments sharing that name -- its size alone prompted the then Pembroke Pines mayor to propose single-member districts to ensure that all neighborhoods would be equally represented.

For extra protection, the gated community boasts round-the-clock security and a medical-alert system in each condo so residents can press a button and receive immediate attention from paramedics or full-time nurses on the premises. A trolley system operates within the compound; public buses also stop there. Depending on unit size, maintenance fees can run $300 and up, say residents.

''There's nothing like it,'' brags Ray Shultz, president of the Condominium Owners and Operators of Pembroke Pines Association (COOPPA), an umbrella group of condo associations. ``You don't have to leave the premises. These are our golden years, so people come here to relax and have everything at their fingertips.''

Despite such obvious enthusiasm, however, some residents believe that the management of common areas can be better. Richard Globus, 65, retired to Century Village from his job as an administrative law judge in Baltimore three years ago. He and wife Marcia, 62, were impressed by the community's cultural offerings and the overall cleanliness of the grounds.

But the couple has discovered that the clubhouse and other buildings are not easily accessible for Marcia, who suffers from post-polio syndrome and gets around on a scooter. Richard Globus says handicapped parking spaces are not wide enough for a wheelchair, and doors, particularly those at the clubhouse, are difficult to open.

''The changes are simple and not costly,'' Globus says, ``but nothing has been done about it.''

Another longtime resident, Isis Fernandez, says she wishes there were more cultural offerings for Hispanics at the clubhouse and more Latin dishes served at Cafe on the Green. ''We are growing, but the events for us are not growing along with us,'' she says.

Toni Gleeson, vice president and clubhouse director for Century Village at Pembroke Pines, did not return repeated Herald phone calls seeking comment.

Residents, however, do agree that Century Village has something for almost everyone. The COOPPA Guardian, a monthly newspaper published by the condominium associations, lists more than 60 clubs and carries dozens of ads for activities: chess, ceramics, billards, bocce. These offerings remain the No. 1 incentive for residents.

VISITED PARENTS

In 1988 Rhoda Jacobs moved from New Jersey after visiting her parents in Century Village. Over the years, she has shimmied at clubhouse dances, played bingo on Monday nights, enjoyed various cultural shows at the theater and dined at a nearby Cuban restaurant -- all activities sponsored by village clubs.

''When we moved here, we felt we would be on vacation the rest of our lives,'' she says. ``And pretty much that's been true.''

Since moving from Kendall in April, Angelica Zamorano works out every morning at aerobics class and attends most of the activities of the Latin American Social Club, the Hispanic Club and the Italian Club. ''I need more time to do all that things that this place has to offer,'' she says.

Even the religious needs of Jewish residents are met. There are orthodox, conservative and reform synagogues on the premises. Lorraine Brod, one of the founders of the Century Pines Jewish Center, remembers when High Holy Days services were held in the clubhouse theater. Now the sanctuary and office host not only Friday night services but also luncheons and meetings. Though the activities are not as well attended as they once were because of the changing demographics, the congregation has a rabbi, a cantor and a choir.

''You can do as much as you want or as little as you want,'' Brod says.

For many residents, Century Village provides an excellent venue to meet a mate. Rigoberto Fernandez, 79 and a retired physician, met Sara Rondon at a dance four months after moving to the community two years ago.

At first he was attracted by the security. ''It's excellent,'' he says. ``I feel I don't have to lock my front door or my car.''

But finding a love late in life turned out to be the place's best reward. Most Fridays he and Sara, now his wife, can be found cutting the rug at the clubhouse.

''Really I was looking for a companion,'' Fernandez adds, ``and I was lucky to find one.''

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