If there is someone to emulate, it’s Rose Van Patten, the woman many people affectionately know as Mrs. Mangowood. For those that don’t know, Mangowood is a 300+ home area between SW 144th and SW 152nd Streets just west of Coral Reef Park in Palmetto Bay. And, the always smiling and happy Rose Van Patten is an energetic ‘86-years young’ (her words) Italian whose passion for being with people is infectious.
At first glance, you might mistake Rose as your typical senior. But it doesn’t take long to discover she is a special whirlwind of activity who is ready to greet and help you as her new friend.
Rose was born in Rochester, NY and moved to Coral Gables where she was a practicing nurse for many years. After marrying her second husband John Van Patten (a United Airlines pilot) in 1970, she moved into Mangowood and quickly became one of the most involved neighbors. “To ensure we could spend time together, John said I had to quit my job. I almost cried because I had to say goodbye to so many dear patients.” Being one of the oldest civic associations in Florida, Mangowood preceded Rose’s arrival by a few years, but with her personality and drive to “just know all her neighbors” she quickly became famous. It was 1972 when John bought her a red Model A roadster replica. It was the same year Mangowood’s Christmas parade needed a car for Santa. Rose volunteered her car and chauffeur services. She instantly became Mrs. Mangowood.
Almost from the beginning, she became the block ‘mom’. She also joined the neighborhood beautification Saturdays, which painted, cleaned and planted throughout Mangowood, resulting in most of the tree-lined streets today. Rose fondly remembers, “We all thought this place was heaven. We kept it beautiful, looked out for each other with our Crime Watch and enjoyed ourselves immensely.” Trees became dedications as well. At the flagpole memorial entrance, trees stand in honor of elder residents, including her late husband.
In 1980, Rose’s next door neighbor, a Professor of Fine Arts, convinced her to try painting so they could enjoy more time together. As always, Rose excelled almost instantly, winning first prize in a local show. For five years, Rose painted nearly non-stop, racking up several international first place awards. She stopped painting in 1985 when her husband died. “I needed to escape, so I grabbed a friend and spent a few years traveling the world. I backpacked Europe.”
After Hurricane Andrew, the Mangowood Estates Citizens’ Association really showed what neighborly cooperation was all about. Rose recalls, “People came out to the streets and automatically started clearing them. Anyone with a chainsaw or a strong back made sure Mangowood’s roads were passable.” Next was sharing with those in need. “One neighbor had a freezer full of meat. Another person had a working BBQ. Together they fed anyone who was hungry before the meat spoiled,” Rose remembered. “We just took care of each other.” Rose laughed when she told me they even found time for humor, as someone ‘updated’ the flagpole entrance sign to read Manglewood instead of Mangowood.
In recent years, the Mangowood flagpole has gained memorial bricks. About ten years ago, a hurricane loosened the monument bricks. That gave way to paid memorial bricks. “It’s a way to honor long-time residents and service members to our country.”
Rose is part of the welcoming committee. “The old people are thinning out and we’re making way for a whole new wave of young families. It’s fabulous. We welcome them and make sure they feel warm and included.”
Rose is certainly looked up to and respected in Mangowood, awarded Board Emeritus status. Still, she is actively serving on the Board, works as area captain for their communications and is always one of the first neighbors out at their many annual events.
“I still feel good. My eyes are deteriorating, but besides that I’m pretty healthy.” When I asked Rose what keeps her so young and energetic, she had lots to say. “You’ve got to eat right. I eat grains, nuts, legumes and good amount of meat. Oh, and I swim at least 45 minutes every other day.”
Rose is a patron of the opera and loves seeing live shows. She takes neighbors and gets out for entertainment several times a month.
She’s also quite the stock guru. Years ago she invested in FPL, Apple, FedEx, and DHL. She did well enough to buy her grandkids cars. Now her hot pick is buying companies involved in stem cells. She also says, “She’d be buying Facebook…”
Rose also loves her football. She had Dolphins tickets for 35 years and attended several Super Bowls, including the Dolphins in 1972. She follows several teams and players today and regularly watches them on TV. “I still love Jason Taylor.”
I asked Rose if I could come back and visit her. “Sure! I think I’ll be around for a little while longer.” I jokingly asked, “How long?” Rose though for moment, “I think I got ten more years in me…”