By Ken Gillespie
Many know Lenny Unitas from his part time job at Publix in Nocatee’s Market Square. For three or four days every week over the past three years he’s been heading over to the store where you’ll see him bagging shoppers’ groceries at checkout. At the age of 90, Unitas is the “senior” employee. His ever present smile and friendly, helpful manner is valued by both regular customers and newcomers. Unitas especially enjoys working side by side with teens who fondly call him Grandpa.
Unitas’s story is all about personal renewal. Just three years ago he acted on a life long desire to play a musical instrument by learning to play the organ. His living room features an elegant Lowry organ which he plays for personal pleasure as well as to please his wife Ann and her brother David. A lover of the outdoors, he and Ann owned a boat for many years and was an active member of Jacksonville’s Power Squadron, where he served as commander. Giving up his sea legs only recently, he now stays fit through walks with his four-footed companion Hattie.
Unitas is a Pittsburgh native and brother of famed Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas. Not yet fully retired, his varied work career includes time as a coal hauler, steel fabricator, driver of 18-wheelers (ask him about the freaky time a train’s caboose rammed him), a door-to-door salesman, an insurance broker, a grocery produce manager, and owner of a Firestone tire franchise along with his brother. Whew — and he’s not finished yet!
Q: What do you like about living in Nocatee?
A: People here are friendly and welcoming. We moved from a nearby golf community and having the security of a gated development in Del Webb is important. This location is terrific with every shopping and leisure convenience just a few minutes away. Having golf cart access to nature trails and extra wide sidewalks gives us easy mobility. Nocatee is a physically pretty community that showcases Mother Nature’s beauty.
Q: Any advice for your juniors about staying young at heart?
A: Remain physically active, get out of the house often, and mingle with people of all ages. I long ago learned to place a high value on my health, when I suffered a heart attack some 40 years ago. Today I’m the only surviving male in my family; all the rest suffered cardiac problems. My dog Hattie drags me out three times daily and helps keep me socially active by meeting other walkers and dog owners.
Q: Describe yourself in just a few words.
A: (Reluctant to answer, Unitas’s wife Ann took the lead by saying he is personable, optimistic, caring and frugal. On that last point he spends little on himself but will buy anything Ann desires. He delights in shopping for her).
Q: What little known fact or life experience might surprise people about you?
A: Well when we were kids, I accidentally caused a bullet to hit my brother in the leg. Fooling around I tossed a live bullet into a burning fireplace. It exploded and embedded in Johnny. I carried him four blocks to the doctor. Looking back it sure didn’t hurt his football career none!
Photo courtesy Ken Gillespie
Nocatee resident Lenny Unitas