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They Built This City

A look at the pioneering families of Stuart, and seven locals carrying on their ancestors’ long legacies.

by Suzanne Wentley Apr 2014 Also on Digital Edition

Amy Crary

Amy Crary

When Amy Crary graduated dental school, she decided her hometown of Stuart was too quiet. So she moved to West Palm Beach – but she was back after a year.

“I missed home,” says the great-great-granddaughter of Evans Crary Sr., who began his law practice in Stuart in 1927 before serving as the speaker of the state House of Representatives and a state senator. Her father, uncle and their cousin continue the practice today.

But instead of following in their legal footprints, the 37-year-old runs her decade-old dental practice on East Ocean Boulevard and loves raising her 7-year-old twins in the same town where she grew up.

“I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, and as a dentist I have the best of both worlds – being a doctor and being able to have a balance with family life,” Crary says. “I live in the same neighborhood as my parents and brother. The charm of Stuart hasn’t changed at all.”

Using experience she gained working in Indiantown before opening her own practice, Crary is a dedicated business owner and mother. She enjoys cycling and snow skiing, as well as spending afternoons outside with her children, Ben and Emily.

Dennis Hudson III

Dennis Hudson III

Back in the days of the Depression, there were no banks in or near Stuart. So, in the name of establishing a place where small business owners could start to rebuild through credit, the local community members recruited Dennis Hudson Sr., who was active in the bank in Okeechobee. He also worked as a receiver for failed banks in Palm Beach County in the 1920s.

“He cut his teeth on problems, and that caused him to develop a very important and conservative view in the role of banks,” says his grandson and current CEO of Seacoast National Bank, Dennis Hudson III. “Banks were the lifeblood of growth … but if the bank wasn’t operated well, you might lose your money.”

Today, the bank started by Hudson’s grandfather is a trusted regional institution. Hudson, now 58, took over the reigns from his uncle about 15 years ago.

Married to Wendy with three sons in their 20s (Michael, Andrew and Christopher), Hudson enjoys working and has served on many boards, including current posts for the United Way foundation and the Visiting Nurses Association.

Hudson says he always considered Stuart a special place “because of the people who chose to live here.”

Linda Stonum

Linda Stonum

Like her great-great-aunt Lettie Pomeroy, who was married to the Honorable James Pomeroy, Linda Stonum is a painter. Lettie Pomeroy painted pieces that still hang in her parents’ home, while Stonum’s decorative wall paintings and finishings are in homes and businesses throughout the region.

“My family is very, very talented,” Stonum, 46, says. “My grandmother could also paint well, but she never liked anything she did.”

Lettie Pomeroy was a popular English teacher, and she taught Stonum’s great-aunt, who was raised with eight other siblings in the house that now serves as the gift shop at Terra Fermata in downtown. So when Stonum and her husband, Troy, go out to watch live music, they prefer to call the venue “Uncle Earl’s.”

Stonum, who loves to fish and enjoys the outdoors, liked growing up in Stuart, even though there wasn’t much to do on the farm with her parents, Boo and Sue Lowery.

“We lived in Palm City, so we had a horse and rode dirt bikes,” she says. “I’ve thought about living in different places, but why? There’s not another place I see myself going. We have everything we need, and it’s beautiful here.”

Besides, she adds, she knows all the back roads!

John Leighton III

John Leighton III

Through boutique development projects and advocacy through local planning and business agencies, John Leighton III is helping to make Martin County even better than he remembers it growing up.

And that’s saying something.

“The component of the small-town character, of knowing everybody, it’s just comfortable for me,” says Leighton, 46, whose great grandparents owned a farm in Palm City in 1912.

Owner of Leighton Construction, he has developed entire subdivisions, including The Villas in Palm City, as well as retail stores, offices and even the expansion of TurboCombustor Technology in Stuart.

Real estate and civic-mindedness reach far back in Leighton’s family, with his great grandmother, Rose, helping to start the Palm City Chamber of Commerce. His grandfather, John S. “Jock” Leighton, was a farmer as well as the owner of a furniture store and helped develop and expand East Stuart.

Leighton III, meanwhile, helped start the Palm City redevelopment area, held seats on both the city of Stuart and Martin County local planning agencies, and also served two terms as the president of the Business Development Board of Martin County.

While staying involved politically, Leighton also enjoys spending time with his wife, Laura, and stepdaughter Shelby, as well as playing golf and flying sea planes over to the Bahamas.

Melissa Newman

Melissa Newman

Melissa Newman’s grandfather literally built Stuart – or, at least portions of the old Roosevelt Bridge. It was one of Fay A. Scott Sr.’s first jobs, before he pressed and delivered clothes for Martin County Cleaners for 50 years. With hard work and success in the family genes, Newman’s mother, Sandra, was crowned Valentine Queen of the first integrated graduating class in Martin County.

“I was always watching Grandpa, active as he was,” Newman says, 35. “I don’t think that man ever sat down. I think I have the same thing.”

Growing up on the edge of East Stuart, Newman played soccer, was a cheerleader and a Girl Scout and participated in color guard and Sigma Phi. She also volunteered at J.D. Parker Elementary.

Today, she’s just months away from celebrating 20 years working at Publix Super Markets, and she sells candles and accessories with PartyLite Gifts.

“It doesn’t matter what Publix I go to, I see someone I grew up around or knew me as a little girl, or my mom and dad,” says Newman, the customer service manager and mother of a 4-year-old son, Ji’Yai.

When she’s not shopping or relaxing with her family, Newman remains active with St. Paul’s A.M.E. Church and supporting the United Way of Martin County.

John Whiticar John Whiticar

John Whiticar

Co-owner of Whiticar Boat Works, John Whiticar runs the same boat repair, construction and maintenance business that his father, 103-year-old Curt Whiticar, founded after moving to the area with his parents, Kate and Addison, in 1917.

But he didn’t take over the helm until after he helped develop and run Martin County School District’s Environmental Studies Center. Whiticar was boat captain there before other nautical jobs including serving as captain for Chuck Walgreen’s 80-foot yacht.

“I got to see a lot of the Bahamas and the Keys, even made it as far as Nova Scotia,” the 63-year-old says. “I got to see and do a lot that I wouldn’t have been able to if I stayed home.”

Still, Whiticar always knew that he would return to Stuart to join the family business, which he runs with his cousin Jim Dragseth. His oldest son, Edward, works in the parts department.

Married to his wife, Dot, for 30 years, the couple has another son, David. Whiticar loves fishing and photography, and his proudest local accomplishment was serving as the catalyst for the community to buy the old Florida Institute of Technology property and turn it into the gorgeous Indian RiverSide Park in Jensen Beach.

DREW PITTMAN

DREW PITTMAN

Drew Pittman’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Owen Pittman, moved in 1919 to Stuart, where he owned many businesses: a Gulf gas station, a Studebaker dealership and even dabbled in real estate in the years before the land boom. His great grandfather, Andrew Owen Pittman Sr., owned a marina on Frazier Creek.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the great-great-grand tree.

Pittman, 38, owns Drew Pittman Realty, which specializes in residential sales and has an auction arm. The company also serves as a catering company in Gainesville and runs which delivers meals from 50 restaurants to homes throughout the Treasure Coast.

Before getting his real estate license, he worked in North Carolina for an outdoor recreation company and lived for a short while in Aspen, Colo. A lot had changed from then to now, with his office in downtown.

“In the late ’80s, there was a lot of plywood on the windows. It’s nice to come back and see that revitalization, to have downtown be vibrant again,” he says.

He and his wife, Lauren, have two boys, 20-month-old Anders and 4-month-old Rivers, so Pittman enjoys spending time with his family – as well as donating his auctioning skills to scores of area charities and remaining active in the Kiwanis Club of Stuart.