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Lenobel passes, Longboat loses a leader and friend

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

In his 91 years, Hal Lenobel spent 62 married to his loving wife, Hazel, raised two successful children, served as Mayor of Longboat Key three times and left a lasting positive impression on most everyone he met. Hal passed on Sunday, Aug. 30, in the presence of his family at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Hal and Hazel Lenobel at their 60th wedding anniversary. Hal passed on Sunday, August 30.

Singularly independent. Kind. Energetic. Class act. Loyal.  These are apt words for a man who pursued life passionately and yet retained a sense of humor and compassionate demeanor.

Hal’s son, Jeffrey, remembers his father: “The older I get the more I am amazed and impressed by the ability my father had to play a positive role in both the community and in the lives of our family. His work ethic, his humor and his desire and ability to stay close to those he loved will always be an inspiration. I feel particularly fortunate to have had a father who was so dedicated and so kind.”

 

Brooklyn beginnings

Hal was both a New Yorker and a Longboater at heart.

Born on May 15, 1924 to Sam and Katie Lenobel in Brooklyn, New York, Hal attended the renowned Boys High School. He grew up rooting for the New York Giants and would help the umpires at Ebbets Field with their equipment, in order to get into the games.

Hal played, like most kids in the 1930s, stickball in the streets. When the beloved home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, was torn down, he managed to acquire two of the wooden seats. The seats remained in his dentist waiting room for decades.

Jeffrey Lenobel, Nathaniel Robinson, Sandy Robinson, Donna Lenobel and Hal

After high school, Hal’s education continued at New York University and then on to the St. Louis University School of Dentistry. His career in dentistry started toward the end of World War II when he served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific.

After the war, Hal opened his first practice in Brooklyn, then in Westbury, and lastly in Hicksville, New York, where he practiced dentistry until he retired in 1993 to live full time on Longboat Key.

 

A lifetime of love

In 1949 sports and dentistry were eclipsed in Hal’s heart by something even more meaningful. Anyone familiar with Hal over the years knows how passionately he loved his wife, Hazel.

Hal first met her while working as a busy Brooklyn dentist in 1949. Their love started as a blind date.

Daughter Sandy Robinson and Hal.

Hal had a friend who had dated Hazel and complained, “She’s a great woman, but I could not get to first base with her.”

Hal took Hazel out to the movies (it was all he could afford at the time), and she was the last woman he ever dated. In fact, Hal said he proposed on the third date. He knew she was the one, and he said she gave him a feeling inside that made his mind clear.

Following two years of marriage, Hazel gave birth to Jeffrey in 1951, and Sandy in 1955.

Hal loved Hazel so much he had to buy her a second engagement ring in short order. Just before Hazel went to the hospital to give birth to Jeffrey, she asked Hal to hold keep the ring for safekeeping.

Hal placed the ring in his watch pocket. Then he made a rookie error – he forgot and sent his jacket to the cleaners. The ring was lost and Hal spent two years saving to replace the ring. Hal and Hazel would laugh about it later in life.

 

Paradise South

Hal discovered Longboat Key through his brother, Milton.

Milton, an orthopedic surgeon, vacationed at The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort in 1969 on Longboat Key. Hal said his brother called him on the telephone to say he had placed a $100 deposit on a condominium for both of them.

Hal said asked his brother two simple questions: “Where is Longboat Key? What is a condominium?”

Hal had two inherent qualities: decisiveness and commitment. Both were manifest when Hazel and Hal visited Longboat Key six months after his brother spoke to him and they completed the purchase of the condominium at Longboat Harbor which Hal owned for the rest of his life.

Hal and son Jeffrey Lenobel.

In addition to marriage, family life and dentistry, Hal’s life was filled and centered on sports and the cultural events of New York City.

His wall at home had family photos right next to the plaques of his numerous golfing accomplishments. On his car was the license plate METS1.

Until he retired full time to Longboat Key in 1993, Hal held season tickets to the New York Jets, Giants, Mets, Rangers and New York Philharmonic. His children were part of Hal’s infectious enthusiasm and the family would spend weekends and nights engaged in not only watching events but immersed in Hal’s immense knowledge of the history, players and rules of the various games.

But Hal was not a mere spectator. He was a passionate golfer and in fact was the longest-standing member of the Longboat Key Club where he remained a member since he and Hazel joined in 1969 when it cost a mere $400 per year. Hal’s golfing skills earned a record for shooting a total of 14 Holes-in-One. He shot 12 at the Longboat Key Club.

Hal also served as the Rules Chairman of the Metropolitan Golf Association.

As if being an avid player, rules officiator and spectator was not enough, Hal joined his passion for golf with his equal passion for words. Rarely missing a week, Hal wrote several hundred golf columns entitled, “Golf Gambits” for the Longboat Observer before continuing his golf writing for the Longboat Key News where he authored the weekly column, “Tee Time” for years.

 

Lenobel gets busy

Yet another quality of Hal Lenobel was the frenetic pace that left him energy to not only fill his days on Longboat Key with golf, but to dedicate 12 years to the town commission including three terms as Mayor.

Lenobel’s influence left him with praise for his leadership throughout Sarasota and Manatee’s legal and government communities. Perhaps the former General Manager of the Longboat Key Club Michael Welly said it best after Lenobel completed his final term on the commission.

Hal with Stacey and Randy Thompson.

“It is really the passing of an era. Hal was someone who we really looked up to and he set a standard on the commission bench…Look around and the Longboat Key you see today has a lot to do with Hal’s influence,” said Welly.

Hal himself said his strength lay in “Being contrary; a bit of an instigator of thought and ideas.”

In total, Hal served on the commission from 1997 to 2005. Then in an era of discord, he was asked to come back as Mayor and did just that in 2008.

Town Manager Dave Bullock spoke of Lenobel’s reach: “He is an institution, everybody knew Hal. My observation of Hal is he was very straightforward, he was always a Longboat advocate. I have never heard anybody say a bad word about him.”

Current Mayor Jack Duncan told Longboat Key News, “I found Hal always diplomatic, a gentleman, and although he was often the outlying vote or alone in his vote, he always stated his opinion and never got petty or personal.”

Perhaps nobody worked as long with Hal Lenobel as former Town Attorney Dave Persson who served in that capacity for 24 years.

“Hal is a Longboat Key icon. What I respect most is he always made what he felt was the right decision, regardless of political implications. He took the facts, analyzed them, and made the right decision,” said Persson.

Persson also appreciated Lenobel’s disarming charm and wit.

“What was beautiful about Hal is he had a wonderful wit that he could use to disarm discussions that were tense, and allow people to regroup and refocus. It was usually self-deprecation. He used it to the benefit of his fellow man. Hal could say something in about three seconds that would make everyone chuckle,” Persson added.

Hal and Trish Granger.

Perhaps most importantly is the leadership Lenobel imbued on the town commission. Again, Persson who served with dozens and dozens of commissioners over the years, speaks to that quality: “Hal really was a leader and not afraid to make decisions. He had the ability to pull that plug if you start to take yourself too seriously or get stuck. He wouldn’t get lost in the weeds.”

 

Breakfast is served

Hal Lenobel had the ability to simply keep going and to stay relevant.

Following his years on the Longboat Key Commission and tenure as Mayor, following the passing of his wife Hazel, and following the end of his days spent on the golf course, Hal spent the final three years of his life holding weekly breakfast meetings with some of the area’s most prominent and interesting residents.

Hal served as Chairman of the Longboat Key Breakfast Club, which he started along with Longboat Key News Publisher Steve Reid and former Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis in 2012. Later, former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, Longboat Key News Associate Publisher Melissa Reid, former Sarasota City Mayor Mollie Cardamone and others joined the group that met two to three times per week at The Carousel Café in downtown Sarasota.

But it was Hal who was the metaphorical Lou Gehrig of the group in that he invited and kept track of the guests and never missed a meeting. Week after week, the small group would sit down with area business and governmental leaders ranging from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, to County and

Melissa and Stephen Reid with Hal.

City Commissioners, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, area judges, as well as board and foundation directors of area organizations. The purpose was simple: to hold an open and off-the-record conversation about what they were doing, what challenges the organizations faced and to gain insight into where our community is heading. Lenobel and the group met through July of 2015, when after more than 100 guests, they suspended for the summer.

In the end, Hal spent his final days in the close company of family and friends. And it is not only the friends and family, but anyone sensitive enough to sense the singular specialness of Hal Lenobel who benefited from his life. He simply made the world a richer and more enjoyable place for those surrounding him

 

Hal leaves behind his son, Jeffrey Lenobel and Jeff’s wife, Donna Lenobel; his daughter, Sandy Robinson and her husband, Keith Robinson; his granddaughter Jessica Carrington and her husband Ian Carrington; his granddaughter Alexandra Lenobel; his grandson Kyle Robinson and his wife Lillian Robinson; his grandson Nathaniel Robinson and his great-grandson Michael Robinson, son of Kyle and Lillian.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: Vasculitis Foundation, PO Box 28660, Kansas City, MO 64188.

Jeffrey Lenobel holds a portrait of Hal, seated, as former Mayor Jim Brown looks on.

Fannie and Phill Younger.

Jeff and Donna Lenobel, Hal and Hazel Lenobel, Sandy and Keith Robinson

 

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