Charlie Campbell dominant

Charlie Campbell sits at the Chassahowitzka Campground boat ramp, a place he calls peaceful. "It's the gateway to nature," he said watching boats head west toward the Gulf of Mexico.

When Charlie Campbell talks about Chassahowitzka, tears readily fill his eyes.

This community of about 600, maybe 800, homesites has been his solace during some dark times in his life.

“I heard about Chassahowitzka even before I came here,” he said. “I used to be an over-the-road truck driver ... and I’ve never seen a place like Chassahowitzka. I’ve never seen people like the people in Chassahowitzka.”

Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle

In 2016, when his family was in dire need, when his wife, Sherry, suffered several strokes that left her bedridden, the community came together to support them.

“They put me in a hotel room by the hospital so I could be near her,” he said.

The previous year, the community named the Campbells “volunteers of the year.”

Sherry no longer lives in Chassahowitzka; she returned to Ohio to live with her children from a previous marriage and the couple has since divorced.

“It was hard, but I’m doing OK,” Campbell said. “I’ve lost weight, about 300 pounds. I got pissed off at being fat. After (Sherry’s) stroke, I looked at my girls one day and thought, ‘Who’s going to be here for them?’

“I decided it was time, and I did it without surgery,” he said.

Losing weight, finding a girlfriend, raising his teenage daughter, Trinity, who has autism, this has all helped give Charlie Campbell a renewed sense of purpose.

As he sees it, his purpose has always been to do what he can to see his beloved community thrive.

He said there have been some problems, but he also said he wants to focus on what’s good and perhaps the best part about Chassahowitzka, neighbors helping neighbors.

“Charlie has a vision, and he’s very passionate about it,” said Dennis Blauer, Chassahowitzka River Campground manager and vice president of the Chassahowitzka Civic Association.

Campbell is the association president.

At one time, the civic association served as the heart of the community, with regular dinners and social events.

After a major storm would blow through, the people in the community would meet at the civic association building on South Riviera Drive where there would be tables set up so people could take a break from cleaning up storm debris.

“When Irma came through, I had $400-$500 worth of meat in my freezer, and when the power went out I brought it up here (to the civic association) where we have generators,” Campbell said. “We set up grills, we had water, and we just started feeding people.

“They’d come by and get some food and go back and continue cleaning up,” he said.

Blauer added, “We’re not an official (emergency) site, but when there’s a storm we’ll have a few volunteers here just to listen to people pour their hearts out.”

Campbell said when he first visited Chassahowitzka, he found his way back to the campgrounds on the river and met a man named Otto.

“Everybody knows Otto,” Campbell said. “I asked him about Chassahowitzka and he told me what a great community it was, and along with everything I had already heard about it, I wanted to be a part of it.”

He and his family moved here about nine years ago from Spring Hill.

“I joined the board at the civic association and, man, we had some good times — dinners, fishing tournaments. At Halloween we’d have trick or treat events with hayrides and go all through the neighborhoods with all the kids.

“I miss that,” he said. “I want that back.”

He said COVID put a halt to a lot of their activities, but things had started falling away even before that.

Currently, the civic association board is working to get the building in good shape so they can start having community events, starting with a rummage sale and a dinner, although the date hasn’t been set.

“I want the community to be involved in this, and we’re in desperate need of volunteers,” Campbell said.

Two things they need: someone to do public relations and someone to handle social media.

“I want to get back to the Chassahowitzka I love and that I know we can become again,” Campbell said. “We just need people to remember what Chassahowitzka is. We live in a place that the rest of the world comes to vacation. We live in paradise! We have our own piece of paradise right here.”

“It’s beautiful, it’s quiet. There’s caring people back here, and there’s people in need back here, too,” he said. “There’s also people who want to help, and as soon as we get this community up and running again, the better off we’ll be.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com. Read more of Nancy's stories at tinyurl.com/yxt69grh