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While in Jupiter, Florida for Spring Training we had time to run over to an area called The Villages and meet a whole new world of Cardinals fans. The Villages is a planned community near the Ocala, Florida area and among the hundreds of clubs people can join, Cardinals Nation stands out. 

"We have about 350 members," said Glenda Wolfe, who with her husband Bruce Wolfe started the organization.

They bill The Villages Cardinals Nation as a social club for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and it is one of the biggest fan clubs around.. They sponsor meetings with topics of interest to Cardinals fans,  go to Jupiter, FL for spring training, do  what they call monthly “Bird Watching” at a place called Gators in Brownwood, an area of The Villages, and golf.

Mike Neumann is the Program Director, Sam Ottenlips is the tech director and he runs their website; Maureen Ottenlips, along with John and Deb Jelinek, handle decorations for the meetings (and they go all out!); Glenda Wolfe oversees the running of the events and is the Membership Chairman; and Kerry Hughes schedules "Bird Watching." Most are from the Greater St. Louis Area or are from some area of Cardinal Country.

Friday night they hosted Rob Rains as their featured speaker (shown right, at the event).  Neumann had met Rains in St. Louis and invited him to come to The Villages to speak.  It was an enthusiastic crowd. 

It seemed everyone wanted to find out what Rains thought of the team and the keys to the Cardinals having a successful season. After his talk he stayed and answered questions-- his favorite part of any speech. It is there you get to really hear what the Cardinals fans are thinking.

There were more than 100 people in attendance-- most decked out in their Cardinal red. A happier and friendlier group you've never seen. Though most did not know each other, they are bound by something that all Cardinals fans know- the ties of their beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Whether they watched them play in the 1960's or the recent teams, Cardinals fans love to talk about the team. 

There was a lot of "what do you think of the team this year?" going on.

The Wolfes and Neumanns are shown in the picture, left, with Rains.

"These things are always a lot of fun to plan," said Glenda Wolfe, who was tasked with making sure everyone had a place to sit and enough meals were prepared for all. "You always get last minute people so I ordered extra food, and we needed it tonight."

She sat at her table counting checks and cash and according to her calculations it came out just right. The people from Cardinals Nation in The Villages come from everywhere but when Bruce Wolfe called out areas in Missouri and Illinois there seemed to be a lot from St. Louis.

"When we first started the group, we knew we would call it 'The Villages Cardinals Nation' from the very beginning--what else would you call it? "said Glenda Wolfe. " Every time I hear the name or see it, I’m reminded of Cardinal Nation in St. Louis and it makes me feel good to have that connection with our roots and our hometown team. Bruce deserves the real credit for starting the group because he did the early ground work, completed all the applications and made phone calls to locate a recreation center here in The Villages for the meetings."

It was a labor of love for both of them as they are huge Cardinals fans

"I remember hot summer nights sitting on the front porch (in Southern Illinois) listening to KMOX Radio broadcast Cardinal baseball with Harry Carey and Jack Buck," said Glenda Wolfe.  "We moved to Murray, KY, and all my family were big Cardinal fans. Then I met Bruce and he was the biggest Cardinal fan I ever met, so we just went from there" 

The Neumanns were also both big Cardinals fans. When they decided to make the partial move to Florida, Geri missed her friends in St. Louis at the beginning but once she started meeting the people there and getting involved in the activities she grew to love it. They found Cardinal Nation and all the friends they continue to make through it, and it seems their life is complete.

There was a lot Bruce Wolfe had to go through to get Cardinal Nation established as a club, but they finally diid it and started having meetings. The Villages is a really interesting town. It has several town squares, hospitals, stores of all sorts and many bars and restaurants. Friday nights they have live music and dancing in the town squares.  Nestled in central Florida they have a population of 120,000 residents,One might think it is a "retirement community" and the pace would be slow and laid back. Far from it.

Most residents start their days early with anything from "Bagels and Bocci Ball" to swimming laps in the athletic pool to a brisk walk in the beauty of Florida. There are golf courses and lakes all around. The area loves golf, pickleball, tennis, softball, and anything else that is active. There are 2,400 clubs the residents can join  such as the Southern Illinois Club, St. Louis Club, the Missouri Club, the Central States Club, and others.

Many houses have what others might consider a "three-car garage" but if you look closely at the third door it is smaller than the others. That's because everyone drives around on their golf carts. Golf carts are legal and at the end of a weekend night there is usually a big traffic jam-- not of cars though-- of golf carts.

On this particular Friday night this group was not going to the outdoor concerts, they were talking Cardinals baseball. Though some had planned on going to the dinner and ending up at the square, everyone was so excited about the first Spring Training game that Saturday they lost track of time.

This is the phenomenon of Cardinals Fans-- they are everywhere and when they meet another Cardinals fan it's  as if they've known each other forever.

When Bruce Wolfe arrived at The Villages a few years ago, he couldn’t believe with all those clubs there was not a Cardinals Nation Fan Club.

"I waited  two years for someone else to start it," he said, "And I finally decided to take the bird by the feathers and see what would happen. I had seen a lot of golf carts with Cardinal decals on them, so I knew the potential was there."

The baseball team fan clubs at The Villages seem to be a little competitive with each other.

"Cardinals Nation was challenged by the Yankees Club and the undefeated Red Sox Nation to golf scrambles and the Cards won them both! " said Wolfe. "What has been especially fun is working together with other Cardinal fans from all over the Midwest."  

"We now have 348 people on our master list with nearly 200 paid members," said Glenda Wolfe. "This month starts our second year and I think it will continue to grow. There are a lot of Midwestern and St. Louis retirees here in The Villages."

"It was truly an honor to get invited and to meet everyone," said Rains at the end of the night.

"It is refreshing to find other avid Cardinal fans so far from middle America and we enjoy getting together to talk Cardinal baseball," said Wolfe.