In 1956 Elverne Hallman persuaded his brother, Jacob, to join him in purchasing 1250 acres of rough, undeveloped land between Highway 17 and the Peace river for the purpose of developing a Christian Retirement Community. The brothers were Mennonite Christian businessmen from Kitchener, Ontario. Their sister, Verna Baer, soon joined her brothers by investing in the project.
By 1960 the land had been surveyed, the roads were built, and lots were being sold. Three houses were soon built, one for each of the partners. As more and more lots were sold, houses were built throughout the community, many by Earl Gingrich, from Zurich, Ontario.
In 1960 a twin shuffleboard court was built as well as a swimming pool which was then rebuilt in 1978/79. During the winter of 1963/64, a Welcome Center was built for activities and worship services. A 40’ x 60’ addition was added in 1981.
The first recorded public worship service was held on January 24th, 1965. Other activities, such as mid-week worship, shuffleboard, ladies quilting, coffee hour, etc. were also being provided or were soon added.
In the late 1960’s Reverend Erie Bontrager, a retired Pastor, school teacher and farmer, from Michigan was asked to be the resident pastor, a responsibility he continued for 22 years. The Founders’ vision was for a non-denominational Christian community and it was Erie’s job to mould the residents from various denominational backgrounds into a harmonious, loving, accepting Christian community, a task that he did extremely well.
In 1977 Elverne and Jake Hallman invited some others in the community to join them in applying for a not-for-profit corporation to be known as, Sunnybreeze Christian Fellowship, Inc. Its purpose was, “To present a non-denominational Christian witness in order to foster the spiritual growth of the Sunnybreeze Harbor and surrounding communities”. The State of Florida approved the application on September 28, 1977 and “Sunnybreeze” was born.
In the late 1970’s an RV park was built and during the 1980’s and 1990’s a number of duplexes were built around our lake, named Lake Erie, in honor of our first resident Pastor, Rev. Erie Bontrager.
For most residents, Sunnybreeze has been a seasonal “Snowbird” community where they come to escape the cold and snow of Canada and the northern States, often for a few weeks at first and then, when they retire, for the winter season.
Today, during each season, which extends from early November through mid-April, many activities are arranged by the residents who volunteer their time and skills. Each Tuesday morning is Coffee Hour, a time of fun and fellowship. There is also men’s, ladies and mixed shuffleboard, pickle ball, game night twice each week, video night, many singing groups including a choir, ladies quilting and knotting, quilt show, annual auction, pancake breakfasts, men’s and ladies Bible study, as well as adult Bible study on Sunday morning followed by a morning worship service and a variety of evening services. On Wednesday evenings from January through March a time of Prayer and Praise is held. There are also a number of concerts throughout the season. All of these activities and more, provide ample opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy themselves, as well as, volunteer as much as they desire.
There are often units available to rent or purchase for those who may wish to join us in beautiful South West Florida and enjoy some sunshine, warm temperatures, fresh oranges, and warm Christian Fellowship – a little bit of paradise this side of heaven.