Marilee Griffin Ivy — or Terry Ivy, depending on how far back your relationship with her goes — is sitting on a cream settee, a beige crocheted blanket draped over one arm of the furniture. The afternoon rain is near, sending a breeze through the screen door; the pages of an old cookbook on a side table flutter in the slight wind.
Ivy’s home on Lakewood Avenue, in Ocoee, was built in 1888 and was a wedding present from her grandfather to her parents, Mary and Lee Griffin. Ivy, 92, was born in a small bedroom, just off the living room at the front of the house. It is now a home office with close to 500 books lining the shelves.
And it is here, in her childhood home, that she is living once again.
THE LADY WITH THE PLANS
“I never thought I’d come back here, because I have a home in New York,” Ivy said. “But as I got older I needed warmer weather.”
It was either live there or in an assisted-living facility, she said. She decided the money she would spend living in a senior center might be better spent on fixing up her house to pass on to her children.
She’s full of plans, too.
“If you see me out there … sitting in front of the house, I’m envisioning what I want to do with the house,” Ivy said. “But I think that keeps you young. … Every day I try to do one project. I want to add a room onto my dining room. I had the money to do it, and then I thought, ‘Well, that’s selfish. I’ll just go ahead and build a porch.’ So I had my guy building a porch on the side. … I’m taking out the windows in my dining room, and I’m going to make it either a porch or a sunroom. And then I have my next project already. I want to put up a three-car shed. I want to build a butterfly garden — as a memorial to my son who just died.”
Ivy lives across the street from Ocoee Elementary School; in the mornings, she sits on her screened-in porch, sipping her coffee and watching the buses drive by and the students walk to and from school.
But there was a time when she went by Terry Ivy and was working as a model in New York City. She was 16, her father had died two years prior, and she knew there was life outside of Ocoee. She moved north, lived with a dentist and his family — and, later, at the all-female Barbizon Hotel — and attended the Barbizon School for modeling.
“To be a kid from Ocoee and go to New York and live with them in Forest Hills was a terrific thing because they were so wonderful and helped me in so many ways,” she said. “They didn’t have to do that, but they wanted to help a young girl who wanted to get in that game.”
Ivy appeared in numerous advertisements, including a LIFE magazine ad for Chesterfield cigarettes and a catalog ad promoting Berkley dress suits.
In between modeling gigs, she was a receptionist at a law firm. For 10 years, she was a New York schoolteacher in Chinatown, Harlem and Washington Heights. She is a lifetime member of the Junior League of New York.
Ivy said she is grateful for her big-city experience because she met so many different people — including her future husband, recently back from war, at a party after being stood up by her date.
Ivy modeled for about a year after their marriage before quitting to raise a family of five children.
Her husband, Edwin R. Ivy, died about six years ago at the age of 92. They had invested in real estate, and today, Marilee Ivy has five homes in New York plus several homes and acreage locally.
‘THIS OLD BARNEY PLACE’
The land in Ocoee has been in the family since Ivy’s grandfather, B.L. Griffin, moved here during the Civil War at the request of Confederate Capt. Bluford Sims. Her family’s ties to the area go back many generations, as her mother was related to the Bronson cattling family, of Kissimmee, and her great-grandfather was a doctor in Windermere.
Ivy’s house has interesting features from another era. The home was built off the ground, and its kitchen was about 30 feet away from the back of the house.
“During one of the hurricanes, it jammed that kitchen, and when it hit the house, it bounced back about two feet,” she said. “So we just added on between the kitchen and dining room.”
When her mother wanted to sell the house at age 94 so she could go on cruise vacations, Ivy couldn’t bear the thought of it belonging to another family, so she bought it herself.
“I’m not here to start my life over,” she said. “I’m a satisfied person. … I’m very proud that I’m me. I’m proud of the people I came from. I know people who aren’t happy with who they are.
“I get a kick out of this old barney place,” she said. “It keeps me alive. It really does. … I want to put a little touch here and there, (and) I’ll get to it. … I’m happy here. I’m really happy here. I’ve had some good times in this place.”
Ivy figures she has a few more years before she will need assistance with mobility.
“My plan is to pick up a cane at age 95,” she said.
In the meantime, there is plenty to do: Continue her nightly exercises, take piano lessons, learn how to play bridge and think up new projects for her childhood home.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.