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Honoring The Past

Suzan Phillips’ play “The Claypools of Vero” honors our city’s history and doubles as a fascinating prelude to her own story.

Suzan’s play, which debuts next season, is largely in honor of her mother Kitty, who spent a lifetime making music.

Suzan’s play, which debuts next season, is largely in honor of her mother Kitty, who spent a lifetime making music.

Suzan Phillips belongs on stage. An accomplished singer who has performed nationally and internationally, Suzan, 92, has been singing since she could form words. During our interview at her home in Vero Beach, she breaks into song three times, once in Spanish – a tribute to her favorite teacher, a native Cuban. 

She is seeking an audience again, but this time old Riomar will be the star. Next season the Vero Beach Theatre Guild will perform “The Claypools of Vero,” Suzan’s play inspired by a chapter in her aunt Dorothy Fitch Penniston’s novel An Island in Time. The play follows Dorothy’s life in the 1920s when she came to Vero Beach with her parents. Dorothy’s parents and Suzan’s grandparents, Winchester and Florence Fitch, built “Orchid Oaks,” one of the first seven houses on the barrier island, and were among the founders of Riomar in 1919. 

“There wasn’t even a bridge at this point [between the barrier island and the mainland] so everything had to be brought over by boat,” says Suzan. “My grandfather owned all the property from the Quail Valley Club up through the Catholic Church. It was all jungle, and had the most beautiful trees that you ever saw.” Winchester is credited with naming Riomar, Spanish for “river” and “sea.”