The Worth of a Neighbor

📅 June 11, 2020

Throughout my life I have been blessed with the best of neighbors—from my childhood on Belmont Circle in Denver City, Texas, to my teenage days in the Arlington area of Jacksonville, to my “young mom” home in the Woodstock area, and my current home in Whitehouse.  

Years ago, when the Florida Times-Union featured a “Guest Column,” I took advantage of the opportunity to write a tribute to my neighbor, Lil Zimmer, who lived next door to us on New Court West.

After the article was published, I received a kind letter from a reader. Both are included below.

The article:

It has been said that “good fences make good neighbors.” This was certainly true of me and my neighbor, Lil Zimmer, who passed away in August 1987 after a long struggle with cancer.

Our fence made us good neighbors not because it marked a property line, but because it was over our fence that Lil handed me vegetables from her garden, roses from her trellises, and egg rolls from her kitchen.

At our fence Lil also imparted gardening tips, and distributed treats to my children. I would lift my baby over the fence for a visit. Lil and her husband had no children of their own.

Lil’s husband moved away after she died. Her place on the other side of the fence is now being filled by new neighbors, who are still caring for the roses Lil planted.

The world did not take notice the day Lil died. Her name was in the obituary column, but not the headlines. That will probably be true of most of the people we call “neighbors.”

But isn’t it neighbors like Lil who give of themselves to others who are most newsworthy? Aren’t they the ones who make Jacksonville a wonderful place to live?

So, on this second anniversary of Lily’s death, some words of tribute are due, not only for Lil, but in honor of all neighbors like her.

[Note: Lil was Filipino, married to Rick, a Navy veteran. They had a huge, lovable, slobbering Mastiff named Alex. The roses I mentioned were the “Seven Sisters” variety, which Lil called, “Say-bayn Seesters.” I can still hear her saying these words.] 

The letter:

Dear Ms. Bebernitz,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your Guest Column in the September 2, 1989 Community News Section of the Florida Times-Union. I thought you might enjoy having an extra copy of the article so I have enclosed it for you.

The tribute you paid to your neighbor, Lil Zimmer, was wonderful and I am delighted you shared your story with the people of our community. People like Mrs. Zimmer are the heartbeat of every community, and yes, they are the ones who make Jacksonville such a wonderful city in which to live.

With best wishes and warmest personal regards, I remain

Sincerely yours,

Tommy Hazouri

[Tommy Hazouri was Jacksonville’s mayor 1987-1991. He currently serves on the city council as Vice President At-Large-Group 3.]  

If you have neighbors you’ve never taken time to tell how much you appreciate them, consider taking a moment to share this with them and say, “Ditto.”  


  1. katherine wells

    Well done Holly well done

  2. Tina Hill

    I got a tear in my eye reading this. I have such great neighbors and feeling blessed.


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Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.


Semi-Finalist - 2021 Royal Palm Literary Award Competition - Florida Writer's Association