Family sticks together in The Villages

Mark Danis, center right, and his daughter, Hope, visit family in August at Blue Fin Grill & Bar. His father and mother, Al, right and Joan Danis, left, and sister and brother-in-law, Cheryl and Tim Mitchell, are part of a few Danis family members who have moved to The Villages.

Family is the most important thing in many people’s lives, but not every family remains close over hundreds — or thousands — of miles.

Al and Joan Danis, of the Village of Glenbrook, said their family, which has most of its roots in Vermont, has spread across the country over decades of moving and growing.

“It’s always been important — our family,” said Joan Danis.

The family became even closer about 10 years ago, when a family prayer group resulted in over 100 people reconnecting and throwing two reunions with about 60 people each.

The group got together to pray for Al’s sister-in-law, Susan Danis, who was diagnosed with dementia, said Mark Danis, Al and Joan’s son who wrote a book about his family’s journey.

“About a dozen of us began sharing emails and trying to figure out how to help,” said Mark, of Beaver Creek, Ohio. “We agreed to meet one night a week, wherever we were, and pray for her.”

Mark said the idea of starting the prayer group came to him when he thought about how geographically separated his family was. Feeling called to a spiritual life, he said he aimed to use prayer to bring people together in a time of need — and it worked.

“The community has grown to well over 100 people,” he said. “It’s gone on for over

10 years. We’ve had two family reunions based on it, with four generations represented, and we’ve also begun to introduce friends throughout the country who are close with some of the family members.”

Growing up in a small community made his family rely on each other, Al said.

“All the families lived in the same neighborhood,” he said, “but as time went on we spread and families grew and moved all over the country. But every Wednesday, we began praying all at the same time. We would all rejoice together when a prayer was answered.”

People respond with individual prayer requests now, Mark said. The group has certainly brought the whole family back together again, he said.

Al and Joan also have attracted multiple family members to The Villages since moving here about 20 years ago. Their daughter, Cheryl Mitchell, and Al’s brother, Paul Danis, also live in The Villages now.

“When we first moved, my kids wondered why we were going to go live in a senior citizen park with a bunch of old people,” Al joked. “Then they came to visit us and discovered this wasn’t such an old, fuddy-duddy place after all.”

Al Danis said their other children also are looking to join the rest of the family close by in the not-too-distant future, with Mark hoping to find his spot in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown in a few years.

“The Villages is a great place,” he said. “I see how happy my parents are, and I’m looking forward to joining them when I can.”

Staff writer Alexandria Mansfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5401, or