Whitney Beach is a far cry from an alpaca farm. Yet Dedrea Greer, 74, spent 15 years tending to one in Virginia before retiring to Longboat Key. She and her husband, Bill Greer, ran a thriving business breeding alpacas and turning their fleece into yarn.
The business was called Rivanna River Alpacas. Greer sheared. She delivered the babies, and she wove.
She no longer preps the fleece and dyes her own yarn, but Greer will never give up weaving. Wooden shafts were splayed across the floor of her workroom because a larger loom was delivered days earlier.
Her looms and style have evolved over time. Greer's intricate, multicolored designs accent the walls of her sunny first-floor condominium.
“This is a deflected double weave. What’s cool about this, and this is my passion now, is that one side is completely different from the other,” she said. “This is my forever weave structure now.”
Greer creates her designs using a computer. The actual weaving is the quick and easy part. Designing patterns and setting up the loom take time and patience. Greer is a member of the Manasota Weavers Guild and holds a Master’s degree in weaving from Olds College in Canada.
She’s fully retired, with the exception of volunteer teaching. Greer taught a beginners weaving class at Adult & Community Enrichment. She trades lessons for dog walking with her 13-year-old neighbor, Lark Rippy. And her 9-year-old granddaughter, Aven O’Shaughnessy, learns a little more about weaving on each visit from London.
“I am an educator by my heart,” Greer said.
Greer was born and raised outside Chicago. Her affinity for weaving pre-dates the alpaca farm. She was a stay-at-home mom in her late 20s. Her husband ran a successful business renting hotel rooms to stranded airline passengers. That was when she saw an old barn loom for the first time at a friend's house.
“I had been an art major in school. I’d been knitting since I was 7, and all these things. So I just said: ‘Well, this is it. This is how I’m going to become serene sometime,'” she said with a little laugh.
She and Bill always liked the idea of living on a farm. Greer once rode horses competitively and also raised and showed Cavalier King Charles spaniels. After a trip to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, they bought a nearby house with enough land for a farm.
Both in their early 50s, the couple went from city slickers to alpaca farmers three months later. There were no animals or a barn yet, but they had a house and a plan. Greer went on to become an alpaca midwife.
“I could go in, turn the baby and deliver the baby,” she said.
Babies are called crias and have longer necks and legs than the average four-legged farm animal. She worked closely with her own veterinarian and invited others to speak at seminars on the farm. At its peak, the farm housed 36 alpacas, many of which won awards for the color of their fleece.
Breeding also required Greer to get an education in genetics. She learned how to match pairs to improve the herd and, in turn, create high quality finished products.
Yarn was at the heart of the original plan: Greer being a weaver and only using alpaca yarn. But in the end, the Greers were running five businesses from breeding to continuing education classes. The couple even invented and produced their own loom.
Bill died of prostate cancer eight years ago. Having always been a joint venture, the business was too much for Greer alone. She continued living on the farm but sold the alpacas.
She bought her Whitney Beach condominium four years ago in a similar fashion to how the farm was purchased. Her son, Devon, laughed and called his mom a crazy woman, “Lo and behold, I go back to the UK, and here she’s, you know, bought a place here.”
They were only visiting for vacation, reliving some old Christmas and Easter break memories. The family owned a condominium at Club Longboat so many years ago that according to Greer, the Sarasota airport was about the size of her living room then.
“We had to pick up our luggage outside of the building on a conveyor belt under a tin roof,” she said.
Once again, Greer was the proud owner of a new home three months after a vacation. Last year, she made the leap to full-time resident and is already the secretary of her homeowners association.
Beyond weaving, Greer paints watercolors and does needlework. But she doesn’t sell anything anymore. Everything Greer creates now are gifts made with love.
Lesley Dwyer is the community reporter for Longboat Key and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.