The Polk County Schools Hall of Fame was created in 1985 to recognize former students of Polk County Public Schools who have gone on to distinguish themselves in their careers or communities. Since its inception, the Hall of Fame has inducted over 100 former students. Hall of Fame members have made significant professional contributions in the arts, business, clergy, education, entertainment, government, law, military, medicine, sports or other fields.
The 2015 Hall of Fame sponsors were: AT&T, Polk Education Foundation and Publix Super Markets Charities.
Otis Birdsong has distinguished himself in the realm of basketball for over thirty years. At Winter Haven High School, Birdsong led the Blue Devils to the 4A State Basketball Championship in 1973 and was named the Lakeland Ledger High School Basketball Player of the Year. After high school, Birdsong had a storied career at the University of Houston. He etched his name in the record books by becoming the first sophomore in school history to register 1,000 points. As a senior, he was named a 1977 Consensus All-American after leading the Houston Cougars to the finals of the National Invitational Tournament. Birdsong was the second overall player chosen in the 1977 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft when he was selected by the Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings. He remained in the NBA for twelve seasons where he was selected to the NBA All-Star Team four times and scored over 14,000 career points with the Kings, New Jersey Nets and Boston Celtics. Since retirement, Birdsong has served as the director of events for Personalities & Promotions International, general manager of the Arkansas RimRockers of the NBA Developmental League, president/general manager of the Continental Basketball Association Oklahoma Calvary and was a member of the board for the National Basketball Retired Players Association. Birdsong was inducted into the University of Houston Hall of Honor, the Polk County Hall of Fame and the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. He is a graduate of Winter Haven High School.
Hollis Hooks is a native of Polk County and lifelong advocate for public education. Hooks earned a degree in political science from Mercer University. Following graduation, he spent two years in Washington, D.C. as an aide to Senator Lawton Chiles before returning to his hometown of Lakeland. In 1980, Hooks joined Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. and is currently senior vice president in what has evolved over the years into Morgan Stanley. His interest in public education began when his children were in elementary school. He joined the Cleveland Court Elementary Parent Teacher Organization which then led to his serving as president of the Southwest Area Advisory Committee. In 1992, Hooks was elected to the Polk County School Board. During his term, he helped draft the district’s first strategic plan and assisted in driving an initiative to create an enhanced magnet school system to address the federal court desegregation order. Following his years on the school board, Hooks continued his interest in education, serving as a board member for the Polk Education Foundation in an effort to help raise awareness and additional private sector funding for the school system. Over the years, Hooks has remained active in the community serving on numerous boards including Lakeland Regional Medical Center Foundation, Good Shepherd Hospice, Florida Southern College Board of Overseers, Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland South Rotary and Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association. He is a graduate of Lakeland High School.
Deric Milligan is the co-founder and executive director of Inheritance of Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring hope in young families facing the loss of a parent. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan, Milligan began his career as a trumpeter in the West Point Band at the U.S. Military Academy. As a professional musician, he performed with the Boston Pops, appeared at Carnegie Hall, marched in two presidential inaugural parades and was featured on 60 Minutes, The Today Show and Fox News. In 2003, Milligan’s work took an unanticipated twist when his wife, Kristen, was diagnosed with a rare terminal liver cancer when their children were just 4, 2 and 7-months old. He and his wife quickly realized the incredible need to serve families like their own. Sadly, Kristen lost her battle with cancer in 2012, but not before Inheritance of Hope was created – providing a lifeline for families with children who face the hopelessness of a parent’s imminent death. Since its inception, Inheritance of Hope has been recognized as a “Top 10 Children’s Charity in North America” and has been named “Top-Rated” by GreatNonProfits.org each year since 2011. In 2015, Milligan was named an Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient. He is a graduate of Lakeland High School.
Benjamin Stevenson is currently the executive director of the Lakeland Housing Authority and has over 26 years of experience in land use, transportation and urban planning. In 1993, he became the first Black male urban planning supervisor in the history of the City of Tampa. During his tenure with the City of Tampa, Stevenson developed many notable programs and received many awards. His micro-loan program, created to serve small and minority businesses, was voted the best micro-loan project in the country by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and awarded their Blue Ribbon award for economic opportunity. One of Stevenson’s most noteworthy achievements came during the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort in New Orleans. He was directly responsible for supervising the $500 million community redevelopment effort at the St. Bernard public housing community, now known as Columbia Parc of the Bayou District. It was voted the best affordable housing project in the country, received several national awards and was even visited by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and philanthropist Warren Buffett. Stevenson attended the University of Florida, earning an Associate of Arts degree in Architecture, a Bachelors of Arts degree in Criminal Justice and a Masters of Arts degree in Political Science. He is a graduate of Mulberry High School.
Barbara Harrison retired from Lakeland Regional Health Systems in 2007 after 42 years of service. Identified as a leader early on, Mrs. Harrison quickly climbed the ranks in healthcare; and in 1995, she became the first black vice president in Lakeland Regional Medical Center history. Mrs. Harrison received her nursing degree from Polk Community College and a master’s degree in health-care administration from Central Michigan University. She is a graduate of Rochelle High (currently Rochelle School of the Arts).
Brigadier General Robert N. Polumbo is the Mobilization Assistant to the Commander, 12th Air Force, Air Combat Command, and Commander, Air Forces Southern, U.S. Southern Command, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. Twelfth Air Force ensures the readiness of 10 active duty wings and one direct reporting unit for contingency operations, and oversees 17 gained Air Reserve Component units totaling more than 800 aircraft and 65,000 Airmen. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Winter Haven High.
Major General H.D. Polumbo, Jr. entered active duty in the United States Air Force as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1981. He is Commander of the Ninth Air Force, Air Combat Command, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Ninth Air Force comprises eight active-duty wings and three direct reporting units in the Southeastern United States with more than 400 aircraft and 29,000 active-duty and civilian personnel. He obtained a master of science in aeronautical science technology from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is a graduate of Winter Haven High.
Colonel James E. Baker, Jr. attended the United States Military Academy at West Point where he earned a bachelor’s degree in human factors engineering before being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the United States Army. He holds a master’s from Webster University. Col. Baker’s military career includes numerous awards and decorations for his excellence in aviation and outstanding contributions to the Army Aviation community. Auburndale High graduate.
Larry D. Hardaway, Esquire practices law in the firm of Larry D. Hardaway & Associates, P.A. He earned a bachelor’s from Davidson College before matriculating to University of Florida Law School. He is well-versed in the field of law, having served as a prosecutor, public defender, economic development attorney and private practice. Mr. Hardaway has received numerous accolades including the Dade County Bar Award, the Public Interest Law Bank Award and the Florida Bar Pro Bono Award. Winter Haven High graduate.
Joseph “Joe” G. Tedder, CFC was elected as Tax Collector for Polk County, Florida in 1996 and was subsequently re-elected for the next four terms. Prior to his role as Tax Collector, Mr. Tedder served in the Florida Legislature as State Representative, House District No. 64 from 1992 to 1996. He holds a bachelor’s in accounting from Florida Southern College and worked as an accountant for over 10 years. Lakeland High graduate.
Grady Judd is a native of Polk County and currently serves as Polk County Sheriff. He started as a dispatcher eventually progressing through the ranks-holding every title from Sergeant to Colonel. He became Sheriff in 2004 and is committed to making sure the Polk County Sheriff’s Office maintains the highest standards of public service and best practices in the nation. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Dr. George E. Lees is a Diplomat in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and a professor in the Department of Veterinary Small Animal Clinic Sciences at Texas A&M University. He is a researcher in small animal medicine, specializing in veterinary nephrology and urology. Dr. Lees is known for his groundbreaking work on hereditary nephritis, an inherited kidney disorder seen in canines. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Kathleen Parker started writing a “lifestyle” column in the 1980s while working as a staff writer for The Orlando Sentinel. More than two decades later, she writes a column that is nationally syndicated and appears in about 450 papers including The Washington Post and The Ledger. She is a regular guest on television shows like “The O’Reilly Factor,” “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Larry King Live.” Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Michael Yon is a former Green Beret who reports from the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2004, he’s been featured on “Good Morning America,” CNN, ABC and Fox. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and hundreds of other major media outlets around the world. Mr.Yon has worked hard to earn his reputation as “the premier independent combat journalist of his generation.” Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Gow Fields was elected Lakeland Mayor in November 2009, the first African-American to be elected to the position. He served on the Lakeland city commission from 1992-2009 before being elected mayor. Mr. Fields has been a prominent member of the local insurance industry since 1988 as both an Allstate representative and operating his own independent agency. He is the President and CEO of Fields & Company, Inc., d/b/a Fields Insurance and Financial Group. He has received distinguished alumnus awards from Kathleen High and Polk State College. He is a Kathleen High graduate.
Kay Hagan was elected U.S. Senator as a Democrat from North Carolina in November 2008. She served for ten years in the North Carolina state senate and for ten years worked for North Carolina-based NationsBank, the predecessor to Bank of America. While in the North Carolina senate, she championed middle class tax cuts, expanding access to healthcare and higher education and creating jobs. Senator Hagan has continued those platforms in Washington. She is a Lakeland High graduate.
William “Ron” Jeffries was a high-level official in the area of vocational and technical education with both the Florida Department of Education and the Polk County Public Schools. He was a state vocational director and an Assistant Superintendent for Vocational and Adult Education for Polk County Public Schools. Mr. Jeffries contributions led to his inductions into both the Florida Vocational Association Hall of Fame and Florida FFA Hall of Fame. He was an early visionary implementing school-based and work-based learning activities supported by strong partnerships with the business community. Ron is a Lakeland High graduate.
Edgar Pickett Jr. was among the first group of African-Americans with the Lakeland Police Department and worked for the department for more than 30 years. He made his mark as a fingerprint expert during an era when fingerprinting was done by hand and sight rather than computer. A Lakeland Police crime laboratory was named the Pickett-Moulden Crime Laboratory for Mr. Pickett and his long-time partner Herman Moulden. The state’s Identification Officer of the Year at one point in his career, Mr. Pickett assisted many law enforcement departments from all over including the FBI. He is a Washington Park High (currently Rochelle School of the Arts) graduate.
Dr. JoAnn Balingit is the state of Delaware’s 16th poet laureate, appointed by former Delaware governor Ruth Ann Minner in May 2008. As poetry ambassador for the state, she promotes the art of poetry throughout Delaware. She is involved with students at all levels in the state’s Poets in the Schools program and works with other poets to develop their skills and promote their work. Her work has been published in periodicals and anthologies and her poetry book, “Your Heart and How It Works” was nominated for a 2004 Pushcart Prize, a national awards program that recognizes literary work. She is a Lakeland High graduate.
Charles T. Canady became the 82nd Associate Justice of the Florida Supreme Court on September 6, 2008. From 2002 to 2008, Charles was a judge on the Florida Second District Court of Appeal. From 2001 to 2002 he was general counsel to Governor Jeb Bush, responsible for supervising all legal matters concerning the governor. His stints in elected office include the U.S. Congress from 1993 to 2001 and the Florida House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990. He graduated from Lakeland High.
Debi Einmo’s early career was in business management positions with some of the country’s largest companies including Johnson Controls, a diversified technology company, and DynCorp International, a global government services provider. These experiences gave her an expertise inthe area of government contracting. She spent 18 years working with some of the country’s largest government contractors in locations that included Iraq, Kuwait, Asia, Eastern Europe and South Africa. Currently, she is a speaker, author and business consultant. Debi is a Haines City High graduate.
The arts building at Auburndale High was named after alumnus Robert Stackhouse in 2008. His art has been featured in more than 70 one-person exhibitions and his work has been displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Corporate collectors of his work include the Exxon Corporation, Citicorp, Newsweek Magazine and Hallmark Cards. Robert has been a visiting artist and professor at colleges, universities and art schools across the country including the University of Georgia, the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Kansas City Art Institute.
Charles E. Canady played a major role in government and politics in both Florida and Washington, D.C. from 1970 to 1990. He was a legislative and administrative assistant to the late Lawton Chiles when Chiles was in the state Senate. Mr. Canady ran Chiles’ first campaign for U.S. Senate and after a successful election became Mr. Chiles’ chief-of-staff. He was also campaign director for Senator Chiles’ re-election campaigns of 1976 and 1982. Lakeland High graduate.
Ronald Fussell’s career in avionics and engineering includes work for the U.S. Air Force, NASA and private companies. With NASA, he contributed to projects that included the U.S. Space Shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, SpaceLab and a mission by astronaut John Glenn. Mr. Fussell holds the primary inventorship for two NASA/Boeing applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for space information management products. Auburndale High graduate.
Ronald Garl is one of the nation’s foremost golf course designers. His courses all over the world have been the sites for PGA, Senior PGA, LPGA, European, Asian and Canadian tour events. His courses have made Golfweek magazine’s list of the best 100 residential golf courses and Golf Magazine’s list of America’s Best 75 resort courses. In 1995, the International Network of Golf organization named Mr. Garl as Golf Course Designer of the Year. Lakeland High graduate.
H.E. “Bert” Schulz and his father founded the Florida Chemical Company, a Winter Haven company that is now an industry leader for producing solvents, chemical synthesis and other applications from citrus oils. Florida Chemical was the pioneer company discovering that a little-known citrus derivative could be used to reduce pollution from toxic chemicals. Florida Chemical products are used worldwide today in cleaners, paint, sanitizers, insecticides and cosmetics. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Dr. J. Larry Durrence was the president of Polk Community College from 1998 to 2006. He is credited with increasing enrollment, improving the college’s credibility and visibility, adding facilities and campuses, adding degree and certification programs and tripling the school’s endowment. Prior to PCC, he held positions with the Florida Department of Revenue, Florida State University, Florida Southern College, the Ridge League of Cities and Florida League of Cities. Lakeland High graduate.
Major Steven Flett’s military career includes high level positions with the United States Department of Intelligence. He conducted highly sensitive intelligence operations as a special agent and second lieutenant in Europe and the U.S. On September 11, 2001, he was at his post in the Army war room at the Pentagon and functioned as the senior intelligence officer present at the watch. Major Flett traveled with police escort to the Capitol on 9-11 to brief the U.S. Senate and Congress on the situation at the Pentagon during the attacks. Graduate of Auburndale High.
Dr. Mark Jaroszeski, professor in the department of chemical engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 2005, he was the USF Department of Chemical Engineering Professor of the Year, an award voted on by undergraduate students. In the 2005-2006 academic year, he was awarded the USF Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award. He competed for and won a $1 million grant for a USF program to provide underrepresented minorities better access to research careers in the biomedical sciences. Graduate of Kathleen High.
Dr. Sanford Meeks, chief of radiotherapy physics for M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando where he oversees the physics, dosimetry and radiation therapy staff. Additionally, he served as the facility’s chairman of the institutional review board ensuring the protection and rights of patients participating in clinical research. Prior to joining M.D. Anderson, Dr. Meeks was director of physics and associate professor in the departments of radiation oncology and biomedical engineering at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Prior to Iowa, he was on the faculty at the University of Florida. Graduate of Auburndale High.
Paul Hughes has dedicated his life to providing quality theatre at an affordable price for arts patrons in Polk County. As artistic director of the Pied Piper Players community group, now known as Lakeland Community Theatre, Paul was a jack of all trades. His skills ran the gamut—acting, singing, directing, producing, designing and writing. In addition, his expertise included set, lighting and costume design. During Paul’s leadership, the group grew from a small children’s theatre to a widescale community theatre with five main stage productions, a separate children’s theatre and numerous camps and classes throughout the year. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Congressman Adam Putnam was elected to Congress on November 7, 2000 at the age of 26. He has served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference and on the Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee. Named by the National Journal in 2003 as a “Republican to Watch” and in 2004 was named one of National Journal’s Homeland Security 100 - the top 100 key government officials and outside experts. Congressman Putnam also received the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Enterprise Award, the 60 Plus Association Guardian of Seniors Rights Award and the Americans for Tax Reform Hero of Taxpayer Award. Graduate of Bartow High School.
Dr. Clinton Wright served the students of Polk County for more than 30 years. He began as a teacher at Kathleen Middle in 1974 and later served as that school’s principal. He was the popular principal of Kathleen High before becoming an area superintendent in the northwest and southeast parts of the county. His accomplishments include a Florida Principal of the Year Award, Boss of the Year Award from the Lakeland chapter of the American Business Women’s Association and a NAACP Beacon Award. He was appointed by the Florida Education Commissioner to the Task Force for Blueprint 2000 committee, aimed at moving Florida education to higher standards. He was superintendent of Lake Wales charter schools from 2004 to 2007. Graduate of Bartow High.
Dr. William N. “Bill” Brown served in the United States Air Force (USAF) and worked in counterterrorism, counterespionage, criminal investigations and protective services. Following his military career, he worked in the corporate world before becoming a university professor in China. He is the author of MBA textbooks and is a writer of magazine, newspaper and journal articles and several television documentaries. Much of his written work is about China and traveling in China. Graudate of Bartow High.
Raymond L. Driver made his impact locally as one of the foremost historians on the phosphate industry. As a community leader in his native Mulberry, he leads fundraising efforts helping youth and the preservation of history. His energy and leadership has enabled the Mulberry Historical Society to collect and preserve documents that have meaning for residents, business leaders and researchers. A leader and advocate for his alma mater, Mulberry High, Driver was instrumental in the development of the Gray Panther Alumni, an active association of Mulberry High alumni.
Judge Ronald A. Herring was elected a county judge in 1988 and served until 1993. He was elected to the Tenth Judicial Circuit in 1994 and named Chief Judge of the Circuit Court in 2003. His honors include recognition from organizations that include: Civitan Club, Florida Council on Crime & Delinquency, Fraternal Order of Police, Polk County Drug Court, Polk County Family Lawyer’s Association, Polk Community College, Rotary, Peace River Center and Sons of the American Revolution. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Dr. JoAnne Whitaker is an internationally recognized research and teaching physician. Dr. Whitaker had extensive fellowship programs in pediatrics, hematology, oncology, nutrition and psychiatry and taught in seven different medical schools. Her work as a doctor, researcher and instructor has brought her all over the country including places such as the Sloan-Kettering and Bellevue hospitals (New York, N.Y.), Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Parkland Memorial Hospital and Children’s Medical Center (Dallas, Texas). She founded the Bowen Research & Training Institute in Pinellas County and Lake Alfred. The institute does lyme disease testing and research. Graduate of Bartow High.
Vita Hinshaw helped to grow her family's business, Lake Wales’ Chalet Suzanne, into a world famous country inn and restaurant. Uncle Ben’s Rice company named Chalet Suzanne as one of the nation’s Top 10 country inns and Chalet Suzanne has been named to Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Award Hall of Fame. She fostered the relationship between the restaurant and NASA that led to the restaurant’s soups being served on Apollo 15 and 16 and the Apollo-Soyuz space mission . Chalet Suzanne’s Moon Soup was displayed at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. Graduate of Lake Wales High.
Katherine Blood Hoffman earned a master’s degree from New York’s Columbia University and joined Florida State University’s chemistry faculty in 1940 when it was unusual for women to teach the subject at the university level. She was an instructor, assistant professor, full professor and associate chair of the chemistry department. She was also FSU’s dean of women and president of the FSU Faculty Senate. Upon her retirement, the FSU Department of Chemistry dedicated the Katherine B. Hoffman Teaching Laboratory. She and her husband established the $100,000 Katherine Blood Hoffman Endowed Scholarship in Chemistry. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Dr. Gerard Hubbell established Lakeland’s Hubbell Eye Clinic and Optical Division. Dr. Hubbell received the 1997 Vision USA Award, a presidential award presented to him at the Oval Office by President Clinton. Represented companies including Johnson and Johnson, Acuvue, Ciba and Durasoft and was clinical physician for Bausch & Lomb and Allergen Pharmaceuticals. Honored many times for his community service work, providing eye care to the poor and indigent. Listed in the platinum edition of The American Registry of Who’s Who as a pioneer in the fields of diagnostic eye care and contact lenses. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Dr. Michael Washington, industrial engineer with the Centers for Disease Control, was selected in 2005 by the Institute of Industrial Engineers as Most Outstanding Young Industrial Engineer in Business and Industry. In 2003, was chosen as one of the top young engineers in the nation and one of 16 “New Faces in Engineering” by the USA Today newspaper and National Engineering Week magazine. Also been honored by the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering for his engineering contributions to humanitarian efforts and services. A graduate of Auburndale High, where he is also member of the school’s Hall of Fame.
Judge J. Dale Durrance founded Polk County Teen Court, a program where juvenile criminal offenders are diverted from the juvenile court system and referred to teen volunteers for punishment. Teen Court serves as a law enforcement and judicial diversion program for the juvenile justice system. Named Outstanding Judge of the Year in 1989 by the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency. Graduate of Fort Meade High.
Colonel William August Felt supervised chemical manufacturing plants and was involved in the transportation and shipment of chemicals during World War II. Later in his military career, during the 1950s and 1960s, he taught radiological, biological and chemical subjects to officers of the United States and many foreign countries. After retiring from the military, he returned to his hometown of Frostproof and taught chemistry, physics and biology at his alma mater Frostproof High.
Kathy Fountain, WTVT FOX-13 news anchor and talk show host. Received honors from the Society of Professional Journalists and her community service projects include serving as honorary chairperson for the March of Dimes Walk America. Member of Polk Community College’s Hall of Fame and graduated from the University of Florida where she was named Outstanding Female Journalism Graduate. Graduate of Kathleen High School.
As Polk Schools Director of Elementary Education, Diana Myrick was considered a key facilitator in the focus on literacy. As principal at Southwest Elementary, the school, under her stewardship, was named as one of the nation’s best by Redbook magazine. She’s been nominated for the National Distinguished Principal award and was recipient of a Sylvan Learning Center’s Principal Award. She also served as Director for the Florida Elementary School Principals organization from 1991 to 1993. Graduate of Lakeland High School.
Colonel Freddie Austin, U.S. Army officer, professor of military science and Pentagon staff officer. Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 503 Airborne Infantry, 173rd Separate Airborne Brigade in Vietnam and was an advisor to a Republic of South Vietnam Popular Forces Unit. He was President of the Washington Park/Rochelle Alumni Association and was junior partner of the Lakeland Association of Investors. Graduate of Washington Park High School.
Carol Jenkins Barnett, Publix Supermarket Board of Directors and President of Publix Super Markets Charities. She also served as Co-Chair of Success by 6, a children’s initiative of the United Way. She received honors and awards from groups that include the Junior League of Greater Lakeland, the National Society of Fundraising Executives and the United Way of Central Florida. Attended Cleveland Court Elementary and Southwest Middle School.
Judge Charles A. Davis Jr., served as county judge, circuit judge and an appellate judge on the Court of Appeals. His law career includes work in private practice and as a public defender. He is also a former Winter Haven city commissioner and mayor. He has also been on the Board of Trustees of Trevecca Nazarene University. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
James Denmark received critical acclaim for his artwork and his work has been displayed in New York’s Harlem Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has been recognized as one of New York’s 100 black role models and was commissioned by the National Congressional Black Caucus as an Artist of Choice. His painting, “Sabrina,” was purchased by Ophrah Winfrey. Graduate of Jewett High School.
Al Bellotto, leader in citrus and cattle industries. Held executive positions with the Florida Citrus Showcase and the national and Polk County cattleman’s association. Named Farmer of the Year in 1995 by the Florida Farm Bureau. Recipient of the University of Florida’s Gamma Sigma Delta Award for Outstanding Service to Agriculture. Graduate of Haines City High.
George Gause was the first African-American city commissioner and mayor of Bartow and served on numerous Bartow city boards. Governor Reubin Askew appointed Mr. Gause to advisory boards of the State of Florida Council of Community Affairs and the Polk County Advisory Committee. He was also the first African-American to be elected to the Polk County School Board. Graduate of Union Academy High School.
C. Fred Jones, elected to the Florida House of Representatives where he chaired the House Agriculture Committee, House Transportation Committee and the Community Affairs Committee. Recipient of the Ridge League of Cities Legislator of the Year Award and the Allen Morris Award for Most Effective in Committee of the House of Representatives. The Boy Scouts of America also presented him with a Distinguished Citizen Award. Graduate of Auburndale High School.
James Ammons, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Florida A& M University and held numerous vice president and director positions at the Tallahassee school. Also an American Council on Education Fellow at Florida State University and author of numerous publications and articles about government and municipal services marketing. Was member of the Leon County Public Schools District Advisory Council. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Bobby Braddock was inducted in 1981 as the youngest living member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Wrote songs for the Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson and many others. He wrote “He Stopped Loving Her Today” propelling George Jones’ comeback and the song was twice named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association. Graduate of Auburndale High.
Burke Kibler received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart during World War II. After serving his country, he completed his college education and eventually earned a law degree. General counsel of the Florida Citrus Commission, the Florida Phosphate Council, the Florida World’s Fair Authority and the Florida House of Representatives. Chairman of both the Florida Council of 100 Task Force on Higher Education and the Council of 100 Business/Higher Education Partnership. Also was Chairman of Florida’s Board of Regents. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Glen Davidson, sales and marketing executive at both the Shaeffer Pen Company and Sun Mark Industries, a Missouri-based candy manufacturer that included Jawbreakers as one of its products. An entrepreneur at heart, Davidson used his experience in the candy industry and returned to Polk County and opened Davidson’s of Dundee, a candy factory. Davidson’s was a popular spot for residents and tourists who visited and watched jams and jellies being made. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines IV, the world’s fastest man in the water in the 1980s. Won three gold medals and set two world records at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. NCAA All-America swimmer and was the Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year in 1981. Swimming commentator for NBC, CBS, TNT and ESPN and a national spokesperson for companies that included Speedo, Walt Disney World and HealthSouth. NBC’s lead swimming analyst during their coverage of the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Comedian and musician Jim Stafford had a series of novelty Top Ten songs in the 1970s including “Spiders and Snake,” a song selling more than 1 million copies. Other hits included “Swamp Witch” and “Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne.” Head writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later hosted his own network television variety show from Hollywood. In 1990, he founded the Jim Stafford Theatre entertainment venue in Branson, Missouri. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Bill Duncan, long-time Polk County educator. Principal of Winter Haven and Lake Wales high schools and served as an administrator in the superintendent’s office. Known as “the father of discipline” in Polk County Schools. He retired in 1992, the same year that the Polk Opportunity Center was renamed the Bill Duncan Opportunity Center. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Frances Langford, vaudeville singer and radio star in the 1930s. In the 1940s her career took off as a singer and actress working with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Gleason, Perry Como and Don Ameche. During World War II she toured with Bob Hope’s U.S.O. group entertaining troops. During the Korean War, she toured military camps writing newspaper articles about her experiences. The articles were the basis for a movie, “Purple Heart Diaries.” Attended Lakeland High.
Jerry Yachabach was named Inc. Magazine’s 1989 Entrepreneur of the Year. In 1983, he founded Protel, Inc., a Lakeland-based company providing pay telephone equipment, parts and software to telecommunications companies worldwide. In his early career, he worked in aerospace technology for projects that included the Apollo space missions and in munitions development for the military. He and his brother also formed Teltronics, Inc. a Fortune 500 company that developed and manufactured pay phone products. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Edgar Canter Brown Jr., Ph.D., award winning author, public speaker and leading authority on 19th century Florida history. Won the 1992 Rembert W. Patrick Memorial Book Award from the Florida Historical Society for the best book on a Florida subject. Holds a law degree and was an attorney for the Florida House of Representatives and was Deputy Legislative Counsel for the Georgia General Assembly. Graduate of Fort Meade High.
John E. Desmond, Ph.D., research associate for Stanford University’s Department of Psychology. Won the National Research Science Award and received the National Research Foundation Graduate Fellowship Award. Author of more than 60 papers or piublications in psychology. Developed computer programs that Stanford laboratories used to analyze data. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Bob Murphy, professional golfer on both the PGA and Senior/Champions Tour. Later became an analyst on network television golf broadcasts. Won the 1996 Ben Hogan Award for coming back from adversity and also received Golf Digest’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. Was national spokesperson for the Hook-A-Kid on Golf program. Graduate of Mulberry High.
Hazel Haley is one of Florida’s and the nation’s most celebrated teachers. She began teaching English in 1938 and inspired and taught students for 69consecutive years. She taught all but one of those 69years at her alma mater, Lakeland High School. She has the longest tenure of any Florida teacher and has been the subject of dozens of news articles, features, interviews and documentaries in the local, national and international media. Miss Haley retired in 2006.
Robert F. Harris, Vice President of Diversity Development for the U. S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C. Aide to U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles from 1973 to 1988 and U.S. Senator John Glenn from 1989 to 1994. Also was Chief Clerk on the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Practices and Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Graduate of Rochelle High School.
Dr. Kathryn “Kat” Quina taught psychology and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island. Coordinated the psychology program at the school and was one of 50 psychologists invited to participate in the American Psychological Association’s 1991 conference on enhancing the quality of undergraduate education. Served on a Rhode Island governor’s advisory commission studying women’s issues and wrote numerous publications on women, gender and diversity. Graduate of Mulberry High School.
Dr. John Allan Knight Sr., general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene. President of both Mount Vernon Nazarene College and Bethany Nazarene College. Served two terms as chairman of the Oklahoma Independent College Foundation and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian College Coalition. Recipient of the Lily Foundation Theology Award at Vanderbilt University for two consecutive years. Graduate of Lakeland High School.
Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, served 10 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force as a jet radar intercept officer with Air Defense Command and as a navigator with Air Transport Command. Was senior pastor of the 15,000 member First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. Dr. Murray’s church was the 177th Point of Light by President George H.W. Bush for its community service outreach. Attended Washington Park High School.
Colonel Edythe Turner, chief nurse of the 306th General Hospital in World War II and Denver’s Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, Tripler Hospital in Hawaii and Brooker Army Hospital in Texas. One of the first women to achieve the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army. Prior to her military career, she held managerial and supervisory positions at Atlanta’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. Graduate of Mulberry High School.
Dr. William Theophlus Brown, clinical psychiatrist and fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in Psychiatry. Faculty member in the Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia and President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association. Founding member of the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Graduate of Washington Park High School.
Forrest Sawyer, ABC News anchor and newscaster for “Good Morning America.” Anchor of “World News Sunday,” “Nightline” and other ABC News broadcasts. Covered the Persian Gulf War where he filed the first live video report from the battlefield. Winner of three Emmys and a Peabody Award for excellence in news broadcasting. Graduate of Kathleen High School.
Dr. Orene V. Schoenfeld, chief of staff, North Florida Regional Medical Center and the first woman appointed to that position. While at the University of Florida, Dr. Schoenfeld was one of only three women in her medical school class and the first woman in the residency program in obstetrics and gynecology. Member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and Fellow in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
Dr. Paul Sheffield, noted aerospace physiologist. In the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Sheffield taught aircrews the medical aspects of high altitude. Helped to create the first Air Force medicine center studying the breathing of oxygen at pressures greater than normal sea level pressure. Published more than 100 scientific papers related to his studies. Graduate of Mulberry High School.
Major General Joseph Kenneth Stapleton (U.S. Air Force), Deputy Inspector of the U.S. Air Force, Office of the Secretary. Earned his commission and navigator wings in 1960 through the Aviation Cadet program at Harlington Air Force Base in Texas and flew 191 missions in Vietnam. Stapleton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Silver Star and the Combat Readiness Medal. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
Wogan S. Badcock Jr., son of Wogan S. Badcock Sr. and grandson of Henry Badcock, founders of W.S. Badcock home furnishings stores. Became company’s president in 1963 and oversaw rapid growth as Badcock furniture expanded to more than 300 stores. Named chairman of the board in 1984. His list of philanthropic endeavors include working with the YMCA, Gulf Ridge Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch and the Kiwanis Club. Graduate of Mulberry High.
Dr. James Gardner was the first black chairman of Florida’s Board of Regents and served as chairman for two years. Overall, was a Board of Regents member for nine years. Assistant to the president of Nova Southeastern University. First African-American appointed Assistant Superintendent in Broward County Public Schools. Also served Broward as Broward Deputy Superintendent. Was President of the Florida State Teachers’ Association. Graduate of Union Academy.
Judge Stephen Grimes, judge on the Florida Supreme Court and served as its Chief Justice. He was the first from Polk County to serve on Florida’s Supreme Court. An appellate judge on the Second District Court of Appeal before becoming a Supreme Court justice. Head of litigation for the prestigious Holland and Knight law firm before accepting appointment to appellate court. Was president of the Tenth Judicial Circuit Bar Association. Received honorary doctor of law from Stetson University College of Law. Graduate of Lakeland High.
E.M. Haynsworth, technology expert credited with helping to turn Florida and Polk County phospate mining into industry giants. A mining engineer, Haynsworth was instrumental in pioneering processes used in virtually all phosphate mining operations. Mine manager and superintendent, the former Chicora Mine in Bradley was renamed Haynsworth Mine to mark his accomplishments in the industry. Graduate of Mulberry High.
Dr. James Morrison, founder and first president of the American Educational Research Association Special Interest Group on Postsecondary Education. Designed and implemented professional development seminars on strategic management and planning, issues management, institutional audits and forecasting for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. A U.S. Army reservist, Dr. Morrison was awarded the highest award authorized for peacetime, the Legion of Merit medal, for his career contributions to army planning. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Janice Ahl, a science teacher for more than 20 years at Lake Wales High, she was known as the First Lady of Lake Wales. She authored a book “Crown Jewel Of the Highlands: Lake Wales, Florida. Was charter member of Presbyterian Church of Lake Wales, Lake Wales Historic Society and Lake Wales Museum and Culture Center. She was interviewed numerous times by national media on her historical knowledge of Lake Wales and considered the authority on the legend of Spook Hill. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Dr. Peter Bennett, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History and zoology professor at the University of Florida. Bennett was also president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Taught at Harvard University and University of Kentucky was chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida State University. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Thomas Bryant, a lawyer, state legislator and Lakeland civic leader who secured funding for road and government building projects including the Lakeland stadium that bears his name. As a student at Lakeland High in 1907, he helped to organize the school’s first football team. Also named for him is the Thomas W. Bryant Space Sciences Building on the University of Florida campus.
Wilbur Pipkin, inventor of important pieces of citrus related machinery, including a “peel oil press” that extracted oil to be used in flavorings and the “whole fruit juice extractor” still being used by many juice plants today. He attended schools in Medulla and Mulberry in the 1900s.
Ken Riley, star quarterback at Florida A&M University and Rhodes Scholar nominee. He earned All-Pro and All-AFC honors in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. Was an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers. Returned to FAMU as head coach and later served as the school’s athletic director. Graduate of Union Academy High.
Wogan S. Badcock Sr., pioneer in the home furnishings industry after purchasing the business from his father. Received the Citation Meritorious Service for Outstanding Leadership for his role in helping to develop the state of Florida. Graduate of Mulberry High.
Dr. Wendell Blake, known for his research in hypertension and cancer and published workon the issues in numerous medical journals and publications. Chief of General Surgical Services at U.S. Kenner Army Hospital in Virginia. Later had a private practice in Lakeland. Graduated as valedictorian at Rochelle Junior-Senior High.
Dr. W. Clark Still Jr., a researcher and lecturer at Columbia University, an expert on synthetic organic chemistry. In 1984, Science Digest named him one of “America’s 100 Brightest Scientists Under 40.” Received the National Science Foundation’s Waterman Award for molecular research. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Dr. Louise Cason, known for her work in the field of pediatric medicine. Chief of Pediatrics at Variety Children’s Hospital in Miami and clinical associate professor at the University of Miami’s medical school. Led a $50 million renovation project at Miami Children’s Hospital. Attended Lakeland High.
Gordon Judy, a scientist who helped to develop the Pershing II autopilot and flight control systems. Helped to design guidance and control systems for missiles using computer simulations as part of the Star Wars government space program. Helped to design guidance missiles for Patriot missiles used in Kuwait. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Judge Charles Z. Smith, first African-American appointed to the Washington State Supreme Court. Law school dean and professor and director of the University District Defender Services at the University of Washington. Attended Washington Park High School.
Gordon L. Dugger, noted authority on rocketry and combustion. At Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, he was deputy director of the thermal energy conversion program and supervisor of the hypersonic propulsion group studying rocket thrust. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
A.J. Hackl led a leveraged buyout that eventually bought Herff Jones, Inc. and later was the company’s chairman and principal owner. Herff Jones is one of the country’s largest suppliers of class rings, diplomas, yearbooks, graduation caps and gowns. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
Floyd E. Lay helped shape policy for Florida school activities and was a leader in the Florida High School Activities Association. Served on state and national panels and committees that established rules, legislation and other policies governing sports and extracurricular activities. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Curtis Peterson was a state senator and public education advocate during his legislature tenure. Sponsored the RAISE act (Raise Achievement in Secondary Education) to improve public education. Named by colleagues as Most Effective Senator in 1981. Also was Florida Nurseryman of the Year and president of the Florida Nursery and Growers Association. Graduate of Lakeland High School.
Marvin Pipkin was a chemist credited on the invention of the frosted, incandescent lamp. During a career at General Electric, he worked on the development of light bulbs and the modern photographic flash. He is noted in the World Almanac and by the Edison Foundation as was one of the world’s important inventors. Attended Summerlin Institute.
Dr. G. Leonard Tyler Jr. worked on the NASA Apollo projects and Mariner probes that orbited Mars. One of his roles included selection of the Viking spacecraft landing site on Mars. Stanford University professor and recipient of three NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
Clarence Alexander Boswell Sr., namesake for Boswell Elementary in Auburndale, is one of the most celebrated attorneys in Florida and Polk County history. His law career spanned more than 81 years and he was Florida’s oldest-practicing lawyer at the time of his death in 2005 at the age of 102. His practice included civil law, estate planning, title work and real estate law. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
Lt. General William H. Fitch flew F-4 Phantom Fighters and other jets as a Marine Corps pilot. He is credited on patents for the Multiple Carriage Bomb Rack, the Multiple Ejector Rack and the Triple Ejector Rack, all used in combat by most tactical jet aircraft. He graduated from Summerlin Institute.
W.H. Stuart was leader in Florida’s cattle industry and established the Edward Crossland Stuart Scholarship Foundation which funded college scholarships at Erskine and Davidson colleges. For 25 years, he was chairman or president of the Polk County Youth Fair. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
Richard Downing “Dick” Pope Sr. is known as the Father of Tourism in Florida. Through his vision and determination, Cypress Gardens was born in the 1930s. He was also responsible for the Sunday television program “Day of Discovery,” which was taped at the garden attraction. He graduated from Winter Haven High.
Judge Roy H. Amidon was Lakeland city attorney and a city judge before his election as a state circuit judge. A learned and intellectual man, Judge Amidon had a college degree in electrical engineering before earning a law degree. He earned a law degree while working full-time for the U.S. Postal Service. He was also an accomplished farmer, musician and journalist. Graduate of Lakeland High.
Marshall Holloway, staff member of the elite, top-secret Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Did research at Cornell, Purdue and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in air defense, computers, radar, communications and physics. Graduate of Haines City High.
Floretta Dukes McKenzie, first woman Deputy Commissioner for the U.S. Department of Education. She also was Superintendent for the District of Columbia public schools and served on an advisory board of the National Geographic Society. Graduate of Rochelle High School.
James Sweet built Scotty’s to a chain of more than 100 stores and $500 million in sales during a 40-year career there. Scotty’s employed more than 5,500 people during his tenure. Fifteen-year member of the Florida Council of 100 business development group. Graduate of Winter Haven High.
Charles O. Andrews was a U.S. Senator from 1936 to 1946, Assistant Attorney General in Florida and Circuit Court Judge and a State Representative. General Counsel for Florida Real Estate Commission and Orlando city attorney. He graduated from Summerlin Institute
John Vincent Atanasoff is credited with the invention of the electronic digital computer. During his long career in science, he was Chief of the Acoustic Subdivision of the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington, D.C. and was chief scientist of the Army Field Forces stationed in Virginia. Graduate of Mulberry High.
Lawton Chiles was one of Florida’s most popular governors and was nicknamed “Walkin’ Lawton” for his walking tours through the state while on the campaign trail. He was governor from 1991 until his death in 1998 and his political career included stints as a U.S. Senator (1971-1989) and member of both the Florida House and Senate. He graduated from Lakeland High.
Ben Hill Griffin Jr. was a leader in Florida’s citrus and cattle industries and his businesses included grove management, fresh fruit packing and shipping, ranching and fertilizer manufacturing. He also served in the Florida House and Senate and founded the Lake Wales County Club. He graduated from Frostproof High School.
Spessard Holland was Florida’s governor from 1941 to 1945 and a U.S. senator from 1946 to 1971. He was a leader in helping to pass the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which outlawed the poll tax at elections. The law school administration building at the University of Florida is named for Holland. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.
J. Hardin Peterson was a U.S. Congressman from 1933 to 1951 and municipal attorney for several communities. Also served as county solicitor and prosecutor. Practiced law for more 60 years. Was counsel to state Department of Agriculture and special counsel to the territorial government of Guam. Graduate of Lakeland High School.
Park Trammell was U.S. Senator from 1917 to 1936. He pushed bills and laws to benefit the working man including the Farmer’s Relief Law which helped farmers procure government loans. His career included terms as Lakeland mayor, state representative and senator, state attorney general and Florida governor (1913-1917). He attended Lakeland-area schools in the 1890s.
General James A. Van Fleet was a four-star general and Commander of the United States Eighth Army and affiliated Korean army and United Nations forces. Chosen by President Truman to direct the joint U.S. Military Advisory Planning Group in Greece that stopped Communist insurgencies in that country. Statues in his honor are erected in both Greece and Korea. Graduate of Summerlin Institute.