Heart and Soul

By Randy Noles
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This 1947 painting by Jeanette Genius McKean was of North Center Street, an alley that runs parallel to Park Avenue. This would have been Mrs. McKean’s view from the entrance to the Center Street Gallery, which she owned and operated from 1945 to 1994.

If a couple can be said to exemplify what is best about Winter Park, it would have to be Hugh F. McKean (1908-1995) and Jeannette Genius McKean (1909-1989). Hugh, artist, educator, collector and writer, was the 10th president of Rollins College, serving from 1951 through 1969. He then became the college’s chancellor and chairman of its Board of Trustees. In 1945, while still an art professor at the college, he married Jeannette Morse Genius, granddaughter of Charles Hosmer Morse, the Chicago industrialist and philanthropist who helped to shape modern Winter Park. In 1942, Jeannette built and donated the Morse Gallery of Art on the Rollins campus. Hugh became the gallery’s director in 1945, a position he held until his death, just months prior to the opening of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, the facility’s spectacular new home on Park Avenue North. The museum displays the world’s largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works, many of which the McKeans salvaged from the artist’s ruined Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. Hugh also served as trustee of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation in New York.  Jeanette, an acclaimed artist in her own right, was also a successful businesswoman, working as an interior designer, owning and operating the Center Street Gallery on Park Avenue and managing her grandfather’s properties as president of the Winter Park Land Company. Both McKeans were lovers of nature and cultivated a preserve filled with peacocks around Wind Song, the lakefront estate that Jeanette and her brother, Richard Genius, inherited from Morse. Genius Drive, the dirt road leading through the preserve and to the estate, was open to the public until the 1990s. The property is now known as the Genius Reserve and is part of a restoration project by the Department of Environmental Studies at Rollins. It includes the largest remaining orange grove within Winter Park and several structures, including the family home. Jeanette was named Winter Park’s Citizen of the Year in 1987 while Hugh was posthumously named the Orlando Sentinel’s Floridian of the Year in 1996.

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