The Influentials

By Randy Noles with Dana S. Eagles



Last year, Winter Park Magazine published a compilation of the city’s Most Influential People — and it caused an extraordinary amount of buzz. But in a city filled with achievers, many of whom are passionately involved in civic affairs, no single list could have encompassed everyone who should have been recognized.

So, we asked last year’s selectees for guidance in assembling a new list for 2016. We also put out a call on social media for suggestions before winnowing our way through dozens upon dozens of worthy contenders.

Because this is a pivotal year for Winter Park, it’s important to identify the people who’ll be most influential in guiding the city through what promises to be a challenging time.

The city’s comprehensive plan is up for review, commercial development is spurring traffic concerns, historic-preservation policies remain contentious, and even the soon-to-be-constructed public library and events center is still being debated — despite voter approval of a bond issue funding the project.

West-side gentrification remains a hot topic, as does the disposition of city-owned property, such as Progress Point on North Orange Avenue. And Winter Park’s most high-profile institution, Rollins College, has a new president for the first time in a decade. The list goes on and on.

Some say this year is a tipping point in a battle for the soul of the city. Others say it’s just business as usual in a place where everybody has an opinion about everything. Indeed, to the extent that Winter Park issues are covered by outside media, it’s usually regarding the nastiness of its politics and the testiness of its civic debates.

Yet, when they pull together, Winter Parkers are capable of great things. There’s a reason that 32789 is the most prestigious zip code in Central Florida — and that reason is its people, many of whom may disagree about specific policies, but all of whom share the opinion that their city is an exceptional place in every way.

The Most Influential People are exceptional as well. But how were they chosen? As previously stated, most names, along with supporting statements, were submitted by a panel consisting of 2015’s movers and shakers.

The only rule was that they couldn’t nominate themselves. In addition, we nixed elected officials whose purview stretches beyond the city, hence the absence of, for example, Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park), who is no doubt influential locally but whose congressional district also includes much of Seminole and Volusia counties.

How, then, did we define influential? Basically, we asked our panelists to consider not only old-school power brokers but also lesser-known advocates who work primarily behind the scenes. Likewise, we wanted the list to be diverse, involving influential people from every walk of life.

Agree or disagree with the final selections, one thing can be said for certain: Few cities in Central Florida — or anywhere else, for that matter — would have such a rich array of choices.


The First Couple

Grant and Peg Cornwell

President; Associate to the President for Community Relations, Rollins College

When Grant Cornwell was hired as the 15th president of Rollins College, he took the helm of an institution in the throes of a pitched battle over its very mission. The previous president, physicist Lewis Duncan, was accused of diluting the college’s historic liberal arts focus by introducing a College of Professional Studies, through which students could earn undergraduate degrees in business. Although the Crummer Graduate School of Business had offered MBAs since 1957, Rollins had dropped its undergraduate business majors in 1980, under President Thaddeus Seymour. For that and other reasons, in 2013 the Arts & Sciences faculty took a vote of no confidence in Duncan’s leadership. He resigned the following year. Cornwell, 59, previously president of the College of Wooster in Ohio, appears poised to reclaim the college’s liberal arts heritage — and to refine it for the 21st century. In fact, the importance of the liberal arts is a topic about which Cornwell, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, is a passionate spokesperson. (By the way, his big-tent vision of liberal arts has plenty of room for business majors.) Peg, 58, had a career in corporate banking before holding director positions at the couple’s alma mater, New York’s St. Lawrence College, where Grant was a vice president. Later, when Grant was tapped to lead Wooster, Peg was named associate to the president for community, trustee and parent relations. While the Cornwells both advocate a student-focused approach, they’ve embraced the mission of making Rollins a more fully integrated community partner. Through various functions, they’ve already hosted more than 3,000 people at the Barker House, the president’s on-campus residence. That alone is making a warm impression on longtime Winter Parkers, few of whom had ever been invited there before.

WHAT THEY SAY: “While Rollins and Winter Park are inextricably linked historically, we’re eager to cultivate the Rollins presence in Winter Park as we look toward the future. We want the college to be a natural extension of the arts and cultural hub that is Winter Park.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “A breath of fresh air for Rollins … a  very approachable and accessible couple … Peg is really down-to-earth … I love to see Grant on his scooter and Peg on her bicycle; that’s so Rollins … they have an opportunity to make Rollins a true community partner, like it was during the Seymour era.”


The Advocate

Jill Hamilton Buss

Executive Director, Healthy Central Florida

As Winter Park’s most fervent advocate for healthy living, Jill Hamilton Buss talks the talk, walks the walk and even runs the run. For the past five years, the high-energy Buss, 56, has been executive director of Healthy Central Florida, a partnership of Florida Hospital and Winter Park Health Foundation. Her mission: Get residents of Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville off their sofas, out of their cars and into more active pursuits. Under Buss, HCF has organized all manner of walking and biking events, pushed for sidewalks and bike lanes, and started Breathe Free Winter Park, a campaign in which almost 40 restaurants have agreed to offer smoke-free dining outdoors as well as indoors. And in Eatonville, HCF is combating diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases through a community center called Healthy Eatonville Place. Buss, a former marketing VP for Heart of Florida United Way, says walkable, bikable communities aren’t just healthier. They’re also more successful economically, because they enhance home values and retail spending while attracting millennials. Buss says HCF is making progress; its own studies show a significant increase between 2011 and 2014 in the number of residents using a park or trail at least weekly, for example. But she knows that expensive structural changes will come only as attitudes evolve. “You have to stay at the table and keep working at it. We need to design roads for walkers, bikers and children going forward,” says Buss, who envisions a less auto-centric city for Jorge, the 10-year-old that she and her husband, Spence, fostered and then adopted in 2014. Meanwhile, Buss will continue her own regimen of walking and running through Winter Park — and of indulging in the two health sins to which she’ll admit: coffee and Jeremiah’s Italian ice.

WHAT SHE SAYS: “When you’re whizzing by in a car at 45 mph, it’s impossible to stop and visit with neighbors. But when you’re walking or biking, you can stop and say hi. You interact with your community differently. And we’re all healthier — physically and emotionally — when we do.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Jill’s enthusiasm for the health of the Winter Park area is infectious (no pun intended) … resourceful and persuasive … she brings people together and encourages them to become effective ambassadors for health in their neighborhoods.”


The Mentor

Debra Hendrickson

Vice President, Winter Park Chamber of Commerce

When Debra Hendrickson was just 30 years old, she opened a small business, Petite Clothiers, on Park Avenue. She operated it successfully for more than 15 years, eventually expanding to four locations. So when local businesspeople seek Hendrickson’s counsel through her role with the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, they’re confident that she understands their challenges. Hendrickson, 64, was an active chamber member when she was in business. Now she’s been the No. 2 staffer for 13 years. (Shortly before press time, chamber Executive Director Patrick Chapin announced his resignation to take on a new role as CEO for Business High Point Inc. in North Carolina.) During her tenure, Hendrickson has become a master planner, networker and mentor. She’s the force behind Leadership Winter Park, which consists of eight daylong sessions, held once per month, through which participants receive a thorough grounding in Winter Park’s history, governance, cultural assets and political issues. A roster of participants in the program’s 27 sessions so far reads like a who’s who of local movers and shakers. Because of its success, Leadership Winter Park recently hosted the Southeast Conference for the Association of Leadership Programs. “This was a truly rewarding moment for my team and me,” says Hendrickson, who traces her civic activism back to her somewhat nomadic upbringing. “As the daughter of a military officer, I found myself in a new community every few years,” she recalls. “Established communities don’t often welcome newcomers, so I had to learn quickly how to be the initiator when building relationships.” Hendrickson, who graduated from Florida State University with a degree in fashion merchandising, is a member of the Rotary Club of Winter Park and a Paul Harris Fellow. She’s a past president of Florida Executive Women, and a graduate of both Leadership Seminole — she was president of that organization for four years before joining the Winter Park Chamber — and, of course, Leadership Winter Park.

WHAT SHE SAYS: “As a former business owner on Park Avenue, my passion is maintaining the economic growth of our business community — keeping it vibrant and appealing — and preserving Winter Park’s charm while embracing the future.”  

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Debra was a great resource for me when I started my business … she really cares about and understands the business community … a great collaborator and consensus builder.”


The Designer

Phil Kean

President, Phil Kean Design Group

Winter Parkers take justifiable pride in the architectural diversity of their city’s tree-lined neighborhoods. James Gamble Rogers II, the most revered local architect of the 20th century, designed elegant homes in an array of styles, and helped to define the city’s eclectic residential ambiance. A generation from now, architectural aficionados may be saying the same thing about Phil Kean, 54, whose sleek, modern homes are winning national acclaim. Plus, as Kean’s business has boomed, he’s transformed a stretch of cluttered Fairbanks Avenue by developing a spiffy corporate campus that includes offices, a model home and other buildings adapted to accommodate his burgeoning empire. Kean, who attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and later earned both an MBA and a master of architecture degree at Washington University in St. Louis, appreciates every architectural genre, In fact, he and Brad Grosberg, his husband and business partner, live in a circa-1930s colonial-style home designed by Rogers. Kean is also an alternate member of the city’s historic-preservation board. He’s best known, though, for contemporary showplaces like the one on Alexander Place, where he and Grosberg lived until recently. It was featured as the New American Home during the 2012 International Builders show, held in Orlando and sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders. He’s building the New American Home again in 2017, as well the New American Remodel, both in Lake Nona Golf & Country Club. Kean is the immediate past president of the Winter Park-based Master Custom Builder Council and a member of the University of Central Florida Foundation’s board of directors. He has donated renovation services to the Zebra Coalition, which provides services to LGBT youth, and architectural services to Mead Botanical Garden and the St. Jude Dream Home, which was built this year in San Antonio. His local, regional and national professional accolades run in the dozens, but most notably he was named 2013 National Custom Builder of the Year by NAHB and 2014 Contractor of the Year by the Orlando Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “My life has been so much better than I ever imagined,” says Kean, a marathoner whose goal is to race in all 50 states. “I’m proudest of the incredible people in my life: my husband of 32 years, the Phil Kean Design Group team that makes the magic happen, and friends and family who inspire and nurture me.”

WHAT HE SAYS: “My personal goal is to help make Winter Park more beautiful, one building at a time. I appreciate the incredible architectural fabric in our community.” 

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Phil’s work has really helped make contemporary architecture popular everywhere, but especially in Winter Park, which has been a more traditional market … a national figure in architecture, but a community-minded guy … supports causes he cares about.”


The Scholar

Julian Chambliss

Chair, Department of History, Rollins College

Rollins College Professor Julian Chambliss explores the history of cities both large and small. And he says Winter Park has “unlocked potential” for historians like him, who specialize in urban development and culture. The story of Winter Park’s historically African-American west side is a significant — if overlooked — key to understanding the city’s evolution, says Chambliss, who has led a project to unearth and digitize articles from the Winter Park Advocate, a black-owned newspaper whose content, as Chambliss puts it, “adds to the narrative of the 1880s and ’90s, after Reconstruction and during the rise of Jim Crow segregation.” Chambliss, chair of the college’s history department and coordinator of its Africa & African-American Studies program, received his Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Florida. He has been honored with the college’s Cornell Distinguished Service Award and its Presidential Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Chambliss, 45, likes looking at urban issues such as race through unusual lenses. Last year on Memorial Day, he led the ceremonial scattering of ashes from a burned Confederate flag. The Orlando event — one of several across the South conducted as part of an art project — helped participants deal with “unresolved feelings about the Confederate flag in regards to race,” Chambliss says. And then there’s his collection of comic books — about 1,000 of them, dominated by Iron Man and Black Panther. As a historian, he came to see comic books as “elaborate visual narratives about urban history.” He co-edited and contributed to a book called Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, and he delivers engaging talks about superheroes in American history. “On the surface, superheroes are fighting criminals,” Chambliss says. But, of course, he finds deeper meaning. Through the decades, he says, the wars between superheroes and villains have provided a window into hopes and fears about American culture and the urban environment.

WHAT HE SAYS: “My approach to Winter Park history is to emphasize the community’s link to broader social and political questions shaping contemporary debates. My work emphasizes seeing Winter Park within a broader framework that uncovers the hidden legacy link to race, class and power in Florida.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Julian is telling a crucial part of Winter Park’s history … carrying on a grand Rollins tradition of professor as civic activist … makes me want to go back to college.”


The Questioner

Pete Weldon

Retired Investment Advisor, Commissioner, City of Winter Park

When Pete Weldon, 67, was a student at the University of Miami, he was part of a musical group called the Singing Hurricanes. His experience in an ensemble, he contends, has influenced his approach to local politics. “I like to put things together in ways that get harmonious results,” he says. Many of those who disagree with him, he contends, “are not interested in getting a harmonious result, but in getting their own way.” That’s Weldon all over, say both fans and foes. He’s an analytical thinker who reaches conclusions after exhaustive research and analysis. But he’s also prone to dismiss opponents as uninformed or unreasonable. Weldon, running for a second time, squeaked by incumbent Tom McMacken in March. His campaign was bolstered by his opposition to a strengthened historic-preservation ordinance, which passed on a 3-2 vote with McMacken in favor. Although the ordinance pleased preservation advocates, it galvanized those who believed that it impinged on property rights. Weldon, who prefers a voluntary preservation policy, quickly delivered on his promise to roll back changes his predecessor had supported. Nobody can say the outspoken New Jersey native hasn’t been forthright about his beliefs. For years, he’s run a wonky (and at times acerbic) blog called Winter Park Perspectives, which he describes as an intellectual exercise that compels him to research issues on which he opines. But he also uses his online platform to urge vigilance against policies that, he says, would unnecessarily inhibit freedom. Nonetheless, Weldon recognizes that regulation can sometimes be appropriate. He served on the city’s code enforcement board, planning and zoning board and tree preservation board. “My philosophical desire to praise individual liberty doesn’t preclude my support for a reasonable set of zoning regulations,” he says. As for his role as a commissioner, Weldon is clear. “I’m going to ask the questions,” he adds. “My job is to be myself.”

WHAT HE SAYS: “My personal goal as a commissioner and volunteer is to serve the long-term interests of the city and its residents by contributing to reasoned judgments respecting the realities we face.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “I think people will be surprised at the way Pete will raise the level of discourse on the commission … if you want to argue with Pete, you’d better have your facts straight … smart guy and he knows it.”


The Networker

Cindy Bowman LaFronz

Director, Community Relations, Rollins College

Influential? It’s not a term Cindy Bowman LaFronz would apply to herself — and she’s not just being modest. LaFronz, 50, says she sees herself more as a connector who listens to people and brings them together around a cause. For the past six years, LaFronz has worked as Rollins College’s director of community relations. “We’re in a relationship economy, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” LaFronz says. “Through those relationships, Rollins remains a mainstay of the community.” As an example, she points to Feed the Need Winter Park, an annual fundraising drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. The campaign stretches across the Rollins campus but also involves the city, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, Winter Park Memorial Hospital and several other partners. The result: More than $100,000 a year is raised to fight hunger. Such efforts help break down lingering misconceptions that Rollins students are all privileged Northeasterners, disconnected from the community. The reality, she says, is that almost half the student body is from Florida, making local “social learning and engagement” an even more important part of their college experience. LaFronz is involved in numerous civic groups and, in addition to her Rollins job, serves as editor of Orlando Arts, the official magazine of United Arts of Central Florida. She also has a seat on several boards, including those of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. Rollins’ student body is 16 percent Hispanic, so creating opportunity for Hispanic entrepreneurs helps both grads and the larger community, LaFronz says. She’s optimistic about strengthening ties between the college and the community under new President Grant Cornwell. “Grant completely understands the role of being a good neighbor, and really wants to grow those relationships,” she says. “He gets it; he supports it.”

WHAT SHE SAYS: “On all the committees and boards I have the privilege to serve, I try to infuse a sense of place, where diversity is embraced and new ideas applauded.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “The Cornwells will be looking to Cindy for input about how to strengthen town-gown ties … a great representative for the college … super connected and involved … recognizes the value of partnerships.”


The Seeker

Shawn Garvey

Senior Minister, First Congregational Church of Winter Park

The First Congregational Church of Winter Park was Winter Park’s first church, organized in 1884 by New Englanders who settled here and supported the denomination’s progressive tenants and commitment to education. (The church founded Rollins College, and its first minister was the college’s first president.) Today, First Congregational remains a voice for tolerance, openness and social justice under Shawn Garvey, 47, a dynamo of energy and enthusiasm whose favored adjective is “awesome.” Garvey, who was selected as senior minister three years ago, previously led churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey. He holds a bachelor of arts in philosophy from Long Island University and a master of divinity from Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts. But despite his theological chops, Garvey is also a folk-oriented singer-guitarist who digs John Denver — and sounds eerily like his musical idol when he covers such hits as “Poems and Prayers and Promises” and “Rocky Mountain High.” (In fact, Garvey has performed Denver tribute shows — including one at First Congregational — backed by the late Steve Weisberg, for years Denver’s lead guitarist.) He also brought Livingston Taylor (brother of James) to Winter Park for a sanctuary shindig in which the two friends performed several duets. Quickly immersing himself in civic affairs, Garvey serves as the faith community representative on Winter Park’s Visioning Steering Committee, and helped organize the first annual “Side-By-Side” event along with the city, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and Rollins College.  Held in Knowles Memorial Chapel — where Garvey served as interim dean for more than a year — Side by Side  featured live music and remarks from civic leaders. It was designed to “celebrate our gifts and strengthen our relationships with one another,” which is a message very much in keeping with Garvey’s inclusive philosophy. First Congregational is the first — and thus far the only — church in Winter Park to perform same-sex marriages, and has adopted an “open and affirming” policy that specifically welcomes people regardless of their sexual orientation.  Its Jeramiah Project  is an arts-oriented outreach project for at-risk children in the Winter Park area.

WHAT HE SAYS: “Honestly, I just try to be authentically nice to everyone I meet, and start from a place of ‘yes’ with just about everything I do. Genuine kindness with no agenda goes a long way.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Shawn is becoming Winter Park’s pastor, regardless of denomination … a bastion of progressive thought in a conservative town is a good thing … not your grandfather’s Congregational minister.” 


The Booster

Sarah Grafton

Assistant Vice President, Senior Financial Advisor, Grafton Wealth Management at Merrill Lynch Bank of America

You don’t have to be a boomer or beyond to rank among Winter Park’s most prominent influencers. Sarah Grafton, 31, is a millennial who has built up a reservoir of good will in the Winter Park business community that few others of any age can match. And she’s done it by consistent involvement in an array of good causes, and what her fans describe as a generous spirit and a relentlessly positive attitude. Grafton, who earned a degree in public administration and political science at Auburn University, has worked in the family business for nearly nine years. During that time, she’s served on the boards of such civic organizations as the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, the Winter Park YMCA, the Children’s Home Society of Florida, the American Heart Association and the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, among many others. A graduate of the chamber’s Leadership Winter Park program, she’s also the current president of the Park Avenue Merchants Association and chaired Park Avenue Fashion Week in 2013. It’s easier to the list the awards Grafton hasn’t won than those she has, but a few of her more notable accolades include a ranking in the Orlando Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” and “Women Who Mean Business” compilations. “When I look at Winter Park, I see an incredibly beautiful city whose intrinsic value is irreplaceable to our region,” she says. Her goals include protection of the city’s brand, which she says is defined by both its rich history and its “cultivated beauty, magnetism and hospitality.” Through collaborations and partnerships, she also wants to continue promoting local businesses and creating an environment that facilitates success. “Our city is stronger and more successful when we come together,” she notes.

WHAT SHE SAYS: “In all my experience with leadership, my goal has never been to become a leader. My goal has always been to serve. Also, I’m stubbornly optimistic. When faced with a challenge, I’ll always get excited about how we can conquer it and achieve success. I don’t believe in bad days. Each day is a gift, and I want to make an impact with every gift I’m given.” 

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “People like Sarah give me hope for the future of this community … she’s a role model for a new generation of leaders … one of the most effective community boosters we’ve got.”


The Ambassador

Catherine Hinman

Director of Public Affairs and Publications, The Morse Museum of American Art

There’s still a bit of awe in Catherine Hinman’s voice when she talks about the late Hugh and Jeannette McKean, whose priceless collection of Tiffany glass draws art lovers from around the world to Winter Park’s Morse Museum of American Art. Hinman, a former Orlando Sentinel reporter who has been the museum’s director of public affairs and publications since 1999, says the McKeans “built their art collection so that it would be an endless source of enrichment, renewal and joy for the town they loved so well.” The museum had 76,000 visitors last year. That’s an increase of 80 percent since the Morse’s current home on Park Avenue opened in 1995 — and it’s due in no small part to Hinman, whose passionate yet exacting approach to promoting the museum seems well matched to its finely wrought treasures. Hinman’s work is very 21st century, even if the building in which she works displays the splendors of a bygone era. Raising awareness of the museum and its programs means endless hours on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest in addition to chatting up travel writers and managing events. A new ticketing and membership system planned for this summer will keep better track of the museum’s audiences, Hinman says, and making its website more mobile-friendly is a looming challenge. In the fall, the Morse will begin celebrating its 75th anniversary (the date is in February), and Hinman promises exhibitions that honor the breadth of the collection, including paintings not now on view. Hinman raised two daughters (now 22 and 25) while building the museum’s reputation, and she sees her role as helping to educate both young and old about the glories of American art. “We’d like residents to make this collection their own,” says Hinman, noting that only 25 percent of visitors are local. “Hugh would say, ‘Come, and come often.’”

WHAT SHE SAYS: “My hope is that Winter Park will protect and retain its deeply rooted identity, evolving gracefully and intelligently as change and growth bring inevitable pressures.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Catherine isn’t just a PR master; she has a mastery of the museum’s collections … smart and sophisticated … she’s regarded as a ‘grownup’ who knows how to get things done.” 


The Samaritan

Ronnie Moore

Assistant Director, City of Winter Park Parks and Recreation Department

Winter Parkers who use any city-run facilities for events have likely worked with Ronnie Moore, 59, who some say is perhaps the most connected and committed city employee they’ve ever encountered. Longtime locals may remember him as an all-star defensive end on the Winter Park High School football team. (He played college ball at Virginia State, and was inducted into the Winter Park High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.) But most people — particularly residents of the west side, where he was born and raised — know Moore through his civic involvement. He serves on the boards of Arthur Jackson Midnight Basketball of Florida, created by the Center for Drug-Free Living; the Welbourne Avenue Nursery and Kindergarten, founded in the 1930s for west-side working mothers; and the Unity Heritage Festival, a city-sponsored fundraiser for disadvantaged youth held annually in Hannibal Square. He’s a trustee at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, where he won its Layperson of the Year Award. He’s also won the Crealdé School of Art Visionary Award, the Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park-Maitland Outstanding Service Award and the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce Hero Award. But there are other good works that Moore does quietly, like buying gear for high-school kids who want to play football at his alma mater. “I know all the families here and I know their situations and needs,” says Moore, whose mother, Joyce Swain, began as a domestic worker but eventually became Winter Park’s city clerk. (She retired in 2001.) Moore’s office is in the Winter Park Community Center in Hannibal Square. “My goal has always been that the center should join the east side and the west side,” he says. As for his job, Moore sees it as more of a mission. “A lot of families helped me growing up,” he recalls. “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do, now that I’m in a position to give back.”

WHAT HE SAYS: I’m very blessed with the love and support that I receive from the citizens of this community. I feel that my calling in life is to make a difference in the lives of those I come in contact with.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “I doubt anybody on the list has touched more lives in a more meaningful way than Ronnie.”


The Bibliophile

Shawn Shaffer

Executive Director, Winter Park Public Library

If you’re looking for evidence that librarians are stuffy, introverted know-it-alls, don’t knock on Shawn Shaffer’s door. During her three years as executive director of the Winter Park Public Library, Shaffer has proven to be a hardy advocate for the library and literacy who loves getting out in the community. Shaffer, who says she’s “almost 60,” took the Winter Park job in 2013 after leading the Elmwood Park Public Library in Illinois, where she grew up and went to college. She soon became immersed in the campaign to replace Winter Park’s outmoded library building, and in March, voters narrowly approved a referendum to spend $30 million on a new library, event center and parking garage. In a separate vote, the City Commission selected a site in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where the soon-to-be-demolished Winter Park Civic Center now sits. Although a contingent of die-hards continues to try and scuttle the project — this is, after all, Winter Park — Shaffer says she was always confident that the referendum would pass. “Politics is sort of the same everywhere,” she says. “You have to communicate really well, and make sure you have both a good story and the facts.” Now, as design begins on the 50,000-square-foot building, she’s refining the menu of services the library will offer. On Shaffer’s list: an outdoor café, expanded bookstore, gathering places and a “makerspace” where patrons can create their own works, including audio and video productions. And she wants to improve access to the local history collection, much of which is in storage. Despite the internet and e-books, printed volumes aren’t going away, says Shaffer, who adds, “I want generations of Winter Park young people to have a safe, inviting place they can come to find what sparks their imagination and propels them into the best possible future, regardless of how much or how little their family has.”

WHAT SHE SAYS: “When the choice is to laugh or cry, I always try to choose laughter.  Whether it is dressing up as a stereotypical librarian or a superhero, I will do whatever I can to encourage people and put a smile on someone’s face.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Shawn has an encyclopedic knowledge of how libraries function … she probably didn’t expect the library campaign to be so contentious, but she answered objections with facts … she’ll be leading what will be a signature institution for this city.”


The Energizer

Jane Hames

Founder and President, Embassy Communications

It happened like this. Someone casually opined that a community-wide event honoring beloved Rollins College President Emeritus Thad Seymour and his wife, Polly, was long overdue. Jane Hames agreed. But the difference between Hames, 66, and most everyone else is that she can take a well-intentioned but non-specific notion,  such as a salute to the Seymours, and through the depth of her connections, the savvy of her salesmanship and the sheer force of her personality make it happen — seemingly overnight. (See page ?? for more about the recent Seymour Family Reunion.) Everybody takes calls from Hames, even when they know in advance that she’ll be asking for a check to support some worthy cause. Her work ethic has always been superhuman; she took a record-setting 31 credit hours per semester for two semesters at the University of Florida en route to an undergraduate degree in journalism. Her company, founded in 1984, specializes in public relations, government relations and media relations for corporate clients. But she’s best known for her volunteer work, having chaired Florida Citrus Sports, Visit Orlando, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Gardens at DePugh Nursing Center, among many other organizations. She’s currently chair of an advisory board for the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College. Perhaps most significantly, Hames infiltrated Central Florida’s good old boy network more than 30 years ago, and paved the way for a new generation of professional women to be ranked among the region’s power players. She has won the Professional of the Year Award from the Florida Public Relations Association, the Businesswoman of the Year Award from the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, the Up and Comer Award from the Orlando Economic Development Commission and the Summit Award from the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center. Hames notes that “it’s truly amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

WHAT SHE SAYS: “My personal style, as a farm-raised, natural-born problem solver, is to listen as hard as I can, gather all the facts and then act to get things done.”  

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Jane is a force of nature … she was a major player in this town when women didn’t usually have a seat at the table … if you want something done, ask Jane and get out of the way.”



The Persuader

Sam Stark

President and CEO, Moxē Inc.

When Sam Stark left Winter Park for Chicago five years ago, he was pursuing a unique challenge: building a sports commission from the ground up in the nation’s third-largest market. When he returned to Winter Park, he found his new challenge equally appealing: leading a marketing agency in the city he still called home. Stark, a 46-year-old Rollins College graduate, spent almost three years attracting sporting events to the Windy City and building tourism around them as the first executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission. Now, he’s president and CEO of Moxē, the agency owned by philanthropist Harvey Massey and formerly known as Massey Communications. His clients include sports groups, nonprofits and, of course, Massey Services. Before his Chicago sojourn, Stark led the Central Florida Sports Commission and the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, where he guided the creation of the Winter Park Welcome Center. Local leaders wasted no time in putting him back to work. Among his many civic roles, he’s a trustee of the Winter Park Health Foundation, and recently headed the city’s Library Facility Task Force. After months of study and public forums, Stark’s group recommended a new and bigger building to serve the city’s current and future information needs — a flexible space “designed for perpetual learning.” Although the debate was heated, voters agreed in March, narrowly approving a referendum to spend $30 million on a new library and event center. His immersion in sports marketing has proved to be a good background for civic work, Stark says: “It’s so much about relationships. The more you can have a can-do and win-win approach to projects, it just seems easier to get things done.”

WHAT HE SAYS: “While community and business are very important to me, nothing is more important and cherished than my family and friends, and that allows me to not take things too seriously or personally.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Sam asks good questions, listens carefully and excels in connecting the dots, finding new relationships among community organizations to increase capacity and get results.”


The Gardeners

Linda Keen, Sue Foreman, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Bill Weir

Mead Garden Volunteers

Winter Park’s hallowed Mead Botanical Garden marked its 75th birthday last year. But there might not have been much to celebrate if a grass-roots (pun intended) group of locals hadn’t decided that this 47-acre urban oasis was worth reclaiming. Hundreds of volunteers deserve kudos. But we’ve picked four of the most effective advocates to represent all the kindred spirits who, over the past 13 years, have done everything from raise funds to pull weeds. The quartet includes Linda Keen, 68, a civic activist; Jeffrey Blydenburgh, 68, an architect and planner; Sue Foreman, 75, a retired educator; and Bill Weir, 79, a retired executive who spent 35 years at Hughes Supply. Most Winter Parkers know the story by now. The garden, named for botanist Theodore L. Mead, exists primarily due to the determination and ingenuity of Edwin Osgood Grover, a tireless professor of books at Rollins College. It was initially owned and operated by a nonprofit organization formed by Grover and others. However, following a rift over admission fees in 1953, the city took control. That’s when a slow but inexorable decline began. In 2003, concerned citizens formed a new nonprofit, the Friends of Mead Garden Inc. (now Mead Botanical Garden Inc.), which unleashed brigades of “weed warriors” and orchestrated a massive reclamation project. Today, although the city still owns the garden, it’s operated by the same group that rescued it from ruin. The result? Thanks to volunteers and various public-private partnerships, you’ll find a new amphitheater as well as a greenhouse, a pole barn, a butterfly garden and an educational building. Wetlands have been restored and boardwalks have been rebuilt. Kids flock to a popular summer camp. Families picnic on the grassy shores of picturesque Alice’s Pond (named for longtime volunteer Alice Mikkleson). And birdwatchers come from across the state to catch a glimpse of barred owls, hooded warblers, red-bellied woodpeckers and other winged visitors and residents. “Our commitment is to create a nationally recognized natural display garden with a campus for education and recreation,” says Keen. Without question, magical Mead Botanical Garden ranks among the city’s most important assets. And, as development around it booms, the intrinsic value of “Winter Park’s Natural Place” multiplies exponentially.

WHAT THEY SAY: ν Linda Keen: “My personal goal for Winter Park is to enrich and enhance the vision and make Mead Botanical Garden the best place for the community, emphasizing its importance as a unique city asset and how lucky we are to have it.” ν Jeffrey Blydenburgh: “Winter Park is more than the sum of its parts. We have an amazing cluster of cultural and educational organizations that together would comprise an amazing arts and cultural collaborative. My goal is to make that collaboration happen.” ν Sue Foreman: “I want to help establish the ethos, facilities, network of people and processes for innovative and inclusive community engagement, problem solving and transformational relationships.” ν Bill Weir: “My goal is to help build a world-class community for quality of life. To do that, you visualize where you want to go, build a team, and then take action.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Leu Gardens [in Orlando] has a $2 million budget; Mead gets about $100,000 from Winter Park. Does that make sense? … a priceless jewel, thanks to volunteers … it feels like you’re in a different world there … great educational programs for kids.” 


The Steward

Randy Knight

City Manager, City of Winter Park

Since 1949, Winter Park has operated under a commission-manager form of government. The city manager is essentially the chief executive officer, responsible for implementing the commission’s policies while ensuring that the city remains on solid fiscal footing. Sounds straightforward enough, except that in Winter Park, the makeup of the commission changes every year. That all but guarantees ever-shifting balances of power and, at times, abrupt policy reversals (see: historic-preservation ordinance). Randy Knight, 56, is the man “who keeps all the plates spinning.” For obvious reasons, most city managers don’t last as long as Knight, a Georgia native who was named to the city’s top job in 2007. Prior to that, he’d served 13 years as assistant city manager and three years as finance director. “I’m Switzerland,” he says of his unflappable neutrality. Still, the coming year promises to be a challenging one. The city’s comprehensive plan — the blueprint for growth and development — is due for its seven-year review. That review comes on the heels of a yearlong visioning process, a citizen-run initiative that was still underway at press time. Commercial development, especially along U.S. Highway 17-92, is snowballing. And, of course, there’s the unanticipated controversy surrounding the proposed new Winter Park Public Library complex. But Knight, a CPA who graduated from Florida Southern College, has dealt with thorny issues before. One of his proudest accomplishments was leading the city through the lawsuit-laden process of forming its own electric utility more than a decade ago. Clearly, whatever Winter Park’s problems are, they’re often problems that other municipalities only wish they had. Certainly, the city’s in solid financial shape, with reserves equaling 27 percent of its annual operating budget. The folksy Knight, of course, says that’s mostly because the city has consistently elected smart commissioners. Smart enough, certainly, to make a great hire.

WHAT HE SAYS: “I try to be accessible and approachable to everyone, regardless of their stature, wealth, position, professional or political affiliations.  I work for all 29,000 residents, and believe each deserves the city’s very best.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “The next year or two will be pivotal for Winter Park, so I’m glad Randy has stayed with us … a guy with no agenda except doing a good job for the city … he seems to have the trust of the commission and most residents, which is saying a lot in this town.”

Share This Post