By Randy Noles

The incisive philosopher George Jones, surveying the country music landscape, once asked, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?” Acuff, Cash, Frizzell Haggard, Jennings, Presley, Robbins, Twitty and Williams, among others, had relocated to Hillbilly Heaven. This year, we lost Charley Pride and John Prine as well.

As far as I can tell, after watching the most recent Country Music Association Awards, nobody has filled their shoes — but I’m old-fashioned like that. But Jones’ musical question might well be applied to community leadership here in Winter Park.

Winter Park Magazine’s annual Most Influential People roster is never lacking for worthy nominees — but none of them are getting any younger. And we can’t expect the same lifelong contributors to continue their good works for decades after their civic dues have been paid in full.

So, two years ago, we started an annual People to Watch feature. In it, we sought to identify those under age 40 — although we stretched that upper age limit in a few cases — who seem likely to comprise the next generation of Most Influential People. (Although some of our Most Influential People have been 40 and under, the average age has been about 60.)

Of course, younger people have less time to be pillars of the community. Many have young children and are establishing themselves in careers. But our first two classes of People to Watch included many people with such responsibilities who still found time to give back.

My, how time flies when you’re constantly on deadlines. In our next issue (Winter 2021), we’ll introduce another class of People to Watch. But we need your help to identify them.

A terrific source for People to Watch and Most Influential People has been Leadership Winter Park, sponsored by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. An outsized percentage of people on both lists have, over the years, come through that excellent program.

Other honorees came to our attention from employers, pastors, volunteers, elected officials and readers who knew of exceptional younger people and thought they should be recognized.

Therefore, please consider this column to be an open invitation for you to nominate someone for People to Watch. Only don’t nominate the people listed below, who’ve already been recognized:

Morgan Bellows, Sydney Bellows Brownlee, Amy Calandrino, Ali DeMaria, Kimberly Devitt, Jeremy DiGorio, Brad Doster, Kyle Dudgeon, Clayton Louis Ferrara, William “Will” Grafton IV, Michelle Heatherly, Chase Heavener, the Hill Brothers (Drew, Gray and Gregg Jr.), Juan Hollingsworth, Chris King, Whitney Melton Laney, Amie Morgan, the Orosz Brothers (Matt, Steve and Andrew), Emily Russell, Kesha Thompson, Laura Walda, Taylor Womack and Adam Wonus.

In the past, we’ve found no shortage of millennials (often defined as being born between 1981 and 1996) who are making a mark and belong on our list. The same was true of Generation Xers (often defined as being born between 1965 and 1980).

The criteria, beyond age, are broad. We’re seeking people who are activists, influencers, creators, givers and entrepreneurs who are personally interesting and are, in their own way, making positive things happen.

Think of People to Watch, then, as essentially an extension of the Most Influential People list. Its existence doesn’t mean that those under age 40 may not still be selected as an Influential.

People to Watch, however, makes room for some Winter Parkers who are active now but whose major contributions to the community may be yet to come. 

Who’s gonna fill their shoes? I’m a lot less worried about Winter Park than I am about country music. I’m hoping to get the usual impressive list of nominees. I already know of several likely candidates, and I’ll bet you do, too. Email me at randyn@winterparkpublishing.com and let me know.


As you’ve likely heard by now, the Winter Park Institute has a new owner — and we couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities. Winter Park Publishing Company, which took over the institute last year from Rollins College, has transferred ownership to Randy Robertson, who will serve as its executive director.

Randy is already planning some exciting programming — look for announcements soon — and has secured the new Winter Park Library & Events Center as the institute’s official home for in-person events.

The college, you’ll recall, ceased operation of the institute last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic indefinitely halted the possibility of live events. WPPC subsequently held several virtual events, including one with former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. 

But more recently, as our lives began a tentative return to normalcy, we began reaching out to potential partners for the WPI. Randy, because of his expertise in staging intellectually focused events, topped that list. 

In fact, many of you know Randy and his wife, Pat Schenk, through their annual GladdeningLight Symposium, which brings thought leaders from the intersecting worlds of art and spirituality to Winter Park.

WPI, a beloved speaker series, had an avid following and we wanted to honor its noble tradition. But it only took two meetings with Randy — one of which included WPPC co-chair Jane Hames — to decide that Randy and Pat ought to be the ones in charge. WPPC will remain involved as a promotional partner and will have a seat on the board. 

Randy’s long-term goal is for WPI to be regarded in the same light as the Colorado-based Aspen Institute and the New York-based Chautauqua Institution. And he’s already got some programs in the works that I’m bursting to announce but can’t just yet. A new website is being built and the first speakers will be announced shortly. Stay tuned.


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