By Randy Noles
Rick Walsh (left) and Jim DeSimone (right), founding partners of Winter Park Magazine, peruse the first issue of the now-iconic publication — which just celebrated its 15th year — with current Winter Park Publishing Company CEO Randy Noles. Photo by Phyllis Miller

We didn’t throw a birthday party for our favorite 15-year-old. During the usual deadline hubbub, we simply forgot. But before you conclude that we’re being too cavalier about this oversight, I should clarify that the 15-year-old involved is a magazine, not a person. In fact, it’s Winter Park Magazine, which marked its 15th year in 2023.

It’s quite an achievement to last 15 years in this business. Especially when you consider that this particular magazine was started during the financial collapse of 2008, which decimated the publishing industry, and later survived a pandemic, which also decimated the publishing industry. 

Winter Park Magazine, though, has continued to thrive regardless of the obstacles thrown in its path. That’s thanks to you — the people who read (and advertise in) this award-winning publication.

I’ll admit it: Nothing is more gratifying than to hear how much Winter Park Magazine is enjoyed and appreciated. When I visit local homes and see dozens of back issues saved and displayed on bookshelves — where books belong — I still get goosebumps.

But Winter Park Magazine wouldn’t even exist if a pair of visionary entrepreneurs hadn’t decided, at seemingly the worst possible time, to launch an upscale (and hyper-local) lifestyle publication — and to patiently ride out the economic turbulence.

Kudos, then, to Rick Walsh and Jim DeSimone, who built the foundation on which today’s Winter Park Magazine stands. Jim Clark was the magazine’s first publisher and Mick Lochridge was its first editor. In the debut issue, Mick laid down the ground rules: 

 “Everything you read and see here will be about your city — its people and businesses, its art and homes, its past and future. It’s the only magazine that’s exclusively focused on Winter Park. We want it to be interesting, inviting — and fun.” 

We got involved when our predecessor company, Florida Home Media (a subsidiary of Sarasota-based Gulfshore Media), licensed the Winter Park Magazine title from the two founding partners and took over as publishers in 2012. We bought the magazine outright three years later. All seemed well.

Shortly thereafter, however, several branches of Gulfshore Media — one of the most successful magazine operations in the Southeast — were snapped up by out-of-state mega-publishers. Soon it appeared likely that Winter Park Magazine, too, would fall into the hands of corporate outsiders with no connection to (or interest in) the community.

In response, Winter Park Publishing Company was formed in 2017 for the sole purpose of buying this now-iconic media property and ensuring that it remained locally owned. Among the new company’s 46 investors: Rick and Jim, the magazine’s original architects, who also helped to assemble the eclectic ownership group. 

I’ve known Rick for nearly 50 years, from the days when he was the charismatic student body president at UCF, and I was the scruffy managing editor of the campus newspaper. At the Central Florida Future, we reported on Rick’s many initiatives but could never unearth any scandals in his administration. (And, believe me, we tried — this was, after all, the era of Watergate.)

The proverbial “most likely to succeed” student certainly lived up to the expectations of those who knew him, becoming a senior vice president at Darden Restaurants and later founding the Knob Hill Companies — an investment and strategic consulting firm. 

Rick’s lengthy civic resumé includes numerous board chairmanships, including his current stint as head of the Edyth Bush Foundation. UCF, his alma mater, presented him with an honorary doctorate a few years ago.

I knew Jim only by reputation, first as a business reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and later as director of communications for the City of Orlando. He, too, became an executive at Darden and a founding partner with Rick in the Knob Hill Group. 

Rick and Jim, despite not being publishers (or perhaps because of not being publishers) believed from the start that they were onto something. I would have advised against their magazine venture, given the timing — which shows how much I know.

Says Rick: “Jim and I worked very hard to grow the magazine and make it a viable business. Years later, we had the opportunity to help rally local philanthropic investors and return the magazine as a community treasure celebrating all things Winter Park.”

Oh, and those beautiful fine-art covers? I wish I could take credit for that idea — but again, we have Rick and Jim to thank for our distinctive look. (When I saw the first issue, I remember asking Rick: “Where are the cover blurbs?”)

Says Jim: “A simple, elegant cover differentiated Winter Park Magazine from other lifestyle publications in the market. Those covers helped us corner the arts and culture high ground that the best lifestyle magazines need.”

Rick and Jim are both justifiably proud of what they created. And, very graciously, they’ve both been quick to praise how the magazine has evolved over the past several years under the ownership of Winter Park Publishing Company. 

But guys, there’d be nothing to praise if you hadn’t paved the way. For that, and for your continued support and friendship, I personally thank you — and am glad that you’re both just a phone call away. 

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