BILLIE IN BLOOM

Based on Research by Sondra L. Ickes

Wilhelmina “Billie” Greene become a renowned amateur botanist, a popular botanical artist and the illustrator of a charming but meticulous book about flowers that thrive in the subtropical climate below the Mason-Dixon Line. Photo courtesy of the Rollins College of Archives and Special Collections/Restoration by Will Setzer at Circle 7 Studio

The adventurous Wilhelmina “Billie” Greene (1906–1991) came by her love of flowers honestly. Born in Cincinnati, her father, William Freeman, was the owner of a perfume and cosmetics company, among other enterprises. Perhaps that tangential connection encouraged in the youngster an appreciation for pleasing scents.

Billie’s mother, Minnie Drake, was the granddaughter of Judge James M. McCullough, who founded the McCullough Seed Company and lived on a 100-acre estate aptly named “Pleasant Gardens,” where the grounds were covered with lush gardens and fruit-tree orchards. 

More likely, then, the McCullough side of the family planted the seeds of Billie’s soon-to-blossom career — although, privileged as she was, she would not have described painting in a way that implied she worked for pay.

In either case, visiting the McCullough property — which is today an upscale suburb of Cincinnati also called Pleasant Valley — seems to have been the catalyst for Billie’s becoming a renowned amateur botanist, a popular botanical artist and the illustrator of a charming but meticulous book about flowers that thrive in the subtropical climate below the Mason-Dixon Line. 

“Being surrounded by all this unique flora inspired a passion in Billie for tracking down the unusual and exotic that stayed with her all her life,” writes Sondra L. Ickes, whose 1996 biography of Greene was written with the assistance of a grant from the Rhea Marsh and Dorothy Lockhart Smith Winter Park Historical Research Contest, administered by the Winter Park Library.

The Freemans lived in Palm Beach, where they were active in the community’s social and political life. They relocated to Winter Park in 1919, buying a large home on the site of the old Seminole Hotel — which had burned to the ground in 1902. The home, dubbed “Pine Needles” by Minnie, still stands, handsome as ever, on Chase Avenue catty-cornered from the old library building.

The Freeman patriarch quickly set about planting grapefruit and kumquat trees, but the trees died because the nutrient-deficient soil sat atop the hotel’s limestone foundation. Other gardening efforts — especially flower beds — were more successful, although the family routinely unearthed such hotel detritus as dishes, bottles and even a typewriter.

Billie attended the Rollins Academy, a prep school affiliated with Rollins College, and was tutored by her mother on the importance of etiquette. Anxious for Billie to be happy and to make friends — especially following the death of her doting father in 1922 — Minnie hosted parties for Billie’s classmates.

Perhaps Minnie hoped that Billie would meet and marry a college boy of the family’s own rarified social station. Instead, in 1926, while Billie was a senior history major at Rollins, she married Raymond W. Greene, a 38-year-old man-about-town whom she had first met in 1919, the day the family arrived via train from Cincinnati. 

While Billie was a senior history major at Rollins, she married Raymond W. Greene, then a 38-year-old man-about-town whom she first met in 1919. Ray had attended Rollins, serving as the school’s athletic director while still a student, and would later become mayor of Winter Park.

Ray had attended Rollins, serving as the school’s athletic director while still a student before taking a break to join the U.S. Navy during World War I. Upon his return, he resumed his previous duties at the college before becoming secretary to the president (there were several short-termers at the helm prior to the arrival of Hamilton Holt, whom Ray helped to recruit, in 1925). 

Throughout the early 1920s, Ray — as commissioner of the Florida Amateur Athletic Union — organized high school interscholastic baseball and aquatic championships that attracted thousands of people to the campus. A prodigious fundraiser, he also spearheaded a campaign that brought in more than $500,000 for the college’s endowment — tripling its goal. 

Ray graduated from Rollins with a business degree in 1923 and opened a real estate business in 1925, later helping to establish the Winter Park Board of Realtors and serving as its president. (In 1962, the board was absorbed by what is now the Orlando Area Association of Realtors.) He would serve as Mayor of Winter Park from 1952–58.

In 1926, however, Ray was approaching middle age, apparently strapped for cash — the result of a land-speculation deal gone bad, it was said — and married to a much younger (and well-to-do) woman who was pregnant with his child when she graduated from Rollins in 1927. 

Perhaps in part to escape scolding tongues — though not from Billie’s mother, who supported the union and opened a trust fund for Ray — the small family moved to Sebring in Highlands County shortly after Billie picked up her diploma. 

Ray worked as assistant manager of Harder Hall — then a luxurious golf resort fronting Little Lake Jackson — and the pair had two more children, in 1929 and 1931. Billie’s interest in drawing, as the story went, was jump-started when she wanted to provide images for her children to color and sketched wildflowers that the youngsters had gathered. 

The Greenes were also involved in the establishment of the Florida Parks Association Inc., which bought Highlands Hammock in Sebring and shepherded it through the process of becoming one of the four original Florida State Parks — a proposal that earned approval from the Legislature in 1935.

Back in Winter Park, the Greenes moved into Pine Needles — Billie’s mother had died in 1937 — and hired local architect James Gamble Rogers III to turn the garage, or the “gatehouse,” into a painting studio and small apartment. Billie filled the grounds with flowerbeds.

She also became involved in the Winter Park Garden Club, forming a junior gardening club for children along with planning educational programs for adults. In addition, she began presenting lectures around the country on gardening topics and exhibiting her floral paintings — and winning awards — in local and out-of-state art shows.

Billie’s longtime goal of publishing a book was achieved in 1953, when the University of North Carolina Press released the well-reviewed Flowers of the South, Native and Exotic, which featured 500 of her drawings and 300 of her paintings. The images on these two pages are reproduced from the book, which is no longer in print. Hugo Leander Blomquist, a botany professor at Duke University, was co-author of the book, which featured separate sections on native wildflowers and exotic or cultured varieties. Flowers of the South, was, according to a review in the New York Herald Tribune, “probably the best arranged and illustrated volume on the subject that has yet appeared.”

With the means to do so, she and her family (although sometimes Ray stayed home) traveled widely — including to Asia, the Caribbean and South America — where Billie studied native flora and, apparently, even discovered a previously unidentified bloom, now called gloriosa greeneii, in Trinidad.

Floral images that she painted or drew began to appear on napkins and playing cards, although proceeds from their sale usually benefited the Winter Park Garden Club or its parent organization, Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.

Her longtime goal of publishing a book was achieved in 1953, when the University of North Carolina Press published the well-reviewed Flowers of the South, Native and Exotic, which featured 500 drawings and 300 paintings, mostly in watercolor.

Hugo Leander Blomquist, a botany professor at Duke University, was co-author of the book, which featured separate sections on native wildflowers and exotic or cultured varieties. Flowers of the South, was, according to a review in the New York Herald Tribune, “probably the best arranged and illustrated volume on the subject that has yet appeared.”

Yet, despite positive reception, no further books were forthcoming. Publishers doubted their commercial potential — photography had supplanted illustrations in nontechnical botany books — and co-authors with academic credentials proved difficult to wrangle.

Disappointed but undaunted, Billie instead produced a deck of flower-adorned playing cards and donated 1,800 sets to the Pennsylvania-based American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (now the American Public Gardens Association).

In the coming years, more honors and recognitions came Billie’s way, including the Rollins College Alumni Service Award in 1975 in recognition of her donations of land (including the tract where the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center now stands) and her landscaping expertise.

There were also lifetime memberships to the Winter Park Garden Club — where “everyone would make a fuss over her since she was so respected and admired,” writes Ickes — and the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs in 1980 and 1981, respectively. 

She also took more trips, including excursions with friends to China and South Africa.

But time takes its toll. Billie developed arthritis, which hindered her ability to draw and paint, and skin cancer while spending more time caring for her husband, who couldn’t navigate the large house and lived in the garage apartment with round-the-clock attendants. Ray died in 1989 at age 90. 

As her own health became more precarious, Billie sold Pine Needles and rented the garage apartment from the new owners. She later moved to Winter Park Towers, where some residents were put off by her apparent snobbishness and others moved by her quiet generosity. “She did tons of nice things with a disagreeable personality,” one friend told biographer Ickes. 

Other comments reported by Ickes: Billie was “a person you would swear at and swear by.” Further, she was an “extreme” personality — meaning “extremely spoiled, extremely talented, extremely bright and extremely good hearted.” This contradictory creator died in 1991 at age 85.

On the following pages are selected illustrations, done in watercolor, from Flowers of the South. The style may well be old-fashioned — or so potential publishers of a follow-up volume contended — but the workmanship and attention to detail are superb.

Small wonder. Billie constantly augmented passion for her subject with innate talent that she refined through technical art instruction at universities and with private teachers throughout the United States and Europe. 

Writes Ickes: “[Billie] studied around the world all her life. She studied flower arranging in Japan, pen-and-ink drawing in England and landscape architecture in California. Until late in life, there wasn’t a year that went by that she didn’t study to improve her art.” 

COOL SCHOOL

Full Sail University’s degree programs are, for the most part, concentrated in the behind-the-scenes trades of the entertainment industry: the names you see on the credits that scroll by at the end of a movie or television show or read on album liner notes. According to ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges), an accrediting agency for private post-secondary educational institutions, Full Sail’s five-year, on-campus graduation rate is 75 percent for students seeking bachelor’s degrees. About 61 percent have found employment within their fields of study.

It was a big week for Full Sail University, a sprawling institution for higher learning that’s focused on film, music, video games, computer animation, virtual reality, emerging technologies and nearly all things related to the creation and delivery of 21st-century entertainment.

Within seven days in March, the school — whose presence, along with Rollins College and a branch campus of Valencia College, further bolsters the intellectual panache of Winter Park — unveiled its $3 million virtual production studio and inducted six new members into the Full Sail Hall of Fame.

Center stage for both high-profile events was President Garry Jones, who has been connected with Full Sail since 1979, when it was founded in Dayton, Ohio, as a recording workshop that offered courses in audio engineering by Jon Phelps, a music producer and a contemporary Christian recording artist. 

Phelps hired Esther McCoy (whom he later married) as his first employee. Jones, a recording engineer, was the second employee hired and remains the public face of the school, where the slogan is, “If you’re serious about your dream, we’ll take your dream seriously.”

In 1980, Jones joined Phelps in Orlando to help grow the school in a more temperate climate with an international profile thanks to its major attractions. Full Sail Recording Workshop — which started with 13 students — set up shop at Bee Jay Studios before retrofitting warehouse space and relocating to Douglas Avenue in Altamonte Springs. 

Renamed Full Sail Center for Recording Arts, in 1989 it leased space in a multibuilding office park at the corner of University Boulevard and State Road 436, where it eventually grew to occupy over 880,000 square feet across 210 acres. The sprawling complex was a far cry from the modest commercial studio on Lee Road. 

In 1990, the school began offering specialized associate degrees. By 2008, Full Sail offered bachelor’s and master’s degrees and was classified as a university by the Florida Department of Education. That state-granted seal of approval prompted another name change — to, appropriately, Full Sail University — and enrollment further skyrocketed. 

The boom was thanks in large part to kudos from such publications as Rolling Stone, which declared Full Sail one of the top five music schools in the country. 

Previously, Electronic Gaming Monthly had named it one of the top five game design schools and Shift Magazine had named it one of the three best new media schools — alongside New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Full Sail, where the slogan is, “If you’re serious about your dream, we’ll take your dream seriously,” has been crackling with creative energy lately. Earlier this year, the school unveiled a $3 million virtual entertainment studio and inducted six new members into its Hall of Fame. At center stage for everything was President Garry Jones (above center and below) who has been connected with the institution since its humble beginnings.

But Full Sail, which was adept at public relations and quick to promote its dynamic Central Florida location, also delivered the goods. Its ever-expanding offerings tracked rapid technological changes in the entertainment industry and produced students who were qualified for the highly specialized new jobs being created. 

Yet, although the journey may have been full sailing, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. 

Full Sail’s attorney, Ed Haddock, left his thriving law practice and joined as a partner in 1991. Almost immediately, he was confronted by a cash crunch exacerbated by the school’s rapid expansion. 

Although a frantic scramble to keep the doors open ensued, Haddock told a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel that creditors eventually got paid. The financial situation continued to stabilize as new marketing programs — including one that sent Full Sail executives on recruiting trips — began to show impressive results. 

In 1992, Haddock’s friend Bill Heavener, an entrepreneur with a background in banking and real estate, joined the team. Gator fans will know Heavener’s name from the recently completed James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center at the University of Florida. 

Today, the trio of Phelps, Haddock and Heavener are co-CEOs and co-chairs of the board of directors. And these days, nobody appears too worried about meeting payroll. 

The campus is bustling with 4,500-plus on-campus students (there are 17,000 others working toward online degrees) and buzzing with creative energy in classrooms and 111 studios and collaborative production spaces. Also on the property are state-of-the-art performance venues and even a Hollywood-style back lot.

Slim and energetic, Jones is — as his students describe him — joyful. At 68, he’s part cheerleader, part pitchman, part preacher, part proselytizer and occasional comic relief. 

“I pinch myself at least a couple of times a week as I walk around the campus,” says Jones. “This is a dream come true for me.”

“Studio V1: Virtual Production,” as the new virtual reality facility is known, is important not only to Full Sail but to Winter Park and the region, says Jones, who adds: “There are already outside entities that are asking, ‘What? You have a virtual production studio? Hey, can we talk to you?’”

Now, students in film can work with students in gaming, simulation and digital cinematography to produce products that take them beyond soundstages and greenscreens to — virtually — anywhere in their imaginations.

With 4,500-plus students on campus, Full Sail encompasses 111 studios and collaborative production spaces. Also on the property are state-of-the art performance venues and even a Hollywood-style back lot (above). During Hall of Fame Week, visitors likely noticed a nostalgic homage to the school’s origins. In 2019, a group of alums, working secretly, found a motorhome of the correct vintage and lovingly re-created the vehicle where it all started — the Dream Machine (below), a 1976 GMC motorcoach retrofitted as a rolling recording studio. Jones says he “wept like a baby” when he saw the vehicle.

“It’s a geek’s dream on that stage,” says Kyle Frazier, manager of Studio V1. “The computers, the cameras, the lights are all state of the art. This technology is so new, and everyone wants it — but there’s no one trained on it yet.”

The most recent expansion demonstrates, again, that Full Sail doesn’t hesitate to spend whatever it takes to remain at the instructional vanguard. As a private, for-profit institution, the curriculum can adapt as rapidly as the real world dictates that it should — without the hindrance of bureaucratic wrangling.

“A state school has to work hard to get one new camera,” says Stephen Beres, a Full Sail Hall of Fame member and now a senior vice president of Studio and Production Services at HBO. “Here it’s always cutting edge. There are major studios that don’t have a virtual production stage like we have now.”

Full Sail clearly has a knack for identifying emerging trends in entertainment technology and developing applicable educational programs. Studio V1 follows the 2019 debut of a $6 million esports arena, now named The Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress, built when intercollegiate video game competition began to surge. 

Says Jones: “Full Sail’s DNA is innovation. This new studio is yet another example of our commitment to stick to the front lines and make sure that when our graduates leave us, they’re relevant today — and more importantly, tomorrow.”

Not far from Studio V1, parked near a back lot of storefronts imitating a post-apocalyptic street, visitors to the on-campus ceremonies in March likely noticed a nostalgic homage to the origins of Full Sail. It was — in spirit, at least — the Dream Machine, a 1976 GMC motorcoach retrofitted as a rolling recording studio. 

The original Dream Machine — unquestionably groovy and innovative for its time — was discarded years ago. But in 2019, a group of Full Sail alums, working secretly, found a motorhome of the correct vintage and re-created the vehicle, which looks like something straight out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

When the vehicle was unveiled at Hall of Fame Week, Jones says that he “wept like a baby.” Although the Dream Machine itself now seems quaint, the work of making dreams come true remains front and center at Full Sail. 

“Our mission today is the very same mission that we had for those first 13 students, and that’s to honor and respect their dream of working in a field they’re passionate about,” adds Jones, whose wife, Isis, is chief information officer and executive director of education at the school.

Nowadays, Full Sail offers more than 100 degree-granting programs — including several master’s degrees — in such general categories as art and design (including computer animation and digital arts), business (including digital marketing and entertainment) and film and television (including digital cinematography and film production).

There are also degrees related to video games (including design and development), media and communications (including new media journalism and public relations), sports (including marketing and sportscasting) and technology (including simulation and computer science). More recently, the school has added cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

So, in a sense, the Dream Machine has kept chugging along for more than four decades — except the journey has taken Full Sail much farther than almost anyone could have imagined. 

In fact, despite the school’s reputation as an incubator for the next generation of tech-oriented creatives, many locals have only a vague notion of what strange new worlds are being explored in unassuming east Winter Park.

NO PLACE FOR GOOF-OFFS

Full Sail is a university without homecoming queens or summers off. There are no dorms, fraternities or sororities. No class president. No traditional student council, deans, midterms or finals. Nobody is a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior.

Although there are no athletic teams, there is an esports team — the Full Sail Armada — that competes against other colleges and has a heated rivalry in the annual “Battle of the Boulevard” against the nearby University of Central Florida’s esports squad. 

Every month there’s a new class of students coming in and a graduating class going out. Students often take two classes at a time, both related to their field of study. They’re intense experiences that require about 35 hours a week of classroom time. 

But with an accelerated schedule, on-campus bachelor’s degrees can take just 20 months and online bachelor’s degrees can take just 29 months. Certificate programs take seven months on-campus and four to seven months online. 

Admission requirements include a successful interview and a passion for working in entertainment media or emerging technologies (as well as some degree-specific requirements, such as advanced mathematics skills for computer science and tech-heavy programs). Otherwise, students just need a high school degree or a G.E.D. — and, of course, the ability to pay.

Full Sail isn’t inexpensive, but compared to other four-year institutions the total tuition cost of a bachelor’s degree falls in the middle of the pack. 

It’s $89,000 for a bachelor’s degree in computer animation; $88,000 for degrees in film, gaming arts and design, computer science, graphic design, simulation and visualization; $86,000 for music production and recording arts; and $68,000 for sports broadcasting.

For certificate programs, it’s $10,500 for 3D arts, game design and sportscasting; and for graduate programs it’s $36,000 to $38,000 for entertainment business, film production, game design and sports management.

Whether it’s computerized models of complex data or 3D virtual environments, engineers trained to work in the simulation and visualization industry are always in demand. Full Sail has a bachelor’s degree program that equips students with the programming and critical-thinking skills they’ll need to design virtual systems while gaining hands-on experience with evolving technologies.

And there are plenty of deliverables in addition to expert instruction. As part of their tuition, students receive required books, a laptop, software and all the requisite technology and supplies for their individual fields of study. Sportscasting students, for example, get their own cameras, tripods, lighting and microphones — tools of the trade they’ll need after graduation. 

As a bonus, graduates can take advantage of lifetime career development assistance and can audit classes for free. Many of the school’s alums — even those with established careers — maintain their competitive edge by sitting in on sessions to learn about what’s new within their specialties.

Ninety percent of Full Sail students receive scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $41,000, according to the school, which also offers full-ride Emerging Technology and Women in Technology scholarships. High school G.P.A. and SAT scores may be used when financial awards are considered.

But students are discouraged from holding jobs while attending school — and those who try to work elsewhere have a more difficult time. Full Sail, they’re advised, is like a full-time job where hours vary, just as they do in the entertainment industry. Consequently, students might be in class for six to eight hours and then a lab until the wee hours.

Still, Jones says, the reality — especially these days — is that many students must hold down outside jobs to make ends meet. 

“What I tell students is that they’ll get more out of the experience the more time they’re on campus or engaged online,” he says. “But we’ve had thousands of successful students who work evenings and weekends out of necessity. That doesn’t make it impossible to do well here.” 

Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato, 53, who graduated with a recording arts degree in 1989, agrees that one way or another, students need to get acclimated to irregular and sometimes extreme hours if they’re serious about working in the entertainment industry: “This business is very much not 9 to 5. Musicians don’t like to get up early.” 

Sabolchick Pettinato, who was a full-time student, ought to know. For the past three decades, she has been a live-sound engineer for touring bands beginning with the Spin Doctors in 1992 and continuing today with Elvis Costello. She was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

Likewise, Full Sail shouldn’t be the school of choice for those who like to party hearty and are cavalier about class attendance. “There’s a lot of work you have to do, a lot of projects,” adds Joseph Wolf, 28, a simulation and visualization student from Indiana. “It requires a lot of discipline.”

The campus itself is walled in by fast-food franchises, bars, restaurants, automobile dealerships and strip malls. The buildings are uniformly two stories, sleek and heavy on reflective glass.

Full Sail offers more than 100 degree-granting programs — including several master’s degrees — in such general categories as art and design (including computer animation), business (including digital marketing and entertainment) and film and television (including digital cinematography and film production). There are also degrees related to video game design, media and communication, and such technologies as artificial intelligence, computer science, cybersecurity and simulation.

Students, about two thirds of whom are twentysomething males from out of state, tend toward quirky attire. But they exude a seriousness of purpose that’s less evident at most traditional colleges.

Full Sail, in fact, looks and feels more like a high-tech workplace than a college campus where young people idle around a student union or toss a frisbee across a picturesque greenspace. Hallways are lined with framed movie posters, album covers, shadow boxes of student work and round, portal-style windows mimicking the windows of a Douglas DC-3 airplane. 

That image of an iconic prop-driven airliner silhouetted against a full moon is Full Sail’s logo. Mastering entertainment technology is, according to the school’s website, “like being in the cockpit of a revolutionary flying machine” and learning skills required to pilot it successfully.

What passes for homecoming at Full Sail is the annual Hall of Fame week, when alumni gather to reconnect and applaud the latest inductees. Started in 2009, the hall now includes 72 members from among the 84,000-plus students who’ve graduated over the past 43 years.

Former Full Sailors have received significant credits — and a slew of major awards — for work on movies, television, video games and music recordings. Inductees include recording studio engineers, video game designers, computer animators, graphic artists and entertainment industry executives.

Qualifications for Hall of Famers include working in their field of study for at least 10 years, attaining some measure of success and being available to give back to the school through lectures, mentoring and teaching.

“We don’t ask our alumni for money at Full Sail. What we do ask for is their hearts and their time,” says Sherri Tantleff, director of alumni relations. “Sometimes it’s just a pep talk and sometimes it’s an honest talk about readjusting how you’re approaching this.”

Many Full Sail graduates can offer more than just advice. On occasion, it’s a job. Kyle Crowder, 25, a 2017 graduate and now a television assistant director, frequently audits classes. While he’s on campus, he takes note of students who seem to possess the drive, desire and talent to be successful in a highly competitive industry. 

When a job becomes available, whether it’s gig work for a day or six months, he’ll reach out to students and recent graduates. “I hire about 25 students a year,” says Crowder. “I help people get their start. If we make a connection, I’ll get you on a set.”

INVESTING IN SUCCESS

Except for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting, which produces on-air talent, Full Sail’s degree programs are concentrated in the behind-the-scenes trades of the entertainment industry: the names you see on the credits that scroll by at the end of a movie or television show or read on album liner notes.

In many ways, Full Sail — which routinely appears on prestigious ranked lists of top institutions in its various specialties — is a high-end trade school. Students, though, don’t have a problem with the description even if it makes school officials wince a little. 

Caleb Voyles graduated from a film school with a head full of theory and concepts and a degree that seemed prestigious but didn’t get him a job in the movie business. He expects a different outcome from Full Sail.

“It’s very much a trade school,” says Voyles, 27, who’s going for his master’s degree in film production. “It’s more focused on the blue-collar aspects of film and the nuts and bolts of how you do the job.”

That’s why Full Sail appeals to students who don’t view their freshman year as primarily an interlude for self-discovery. According to Jones, most had a career path in mind since they were teenagers or even younger: “They heard music on the radio, they saw a movie, they played a game. Something spoke to them inside that said, ‘This is what I want to do.’” 

Nacip Fayad, a 23-year-old student from Atlanta, fits the profile — although he did change direction several times. “My main goal when I came here was to be a musician, to make my own music and produce it,” Fayad says. “It’s something I’ve been into since sixth grade.” 

But then, just like a typical four-year college student, he switched gears. “Before I graduated, I fell in love with the engineering part of it: recording bands, recording artists,” he adds. “So, I went into the recording-arts degree.” 

Still, Fayad’s evolution continued. After graduation, he decided that what he really wanted was a master’s degree in esports. “That’s something I was more passionate about,” he says. “My mom said esports wasn’t a thing. But now that it’s growing rapidly, I can do production and I can do the business side of esports organizations.” 

For his degrees from Full Sail, Fayad paid $112,000 in tuition, $32,000 of which was covered by scholarships. Since the college has no dorms, he also paid for off-campus housing. 

Students like Fayad concede that their educations are costly — but believe that the marketable skills they learn using leading-edge technology make it a sound investment.

Tuition for Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato back in the 1980s was a comparatively modest $17,000. She paid for it then, as many do now, with student loans. What appealed to her at age 20 was the school’s concentration on exactly what she wanted to study and nothing that she wasn’t interested in. “I thought it was a great way to learn,” she says.

Sabolchick Pettinato doesn’t quibble over the fact that Full Sail is expensive — but adds that, as is often the case, you get what you pay for. “I wouldn’t have had a successful 30-year career without the education I received and the contacts I made,” she says. “It’s worth it.”

TOWN AND (HIGH-TECH) GOWN

Although Full Sail does have a Winter Park address, it’s located in the 32792 zip code, just outside the city limits — which end on the other side of State Road 436. But even if it sits outside the city’s municipal boundaries, Full Sail considers itself to be a Winter Park institution. 

“My perception of Winter Park is that they really appreciate Full Sail as a community leader,” Jones says. “I think the city really enjoys having us here because we’re another great institution like Rollins, like UCF, like Valencia.”

At first blush, Rollins — with its posh Mediterranean-style campus and liberal arts ethos and curriculum — seems more synergistic with a place dubbed the City of Culture and Heritage. But Full Sail, while catering to a quite different niche, takes every opportunity to demonstrate its unique value to the community.

In addition to advising the city on web and film projects — including the acoustics and other technical aspects of the city’s Library & Events Center — Full Sail has forged numerous partnerships with Rollins. 

One of the most visible is the staging of an annual holiday musical extravaganza called “Songs of the Season,” held at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Rollins provides the singers and players while Full Sail provides the technical support equipment and the personnel to operate it. 

In addition, students from the Rollins Department of Music have partnered with audio students from Full Sail to record classical ensemble tracks. And Full Sail’s sportscasting students provide play-by-play and sideline reporting for sporting events hosted by the Tars, who compete in NCAA Division II.

For the most part, Full Sail doesn’t even pretend to offer a traditional college experience. It isn’t a place for party animals who like to skip classes. Nor is it a place for unmoored undergraduates in search of meaning. But while there are no athletic teams, there is an esports squad — the Full Sail Armada — that competes against other colleges and has a heated rivalry in the annual “Battle of the Boulevard” against the nearby University of Central Florida.

“This kind of partnership speaks precisely to our mission, and it allows both schools to provide a complete experience for their students, as it fosters an environment where students can learn from one another,” says Grant Cornwell, president of Rollins.

Conversely, Winter Park gives Full Sail a high-end address — no offense to Dayton — known for upscale neighborhoods, a classy business district and extraordinary cultural amenities. The school’s top administrators — Phelps, Haddock, Heavener and Jones — live in Winter Park along with members of the faculty.

“What Full Sail gets from Winter Park is that it’s a lovely place to live with a great quality of life,” says Jones. “It gives students who may not have known anything about the city before they came here a sweet, hometown feel where they can become immersed for as long as they’re in school and remain in the area.”

And just as Full Sail is there for Winter Park community events — the school even has a float in Ye Olde Hometown Christmas Parade, sponsored by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce — Mayor Phil Anderson is there for the debut of Studio V1 and the 2022 Hall of Fame induction.

For the gala event, the stage at Full Sail Live, the school’s flagship venue, is set with a black lacquered piano, a couch, an easy chair and a podium center stage. Rows and rows of chairs are filled with students, faculty and family members. Fog machines and giant screens add to the glitz.

As he did at the Studio VI ribbon cutting ceremony a few days before, Anderson addresses the crowd: “I’m over in Winter Park protecting the last century,” he says. “You’re here bringing in the next century.” He then proclaims March 10, 2022, Full Sail Hall of Fame Day.

The evening begins with a sight gag: Jones onscreen pretending to be home in the belief that the induction ceremony is being held over Zoom. Informed that he’s mistaken — it’s happening right now, live on stage — he emerges from the wings dressed in a suit, tie-less and wearing an untucked dress shirt. On his feet are bunny slippers.

“Oh boy. Wow. You’re here. This is awesome,” Jones tells the 400 in attendance. “I see jealousy all over your faces for my shoes. Don’t you wish you were this comfortable?”

From comic relief to master of ceremonies, Jones works the audience just as he has throughout the week’s glitzy events. Then, adopting a serious tone, he delves into the theme of this year’s induction: time.

“So many things in this world are timely, right? Other things in this world are timeless and don’t change, like the love of God, who never changes,” he says, moving easily around the stage. “That’s the one thing that’s been a constant in my life — the simple love of God.”

Jones seamlessly shifts from preacher to cheerleader: “Here’s something else that’s timeless — the passions and dreams of our graduates and our students. They scratch and save and claw and find ways to Full Sail because of their passion to do something of their choosing.” 

Warming to the subject, he points out that all Hall of Fame inductees have had success in their careers. Regardless of achievement and acclaim, however, each member is expected to pay it forward by helping current students navigate their journeys.

Jones, a native Virginian who in the 1970s was a record producer and a touring musician, earned a degree in psychology from Virginia Tech. In addition to the school and its students, his primary passions are nature and the protection of ecosystems through sustainability initiatives. 

He’s past chair of the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which partnered with Full Sail to help create The Monarch Initiative, a program to educate the public about the importance of pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. Transfer of pollen must occur for plants to become fertilized and produce fruits, seeds and young offspring.

In a cosmic sort of way, it’s an apt cause for Jones, who, through the sheer force of his personality spreads inspiration and motivation to those who’ve invested time and treasure to pursue their dreams. 

And as for the cheerleader descriptor, Jones — who says his greatest reward is when students come to think of him as a friend — doesn’t offer an argument. But it’s more important, he says, to offer Full Sailors something worth cheering for. 

“I think students know that I genuinely care for them and their wellbeing,” he says. “The school exists to deliver the skills that students will need when they graduate. But the culture of encouragement is pervasive at Full Sail.”

Full Sail students learn game design in BlackMoor Studios (above), named in honor of the late Dave Arenson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game for which BlackMoor was the precursor. Arenson taught game design at the school for eight years beginning in 1999. Many Full Sailors have won prestigious awards, among them Gary A. Rizzo (below, center) who with Mark Weingarten and Gregg Landaker (left and right of Rizzo) won Best Sound Mixing Oscar for 2018’s Dunkirk. Rizzo, who has been nominated for five Oscars and won two, gave Full Sail a shoutout from the stage when he received his statuette.

EXPLODING WITH CREATIVITY

Meanwhile, the work goes on. And Pat Starace is positively giddy. He’s in the SIM lab — simulation and visualization — where students assemble the insides of airplane cockpits and space shuttles that simulate movement — up, down, left, right. 

One of their first assignments was to build a miniature robotic motion platform that replicates real-world movements on a greenscreen, which may appear as outer space, an airplane runway or even a racetrack.

“Nobody in the world — the universe! — is doing what we’re doing here,” exclaims Starace, 64, course director for the school’s simulation and visualization degree program. “When students are engaged, I see them explode with creativity.” 

Starace has been teaching at Full Sail for seven years. But before that, he spent more than 35 years as an artist, advertising animator and prop builder. One of his claims to fame: He was on the team that created the enduring ticking stopwatch for 60 Minutes.

What has Starace so excited is the full-scale Formula One race car replica that his students have built using 3D laser printers. The project, which is currently in development, looked good on the floor and will look even better on students’ resumés.

At Full Sail, the emphasis is on experience. Educators teaching computer animation were animators. Educators teaching music recording were musicians. Educators teaching game design were game designers. For example, the late Dave Arenson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, taught game design at the school. Following Arenson’s death in 2009, the gaming program was named BlackMoor Studios, an homage to the fantasy world created by Arenson and later incorporated into the iconic role-playing game. Not surprisingly, then, courses are rigorous and fast paced. 

“You don’t just get a grade and that’s the end of it,” says Miles Church, 29, a video game design student. “It’s treated like you’re at a company or a studio. They want you to adapt. It’s why the classes might be eight hours long. They want to mentally prepare you for the work.”

Adds Justin Rathbun, who has worked on Broadway as lead sound engineer for Hamilton and was a 2022 Hall of Fame inductee: “You’re given the keys to your career, but only the keys. You’re the one driving the bus. You need to earn the respect of your professor. It isn’t given.”

Success in the real world, however, can be elusive despite the quality of the training. Full Sail, though, can point to many students who have not only built careers but achieved recognition for excellence. At the 2022 Grammys, for example, 46 graduates were credited on 60 recordings that were nominated for awards. 

And at the 2022 Oscars, 119 graduates were credited on 29 films that were nominated for awards. (Four alumni worked on CODA, which won Best Picture.) A 1993 graduate, Gary A. Rizzo, has been nominated for five Oscars, winning two — including a 2018 nod for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing for Dunkirk. Rizzo gave Full Sail a shoutout from the podium when picking up his statuette.

Full Sail graduates have also been credited for a slew of Emmys — four received individual Emmys in 2021 — as well as Golden Globes and Game Awards. In addition, graduates have worked in concert production for the world’s top-grossing tours during 19 of the past 23 years — including excursions by Pink, Ed Sheeran, U2, Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift.

According to ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges), an accrediting agency for private post-secondary educational institutions, Full Sail’s five-year, on-campus graduation rate is 75 percent for students seeking bachelor’s degrees. About 61 percent have found employment within their fields of study, according to the most recent ACCSC analysis of the school’s performance.

Jones, in his monthly addresses to incoming classes, emphasizes that no school can guarantee a job — it can only prepare you for one. “It’s you who gets the job,” he tells newcomers.

Still, they won’t be alone. They’ll be able to rely on a caring support system as well as the joyful man behind the podium, who leavens doses of realism with equal doses of optimism and states — by all accounts sincerely — that what happens to each student truly matters to him. 

“Every time I’m reminded of that very first class,” Jones adds. “I look at those faces and see excited anticipation. They can’t wait to get started.” 

HE WAS AN ARTIST

Jon Gnagy’s weekly, prime-time series, You Are an Artist, premiered on NBC radio’s newfangled television network in the fall of 1946. The first episode established a basic format that the goateed artist stuck with for the show’s entire run, both on the network and in syndication. His daughter, Polly Seymour (below), still enjoys hearing from fans of her dad.

Jon Gnagy was a TV star before Milton Berle, before Lucille Ball, before Kukla, Fran or Ollie. At the height of Gnagy’s popularity, Manhattan bartenders handed out paper and pencils to patrons who put down their martinis to sketch along with ‘’America’s Television Art Instructor.’’

Gnagy’s weekly, prime-time series, You Are an Artist, premiered on NBC radio’s newfangled television network in the fall of 1946. The first episode established a basic format that the goateed artist (didn’t all artists have goatees?) stuck with for more than a decade.  

The camera would pan a charcoal drawing of basic geometric shapes to the strains of Strauss’s ‘’Artist’s Life.’’ Then the personable Gnagy, usually wearing a plaid shirt and shown in glorious (well, grainy) black and white, would assure viewers that they could just as easily draw a log as fall off one.

“Friends, I’m here to prove to you that you can draw your way to fame,” said Gnagy (NAY-gee), who would then sketch some archetypically American scene — haystacks beneath a full moon, wild geese in flight, boys sledding down a snow-covered slope. 

Kids at home — and more than a few adults — drew along with him as he confidently slashed a thick-tipped charcoal pencil across an oversized sheet of white paper, explaining every mark he made as he worked. In just 15 minutes, he created workmanlike images from a handful of strategically shaded geometric shapes.

Gnagy’s mantra: “Ball, cube, cylinder, cone. By using these four shapes, I can draw any picture I want. And so can you!” And Gnagy didn’t want to hear the excuse, “I can’t even draw a straight line.” Well, of course you can’t, he’d explain. Nobody can draw a straight line. That’s what rulers are used for.

Very few performers from TV’s earliest days are remembered at all. Gnagy, who died in 1981, is not only remembered — he’s beloved, respected and still marketable. To this day, Jon Gnagy “Learn to Draw” sets are sold by Martin F. Weber Co., a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of artist supplies.

The refreshingly low-tech contents still include four art pencils, three sketching chalks, a kneaded eraser, a blending stomp, a sandpaper sharpener and a laptop drawing board as well as sketch paper and Gnagy’s classic 64-page book, Learn to Draw. (There are likewise two Gnagy-branded sets for would-be painters).

And a hardcover biography, Jon Gnagy: America’s Art Teacher, was self-published this year by Charles M. Province, a California-based military veteran and the author of several books about General George S. Patton. The book combines a narrative about Gnagy’s life with appreciations from present-day artists and articles written during his lifetime by and about Gnagy.

Province is also founder of the fledgling Jon Gnagy Society, which he hopes will encourage interest in the work of the trailblazing creator and marketeer who was Bob Ross before there was a Bob Ross. “Gnagy was the first and he was the best,” says Province, who adds that he watched the artist’s show in the late 1940s. “He showed everyone how it should be done.”

An Accomplished Daughter

Of course, no one appreciates Gnagy’s importance more than Polly Gnagy Seymour, 93, a beloved Winter Parker and wife of the late Thaddeus Seymour, president of Rollins College from 1978 to 1990. The ebullient educator, a community giant both literally and figuratively, died in 2019. But Polly remains sharp, funny and engaged.  

“I felt as though I knew my father well, but of course I mainly knew him as a father,” she says. “His great days were when he was at the top of his health, his energy and his talent — he was completely committed to his television show and his vision. I was busy with my own life and I didn’t always understand that at the time.”

Being the wife of one high-profile man and the daughter of another, Polly has nonetheless built quite a legacy of her own. When the Seymours arrived at Rollins, she quietly went to work sprucing up the threadbare campus and making it a more welcoming place for visitors and students alike. 

She haunted used furniture stores to find chairs, couches and tables to adorn the neglected lounges in the residence halls. She also reorganized the food service in what was then called The Beanery, improving the ambiance, the food and the service. 

And when trustees or donors were entertained, it was Polly who usually did the cooking and serving at the couple’s modest home on Lakewood Drive. From ice cream socials for honor students to lavish dinners for VIPs, she impressed everyone with her sophisticated charm and her droll sense of humor. 

Following her husband’s retirement in 1990, Polly’s behind-the-scenes style proved just as effective in the broader community. In 1993, the Seymours helped launch Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park-Maitland, and during construction of the eight homes sponsored by the college, the former first lady provided lunch for workers every Saturday. 

She also increased her involvement with the Winter Park Library — she had previously served as president of its board of trustees and chair of its annual book sale — and conceptualized the New Leaf Bookstore (now the Polly Seymour New Leaf Bookstore), which opened its doors in 1995. Since then, the bookstore has raised more than $1.3 million to support the library.

In 1997, the Seymours were named Citizens of the Year by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. And in 2017, Polly was honored by the Florida Library Association with its Outstanding Member Award.

Gnagy's vividly colored farm landscapes reflect not only his skill as a painter but also his keen sense of graphic design, which was honed by his work as an advertising agency art director. The image of grapes (above) is, in fact, a proposed — but unused — design for a wine label. The image of corn (below) is part of a never-completed Cycle of Life series. These works were painted in the early 1950s.

Still, in the mid-1980s, she also became determined to increase the profile of her father, who had died in 1981. Her home, after all, was crammed with artwork that she had retrieved following the subsequent death of her mother, Mary Jo Hinton — a talented artist and calligrapher in her own right — who had survived Gnagy by only a year. Shouldn’t these paintings and drawings be seen? 

She had a series of four lithographs of twisted desert flora, loose-line drawings of New York’s Central Park, and a minutely detailed oil of a blacksmith’s hammer and anvil that was her father’s favorite. She had two oils, one dominated by an ear of corn, the other by a monarch butterfly, from a never-completed Cycle of Life series. 

She had soothing watercolor landscapes and an intense, pop-art like tempera painting of a potted palm. She had the palette-knife painting of a vase of flowers that her father had completed for the Federal Communications Commission to test the relative merits of CBS and RCA’s color-TV systems.

Hanging in a frame that produces an aquarium effect was a painting Gnagy created to illustrate a first-person fishing story for True magazine in 1959. A lake-bottom view of fly fishing, it shows a swarm of fish, led by a golden grouper, frenetically twisting toward Gnagy’s lures. 

Polly had nothing of her father’s earliest work and few examples of his commercial illustrations from the 1930s. Nor, regrettably, did she have much of the work for which he is best known: the TV sketches. She said her father was generous to a fault — he usually gave away the drawings he did on camera to fans or studio hands.

Each piece — some 200 individual works, plus prints — was named and described by size and condition in preparation for an exhibition, The World of John Gnagy, at the Maitland Art Center. ‘’I feel that I owe this to my father,” Polly said at the time. “I really think he was good, and I think he was a fascinating man at a fascinating time.”

In a 1986 promotional video made about the exhibition, Polly strolls through the art center’s studios and affectionately describes the variety of works on display, from finely wrought scratchboard images of fish to lonely but vivid farm landscapes.

There’s also a strange oil painting of Louis Armstrong, who had recently died, playing his trumpet in heaven — a work Polly describes as “indicating my father’s particular interest in the psychosymbolic.”

Then she points out her personal favorite — a work she still owns. It’s a small oil painting, the prototype of a wine label that her father had designed, which shows lustrous grapes in the foreground, green vineyards fading into a horizon, the brilliant blue twilight embracing a mystically pale moon. 

James “Gerry” Shepp, then the museum’s executive director, also appears on camera and marvels at the number of exhibition visitors who retain fond memories of watching Gnagy on TV and learning to draw from him. “People come in and say, ‘Wow! John Gnagy! I remember seeing him every Saturday morning,” says Shepp. “It makes you realize what a small world it is.” 

The works in The World of Jon Gnagy spanned some 40 years and amply demonstrated that Gnagy was amazingly versatile. And for Polly, the project and the response to it was something of a revelation.

“One of the things I discovered was that a lot of people knew about my father, but they didn’t know he was my father, so in some ways it gave me a new identity in the community,” she now says. “I sold one painting, which more or less covered the cost of mounting the show. That, really, was more than I had ever hoped for.”

Gnagy’s palette-knife painting of a vase of flowers was used by the Federal Communications Commission to test the relative merits of CBS and RCA’s color-TV systems.

A Television Pioneer

Gnagy was born into a strict, righteous farming family in 1907. His trademark Vandyke beard was no arty, beatnik affectation but rather a gesture of respect for his Mennonite upbringing in Pretty Prairie, Kansas.

His parents, especially his father, an expert cabinetmaker, encouraged young Jon’s yen to draw and paint as long as he rendered barns and corn shocks and windswept prairie landscapes — images he later would share with millions of pupils. 

Portraits were another matter — at portraits, his folks drew the line. Their Mennonite beliefs held that portraits were graven images, a form of idolatry. Wildlife and rustic scenes dominate Gnagy’s TV sketches and his fine-art works; people’s faces are rare.

At least, that’s how Gnagy told it. While the family was Mennonite, Polly’s daughter Liz Seymour, a writer who has researched the artist’s life, says that the Gnagys practiced a more worldly version of their religion and that her grandfather, who knew how to spin a compelling yarn, may have exaggerated their piety by engaging in “myth making.”

In any case, Gnagy left the farm at age 17 to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the following year he became an artist — and, after just a year, the art director — at an advertising agency. He also met and married a talented young apprentice, Mary Jo, forming a union that would last for more than a half-century. 

The couple then moved to Wichita, Kansas, and then to Kansas City, Kansas, where Gnagy continued to work in advertising. He also enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute’s commercial art program, where he clashed with an instructor who criticized his self-taught methods but enjoyed the creative energy he absorbed from other students.

Gnagy never graduated, however. Instead, in 1931, he sent Mary Jo and their daughter Polly to live with Mary Jo’s family in Texas while he struck out for New York City to seek his fortune. The Depression was at its height, but so was Gnagy’s confidence. Before his $24 stake ran out, he finessed a freelance assignment from Alcoa for full-page ads that ran in the Saturday Evening Post and Fortune. 

Soon, Gnagy brought his wife and daughter to New York — to a small apartment in Pelham, near New Rochelle — where they bore a son, Steven (who died in 1997). But at a time when more than one-third of adults were unemployed, Gnagy soon found that his early freelance successes weren’t a harbinger of prosperity. 

Unable to afford Gnagy’s commutes into Manhattan, the family moved to more economical quarters above a steam laundry in Flushing, Long Island. But there was no work to be found and the hustling that it took to make ends meet took its toll. In 1937, Gnagy suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for seven months.

The diagnosis was “dementia praecox,” a catch-all phrase then used to describe severe mental illness — including what medical science now recognizes as schizophrenia — and treated with electroshock therapy. 

Yet, despite the crude medical regimen, Gnagy recovered and was released. Most likely, then, he had experienced an episode of severe anxiety or perhaps manic depression that had resolved itself over time.

Shortly thereafter, Gnagy managed to land an art director position at an ad agency in Philadelphia. He did well enough to buy a home in sophisticated New Hope, a culture-rich haven for artists and intellectuals about 30 miles north of the City of Brotherly Love.

During his daily round trip into the city via a commuter train, Gnagy later wrote, he read books about art, theater and philosophy “in an effort to obtain the requisite know-how and to find if I could that elusive, intangible key to the aesthetics I sought.”

Gnagy also started a small school and gradually perfected his teaching methods. Like Paul Cézanne, one of his inspirations, Gnagy emphasized the basic shapes — ball, cube, cylinder, cone — and incorporated them into a simple, easy-to-follow teaching technique.

‘’The classes were very successful,’’ Polly says. ‘’As soon as he realized he could teach, he also realized there would soon be a wider medium available in which he could do the same thing.’’

The medium was television, a demonstration of which had captured Gnagy’s fancy at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. America’s entry into World War II, coincidentally, allowed him to hone the skills he would need to succeed on the small screen.

During the war, Gnagy taught camouflage techniques for the U.S. Army as an art director for the War Services Committee, which was responsible for posters displayed in production plants. Through the development and delivery of training sessions, he became a polished audiovisual educator.

After the war Gnagy hit the lecture circuit, where he practiced drawing demonstrations in front of student groups and club luncheons. He also lectured on such subjects as “The Science of Color and Harmony” and “The Psychology of Color Vision.” 

When NBC finally got around to erecting a 61-foot television broadcasting antenna atop the Empire State Building in May 1946, Gnagy was ready. “It was one of those wonderful combinations of the right person at the right place at the right time with the right characteristics,’’ says Polly. 

Gnagy’s first TV appearance, a segment of a variety show called Radio City Matinee, earned him congratulations from NBC founder David Sarnoff and Vladimir Zworykin, the inventor of the television camera and the picture tube. 

The comment Gnagy treasured most that historic day came from Warren Wade, the pioneering show’s production manager. “Jon, you were great,’’ Wade said. Then, coining a phrase that has become a cliche, he added, ‘’Your show is pure television.’’ 

In addition to Gnagy, Radio City Matinee included a comedian, a gossip commentator and a chef who presented the first-ever televised cooking demonstration — the progeny of which can be viewed, almost constantly, 70 years later. The show was seen by only about 200 TV viewers who lived within a 60-mile radius of the studio — but it was a start.

Three years later, there were roughly 11 million TV sets across the country and nearly all of them, at some point, had tuned in to Gnagy’s 15-minute stand-alone program, You Are an Artist, which aired at 11:45 a.m. on Sundays. Many viewers, at Gnagy’s urging, had sent the network their own creations for him to critique.

The critics, in that simpler time, were kind. Gnagy’s “thoroughly engaging set-side manner” was praised by The New York Times, while the host’s low-key charisma and the show’s “air of authenticity” was lauded by TV Guide.

Kudos notwithstanding, NBC canceled You Are An Artist in 1949 and replaced it with The Mohawk Showroom, sponsored by the Mohawk Carpet Company and hosted by singer and bandleader Morton Downey — whose son would gain fame in the 1980s for his lowbrow televised screamfest. 

Gnagy, however, became even more visible without network affiliation. He and William Einhorn — advertising manager of Arthur Brown & Company, a now-defunct New York City-based art-supply distributor — co-produced a new show, Learn to Draw, which soon blanketed the country via syndication and cemented Gnagy’s celebrity.

Learn to Draw, which cost about $450 per episode to produce, was offered to individual stations free of charge. But Gnagy — who might rightly be credited with creating the first infomercials — was able to promote the sale of his drawing kits to some 60 million households every week.

“Remember folks,” Gnagy would say, “you can buy my books and kits at any quality art supply store near you.” At least 15 million kits had been sold by the mid-1980s. 

“Not only did Jon invent the technique of televised art instruction, but he also invented the art of direct television marketing strategies,” says Province, the artist’s biographer. “He was not just a great artist, nor was he just a great art teacher. He was an advertising genius.”

As always, when a creator — regardless of the genre — becomes broadly popular, certain circles in academia protest that anyone so beloved by the great unwashed must be some sort of hack. That was the case with Gnagy in 1951, when members of the Museum of Modern Art’s committee on art education sent a critical letter to The New York Times.

They wrote: “The use of superficial tricks and formulas found in the Jon Gnagy type of program is destructive to the creative and mental growth of children and they perpetuate outmoded and authoritarian concepts of education.” 

Instead of following rigid guidelines, the educators contended, a child should be encouraged to “use his or her own experience, and to explore new media and techniques.”

When he ceased taping his TV show, Gnagy retreated permanently to Southern California, where he had set up a studio at Idyllwild, in the heart of the San Jacinto Mountains. There he painted — for the sheer pleasure it brought him — and offered art lessons at an adjacent café because he still loved to teach. This image is from the early 1960s.

Gnagy’s response was muted. He defended his methods, saying that the idea of art being based on a handful of geometric shapes could be credited to Cézanne and other post-impressionists. As a practical matter, he added: “If someone will subsidize me for 15 minutes a week on television, I’ll be glad to teach sheer imagination. But there just aren’t enough people interested in such a show to make it financially feasible.” 

Although Learn to Draw ceased production in 1960, previously taped episodes remained in syndication until 1971. By then, half-hours were the smallest increment a station would run, and Gnagy’s show remained black-and-white after color TV had become ubiquitous.

Off and on for the rest of his life, Polly says, her father ‘’tried to perfect a technique that would permit him to do a half-hour show in color in a way that other people could follow with an acceptable result. And he never really got back into television.’’

Gnagy, in the meantime, had long since retreated permanently to Southern California, where he had set up a studio at Idyllwild, in the heart of the San Jacinto Mountains. There he painted — for the sheer pleasure it brought him — and offered art lessons at an adjacent café because he still loved to teach.

Liz, the eldest grandchild who now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, remembers visiting Idyllwild as a girl and noting that her grandfather’s boots were almost entirely pink. Gnagy, it seems, had been pouring out pink paint and stomping the color-soaked surface as an artistic experiment of some sort. “Not everybody’s grandfather did things like that,” Liz notes.

Gnagy also spent considerable time fishing — his favorite pastime, next to drawing and painting — and accepted some professional commissions, including as an illustrator and editorial contributor to fishing magazines and other outdoors-oriented periodicals. He died of heart failure, at age 74, in 1981.

A Lasting Legacy 

Gnagy’s legacy has continued through those who’ve had successful — even legendary — careers in art as well as through hobbyists who draw and paint only for relaxation.

The drawing kits don’t sell as well as they used to, but Polly say she still hears from fans. “I get emails a couple of times a year from people who remember my father and credit him with encouraging them to make art,” she says.

And she’s still learning new things about her father. The Province biography, for instance, included some of the illustrations Gnagy did for his high school yearbook in Hutchinson. “I had never seen them before,” she says. “They’re very good.”

Gnagy inspired future artists as diverse as Andy Warhol and former Orlando Sentinel cartoonist Jake Vest. Warhol once declared that Gnagy “taught me to draw. I watched his show every Saturday morning and I bought all his books.” Vest, now a teacher in Lake County, says Gnagy “is the reason I’m drawing trucks instead of drivin’ ’em. I didn’t know I could draw until he told me I could.’’

Two California artists, Mike Bennett and Henry Balzer, credit Gnagy’s influence for their careers and contributed chapters to Province’s book. Bennett, in fact, painted the cover in Gnagy’s style. 

Polly, who now lives in Westminster Towers, certainly did her part to keep Gnagy’s name in the pop-culture consciousness. “I’m not really involved in promoting my father now,” she says. “I do enjoy hearing from people who say how much his show and his kits meant to them. Mostly I’m just passing along the artwork that I have to family and friends.”

Somehow, one expects that Jon Gnagy — who gave away much of his work to fans — would approve of that approach.

To learn more about Jon Gnagy, read Jon Gnagy: America’s Art Teacher, by Charles M. Province. (The cover features a painting of Gnagy by Mike Bennett, who rendered it in Gnagy’s style.) The 430-page book, a thorough biography filled with illustrations as well as tributes to Gnagy by other artists, can be ordered from booksellers such as Amazon or by visiting Province’s website, pattonhq.com. To find out more about the Jon Gnagy Society, visit pattonhq.com/gnagy.html.

WILDCATS TO WATCH

Photography by Julie Fletcher

Every generation seems hopeful that the next generation will manage to create a more just and caring society and will solve all the problems that we — and the generations before us — have left unsolved or made worse. That’s why recently, Winter Park Magazine asked administrators and teachers at Winter Park High School to identify some “Wildcats to Watch.” We didn’t necessarily want the star athlete or the valedictorian — although either would have been fine. We just wanted a diverse sampling of students who were talented, engaged, positive, hardworking and a joy to teach. There were many more submissions than we had space to recognize. So the six students in this sampling, while impressive, are far from the only Wildcats to Watch. Winter Park High School, as it has always been, is packed with outstanding (and sometimes quirky) kids of the sort who’ll ensure that the world will, someday, be a better place. Most of the students profiled were seniors at press time and will have just graduated when this issue of Winter Park Magazine publishes.

Mya Bell

Class of 2022

Mya Bell was the outreach officer for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance chapter (called Prisms) as well as a member of the band and orchestra (she played clarinet), the National Math Honor Society and the National Science Honor Society. In the community, Mya was a STEM tutor at Brookshire Elementary School and a needs-drive coordinator for the Zebra Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides social services for LGBTQ+ youth in Central Florida. A dancer, Mya was also an ambassador for Travel Tutus, a Kissimmee-based nonprofit that provides dancewear and accessories to underserved children. If all that weren’t enough, she’s also a multimedia artist who makes jewelry. Mya says she plans to earn a Ph.D. and to pursue a STEM career. Whatever she does, she’ll always strive to “educate people and further equal rights for those who are treated as ‘lesser than’ because of their identities.” Her nominating teacher described her as “a brilliant young woman [with] a big heart.” This fall, she’s off to the University of Florida, where she’ll major in chemistry.

May Dao

Class of 2023

An artist, a writer and a musician, there isn’t much that May Dao doesn’t do well. She paints beautifully — often vividly colored self-portraits — and plays viola in the school’s orchestra. She’s also a member of the Creative Writing Club, but says she foresees a career as an art director for films. “I want to create experiences that give the audience something to take away,” says May. “My favorite films are the kind that change me.” May adds that she admires anyone who makes a living from their artistic pursuits: “They remind me that my goals are never out of reach, as intimidating as they may be.” At least they aren’t out of reach for May, says her nominating teacher: “This student is going places. Her thought process, ideas and interpretation of the world around her are like none I’ve ever seen.” In 2021, as a cut-paper artist, May won first place in the student division, mixed media category, at the Maitland Rotary Art Festival. 

Ethan Garrepy

Class of 2022

Ethan Garrepy was “the top student in the performing arts department,” says his nominating teacher. He sang in all the school’s choirs — including Naughty Scotty, the super-selective men’s a cappella group — and his makeup designs for Rocky Horror Picture Show won first place at the 2021 District V Thespian Festival. Last Halloween, he created an immersive haunted house experience and an accompanying film festival (that featured one of his own films, a slickly produced short horror spoof entitled The Wildcat Killer) while simultaneously performing a lead role in Damn Yankees. Ethan — whose passion is LGBTQ+ rights — has been nominated for three Applause Awards, presented by Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. He was also an intern for Central Florida Vocal Arts, a nonprofit music advocacy organization and sister organization to Opera del Sol. “Ethan is fun and charming and humble but he knows what he wants,” adds his nominating teacher. “That’s a great combination for a youngster with a very bright future.” This fall, he’s off to the University of Florida, where he’ll major in musical theater.

Rylee Perrault

Class of 2022

You may have seen Rylee Perrault on stage in a Central Florida Community Arts production. In fact, she describes Leah Porrata, senior director of education and youth programs at CFCArts, as her role model: “I admire her drive to positively impact the lives of everyone around her.” Rylee was also a member of Beta Club (for which she organized a schoolwide blood drive), the Thespian Honor Society and the National Honor Society. And she was part of the Park Singers, the school’s elite vocal jazz ensemble, as well as a volunteer for Army of Angels, where she has done everything from bagging rice to packing boxes and making deliveries. She graduated with 51 credits (24 are required) and says she might like to become a physician’s assistant — but adds that whatever career she chooses, “I’ll be having fun and helping people.” Says her nominating teacher: “Rylee is an awesome part of our school and I think she deserves recognition for her work around campus.” This fall, she’s off to the University of Florida, where she’ll major in biological sciences.

Grace Peters

Class of 2022

Grace Peters, in addition to playing on the school’s varsity lacrosse team, maintained a 4.0 grade point average and participated in almost too many extracurricular activities to list. But we’ll try. She was a representative on the Student Government Association in addition to being a member of Beta Club, the Psychology Club, the UNICEF Club, the Sports Analytics Club, Women in STEM and, not unexpectedly, the National Honor Society. She has also been a volunteer with Special Olympics Florida and headed a holiday food drive for Army of Angels, an Orlando-based nonprofit that gathers and delivers necessities to students and their families who are undergoing hardships. During the pandemic, she started her own nonprofit, Students Supporting Senior Citizens, for which Grace and her team of volunteers delivered cards and flower arrangements to senior care facilities. She has also been a greeter at the Winter Park History Museum and is a graduate of the Youth Leaders program of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. This fall, she’s off to the University of Florida, where she’ll major in business.

Thanapa (Tammy) Premchan

Class of 2022

Tammy Premchan, who was president of the school’s Asian American Association, is an aspiring film director who hopes to use the medium to promote social justice causes. “I love the idea of producing an entertaining project and at the same time advocating for things that I believe in, she says. In fact, she’s already doing just that. Last year, Tammy and her friend Katie Smith took second place in C-SPAN’s annual StudentCam competition for a short documentary, Assembly Required: The Building Blocks of Our Future, about getting young people involved in the political process. Tammy most admires her mentor, Michele Washington Gerber, who teaches video film production at the school: “She taught me life lessons every day. And since we’re both women of color in the film business, her life experiences are valuable for me.” Tammy  was also a member of Beta Club, the Principal’s Advisory Council, the Math Honor Society and the National Honor Society. Plus she’s a classically trained violinist and plays guitar for relaxation. This fall, she’s off to the University of Southern California where she’ll major in film studies.

 

THE INFLUENTIALS 2022

It’s time again to recognize Winter Park Magazine’s Most Influential People. The program, in its seventh year, recognizes those who — sometimes quietly — make a difference through their professions, their volunteerism, their philanthropy, their talents or their community engagement. The selectees are presented in the summer issue and celebrated at a big event at the Alfond Inn, which was canceled the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is tentatively scheduled for September 23 at the Alfond Inn and will celebrate the Classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. On the following pages, please meet the Class of 2022 — which is every bit as deep and impressive as previous classes and, as always, includes some people you may not know as well as some longtime community icons. They come from all walks of life but share a love for Winter Park — and a desire to keep it as special as the founding visionaries intended.

INFLUENTIALS FROM 2015-2021

Sir David Adjaye, Roy Alan and Heather Alexander, Phil Anderson, Richard O. “Rick” Baldwin, Jim Barnes, Dan Bellows, Sabrina Bernat, Justin Birmele, Anna Bond, Rita Bornstein, Jill Hamilton Buss, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Lauren Bradley, Daniel Butts, Michael Carolan, Sid Cash, Charles Clayton III, Billy Collins, Grant and Peg Cornwell, Linda Costa, Julian Chambliss, Patrick Chapin, Judy Charuhas, Carolyn Cooper, Chris Cortez, Deborah Crown, Jere F. Daniels Jr., Mary Daniels, Robynn Demar, Mary Demetree, Tom Dyer, Betsy Gardner Eckbert, Jeff Eisenbarth, Dykes Everett, Andrea Massey-Farrell, Carolyn Fennell, Bill Finfrock, Allen Finfrock, Meg Fitzgerald, Sue Foreman, Scot and Christine Madrid French, Shawn Garvey, Christy Grieger, Hal George, John Gill, Alan Ginsburg, Steve Goldman, Sarah Grafton, Elizabeth “Betsy” Gwinn, Ralph V. “Terry” Hadley III, Jane Hames, Larry Hames, Frank Hamner, Ena Heller, Debra Hendrickson, Catherine Hinman, Eric and Diane Holm, Herb Holm (deceased), Charlene Hotaling, Jon and Betsy Hughes, Katrina Jenkins, Susan Johnson, Gary I. and Isis Jones, Phil Kean, Allan Keen, Linda Keen, Tom Klusman, Randy Knight, Debbie Komanski, Steve Kramer, Linda Kulmann, Cindy Bowman LaFronz, Jack C. Lane, Whitney Laney, Steve Leary, Fairolyn Livingston, Chevalier Lovett, John (deceased) and Rita Lowndes, Lawrence Lyman, Lambrine Macejewski, Paula Madsen, Robert Mandell, Ted Maines and Jeffrey Miller, Jesse Martinez, Brandon McGlammery, Deirdre Macnab, Genean Hawkins McKinnon, Gus and Kristi Malzahn, Joanne McMahon, Micki Meyer, Johnny Miller, Anne Mooney, Ronnie Moore, Patty Maddox, Alex Martins, Marc Middleton, Kristine Miller, Elizabeth Tiedtke Mukherjee, Stephanie Murphy, Tony and Sonja Nicholson, David Odahowski, Betsy Rogers Owens, James and Julie Petrakis, Jim and Alexis Pugh, Jana Ricci, John Rife, John Rivers, Randall B. Robertson, Laurence J. “Larry” Ruggiero, Jason Seeley, Greg Seidel, Peter Schreyer, Polly Seymour, Thaddeus Seymour (deceased), Shawn Shaffer, Jason Siegel, John and Gail Sinclair, Greg Spencer, Sarah Sprinkel, Susan Skolfield, Sam Stark, Chuck and Margery Pabst Steinmetz, Bronce Stephenson, Bruce Stephenson, Dori Stone, Richard Strauss, Julie von Weller, Matthew Swope, Paul Twyford, Bill Walker, Fr. Richard Walsh, Jennifer Wandersleben, Harold A. Ward III, Debbie Watson, Todd Weaver, Bill Weir, Chip Weston, Pete Weldon, Cynthia Wood and Becky Wilson.


Photography by Carlos Amoedo

Boris Garbe

Owner, Mills Gallery

THE ARTS AGITATOR

The arts community is, naturally, crowded with creative characters. But among the most intriguing is Boris Garbe, 56, a colorful iconoclast who is neither an artist nor a musician. The native of Berlin, Germany — a Winter Park resident and founder of Mills Gallery in the Mills 50 neighborhood — is instead an innovative advocate whose outside-the-box approach helps attract new audiences for individual artists and arts organizations such as the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, which heartily endorses his irreverent podcast, Tenor and Toneless. Co-hosted by Garbe and Peruvian-born operatic tenor Rafael Cavero, Tenor and Toneless is hilarious — and at the same time educational — thanks in large part to Garbe’s almost total lack of interest in classical music and his off-the-wall interviews with musicians and executives from OPO. (“What the hell is a viola?” he asked Mauricio Céspedes Rivero, OPO’s principal violist and the show’s first guest.) A new podcast, due out later this summer, is Art AF, which features artists and connects them with civic leaders and decision makers. Garbe had previously co-hosted several arts-related podcasts with Marla E (that’s her legal name), a painter, sculptor and instructor, and had produced a podcast with a young musician named Chris Fioravantti, who interviewed guests ranging from artists to elected officials. The Experience with Chris Fio had been voted one of the top podcasts in Central Florida by readers of Orlando Weekly before the host was tragically killed in a motorcycling accident last summer. Garbe, a former teacher of Spanish and sign language, has also produced a compelling short autobiographical film, Spit, Glitter and Glue, which was screened locally in 2020 at FusionFest and the Global Peace Film Festival. And he plans to use footage of his many conversations with renowned 98-year-old abstract expressionist painter Harold Garde to create a video series called Harold Garde Unfiltered. “That one is going to go national,” he says. But Garbe’s primary job is as a gallerist. “I don’t particularly like art,” he says. “But I do like artists.” The mission of Mills Gallery is to attract younger visitors and to provide an inclusive showcase where gender equity is among the guiding principles. “I’m an optimist and a realist,” adds Garbe. “I love the art world, but I see the problems that many people do not want to engage with.” 

THE BOTTOM LINE:

For the arts to attract new audiences, it will need to speak to young people who haven’t been to a gallery, a play or an orchestral concert. Unconventional thinkers like Garbe, who aren’t tethered to tradition, can get the attention of a generation whose cultural lives have previously involved only their smartphones.

Clarissa Howard

Director of Communication, City of Winter Park

THE RELIABLE SOURCE

Clarissa Explains it All was an early ’90s sitcom on Nickelodeon in which a young woman, played by Melissa Joan Hart, directly addressed viewers to discuss mostly coming-of-age issues. Winter Park has its own version of the fictional Clarissa — you know her as Clarissa Howard — whose job is explaining it all to reporters and taxpayers who ask questions about everything from city services to ad valorem taxes to “attack squirrels” running rampant in Central Park. (This really happened in 2006.) As director of communication, Howard, 48, runs the city’s multipronged informational outreach program, which includes newsletters (online and in print), social media platforms and even a Vimeo channel. “I always say I have the best job in the city because I’m able to share all the great news about Winter Park,” says Howard, who also has a reputation among media members as being responsive and forthright when they’re reporting a story that needs context or clarification. With a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in communication from the University of Central Florida, Howard began her career as an event manager at the City of Orlando. In 2003, however, she snapped up an opening as communications director in Winter Park. Among her first tasks, in early 2004, was to spearhead a municipal rebranding effort that saw “The City of Homes” become “The City of Culture and Heritage,” with a new city seal featuring the now-iconic peacock. Just a few months later, her crisis communications skills were brought to bear when hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne pummeled the region in rapid succession. There have been plenty of local controversies during the ensuing 19 years, but Howard, who considers her role to be that of an impartial disseminator of facts, diligently keeps her opinions to herself. Her department also runs several high-profile public events, such as the city’s 4th of July and Veteran’s Day commemorations. Howard is a graduate of Leadership Winter Park, a program of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, and was named Winter Park Champion of the Year by the chamber in 2012.  She and her husband, Jason, have three children: Luke, 13; Jakob, 15 and Cassidy, 17. We don’t know if Howard is a daydream believer, but she really was a homecoming queen — at Dr. Phillips High School.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

In a city where everyone is interested in what’s going on at City Hall, Howard is an accessible fount of facts who loves sharing good news but finds answers to tough questions as well. She says: “I try my best to always be optimistic, honest and sincere, which makes me a credible and trustworthy source.”

Marni Jameson

Author and Nationally Syndicated Columnist

THE PEOPLES’ PUNDIT

Marni Jameson was such a chatterbox in kindergarten that her teacher put tape on her mouth. “She wanted to know why I talked so much,” says grown-up Marni, who vividly recalls her answer: “I have so many important things to say!” By age 8, she was saying them in a purple diary with purple ink. Today she says them in a column, “At Home with Marni Jameson,” syndicated to than 20-plus newspapers (including The Orlando Sentinel) that reach 5 million readers. She’s author of six bestselling books on home design, decor and downsizing with such titles as House of Havoc: How to Make and Keep a Beautiful Home Despite Cheap Husbands, Messy Kids and Other Difficult Roommates. The title reflects a breezy, self-deprecating humor that makes her writing enjoyable even for those with zero interest in home design. Jameson’s husband, attorney Doug Carey, goes by “DC” in her column and serves as her comic foil, playing nonplussed Dagwood to her eye-rolling Blondie. In college she majored in magazine journalism because, she says, “I wanted my work to look pretty.” Freelancing in Southern California, where she grew up, Jameson was asked to write a home-design column. She agreed, but only if it was honest and tackled such real-world issues as “how projects take three times longer than you expect, the costs double, the contractors disappear for weeks on end and you’re not speaking to your spouse when it’s over.” Jameson recalls leafing through glossy home magazines wondering, “How do people get to live like this? I didn’t know how to pick out a sofa. I’m still just the girl next door trying to figure it out.” In 2011, she left behind a “marriage on the rocks” and moved to Orlando to cover health and medicine for the Sentinel — winning several statewide journalism awards in the process — while continuing her column and running a nonprofit dedicated to lowering the cost of healthcare. Jameson and DC, now proud Winter Parkers, share a blended family of five grown children, five grandchildren and “three unruly dogs.” Jameson is puckishly coy about her age. “I am past the half-century mark, or on the back nine, as I like to say.” At heart, though, she’ll always be the irrepressible chatterbox with a purple pen and important things to say.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Jameson takes a topic that invites pretention and makes it fun and relevant for everyday folks. She says: “When I was much younger, I used to go into bookstores and say to myself, ‘I want to have a book on these shelves.’ Today I have six books in print and in stores, and a seventh in the works. Maybe I should have aimed higher.”

Christopher Jaskiewicz

President and CEO, ICON Park

THE I-DRIVE EMISSARY

Christopher Jaskiewicz, president and CEO of ICON Park on International Drive, was truly a child of the regional tourism industry. His father, David Jaskiewicz, spent 35 years at Walt Disney World and retired as vice president of human resources. As a student at Bishop Moore High School, the younger Jaskiewicz held an array of jobs in hospitality and was impressed by the customer-service standards of Disney as well as the creative spirit of such fondly remembered local attractions as Mystery Fun House, Pleasure Island and, especially, Bob Snow’s Church Street Station complex in downtown Orlando. Jaskiewicz, now 54 and a resident of Winter Park, later majored in communications at Florida State University and earned a law degree from St. John’s University. After that, the Denver, Colorado, native practiced entertainment law and became in-house counsel for the Gotham Organization, which specialized in upscale residential and mixed-use retail development in New York City. Eager to return to Central Florida, Jaskiewicz accepted the job at ICON Park in 2018 and quickly began to rebrand the attraction, which encompasses some 20 acres owned by Orlando-based Unicorp. On the property there are nearly 50 themed restaurants (including brands by Gordon Ramsey and Blake Shelton) and such draws as Madame Tussauds Orlando, the Museum of Illusions Orlando, the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium and the iconic, 400-foot-tall Wheel at ICON Park. When the pandemic struck and attractions were shuttered, Jaskiewicz not only led the charge to reopen quickly (and safely) but also pulled neighboring attractions together to form the Orlando Entertainment District and began marketing to locals. ICON Park, in fact, was the first attraction in the region to welcome guests back — on June 3, 2020 — and instantly posted strong attendance numbers. Jaskiewicz — who with his wife, Christine, have three school-aged children — was subsequently named one of Orlando Business Journal’s CEOs of the Year and one of Orlando Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful People, among other recognitions. But there were more challenges to come. At press time, a St. Louis teen, Tyre Sampson, was tragically killed when he was flung from the Orlando Freefall, owned and operated by the California-based Slingshot Group. While that ride is closed pending a final investigation, ICON Park has demanded that the Slingshot Group suspend operation of its other ride on the property, Orlando Slingshot.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Jaskiewicz loves the quiet charms of Winter Park — after all, he and his family could have chosen to live anywhere — but reminds us that “part of the fun of living in Winer Park is it’s easy to access quality entertainment districts” that are nearby — such as ICON Park.

Mark Leggett

President and CEO, Arthur’s Catering and Events

THE MEMORY MAKER

As a young man, Mark Leggett channeled his knack for numbers into a marketing degree from the University of Central Florida. But Leggett, president and CEO of Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering, had no interest in being stuck behind a desk. Leggett loved people — and food. He got a job in catering (as a busboy) while in college and never stopped. He had a gift, it seemed, for hospitality. “I think catering chose me” he says. “One of those God things.” Leggett, 58, cofounded Arthur’s in 1989 with Lisa Grant, now retired. “Arthur” is Leggett’s middle name — but it was also the given name of his father, a construction salesperson who died when Leggett was just 10. Because Leggett’s roots run so deep in Winter Park — and his company’s presence is so ubiquitous locally — many are surprised to learn that the business is, in fact, headquartered in Altamonte Springs. The youngest of three children, Leggett was born at Winter Park Memorial Hospital (now AdventHealth Winter Park), where his mother was the lead obstetrics nurse, and graduated from Winter Park High School. He and his wife, Courtney, once high-school classmates, have a son, Coleman, 28, and a daughter, Mary Page, 26. Leggett’s company survived the pandemic — when business abruptly plummeted by 90 percent — by delivering family-style meals to homes. Today, however, Arthur’s is once again “the life of the party” (which also happens to be the company’s slogan). By the numbers, it’s the second-largest caterer in Orlando, generating $7 million-plus annually and employing more than 250 people. This year it will produce 1,400 events — about 400 of which will be in Winter Park. Parties may be Arthur’s bread and butter, but for Leggett community service “is the foundation for everything we do.” Arthur’s — which offers in-kind support to nearly 30 local civic and charitable organizations — has also won numerous “best caterer” awards and was cited by the Orlando Business Journal as one of the region’s best places to work. Leggett, who still personally works events catered by his company, says he’s having fun. “It’s a lot of moving parts,” he says. “Our team is an orchestra. Running it is like being conductor of the philharmonic.”

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Leggett is a business leader with a social conscience shaped by his faith: Says Leggett: “I came to realize and understand early on in our business that servant leadership embodies who we are as leaders and how we empower our team members. I believe that when you put the needs of others first, you empower your team members to perform at their very best.”

LaShanda Lovette

Executive Director, Winter Park Housing Authority

THE HOME MAKER

Growing up in Marianna, Florida — a city of 6,000 people near the Alabama border — LaShanda Lovette had a dream: to leave. She recalls: “I told my parents that when I turned 18 that I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more.” She found her way to the University of Central Florida, where she majored in entrepreneurship and computer science, and later made history as the first African American executive director of the Winter Park Housing Authority, which was founded in 1970. “I was just a little Black girl from Nowhere, Florida,” she says. “To have the opportunity to do what I’m doing — it’s huge.” And it’s important, too, placing people of limited means in safe, sanitary, nondiscriminatory housing that they can afford. Lovette, 45, was deputy director of the Seminole County Housing Authority for 11 years before taking the local post in 2019. She had worked in banking for six years but kept feeling the pull of public service. “In Marianna there was this project — that’s what we called it, ‘the project’ — that embodied all the stereotypes associated with public housing. We didn’t live there. But I always said that if I ever got the chance to tear it down and rebuild it, I would.” That dilapidated Marianna complex was razed and rebuilt before Lovette could get to it — but she’s fulfilling her vow by helping people in Winter Park. The authority oversees 119 public-housing units, which receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and 586 “affordable-rent” apartments, which receive only rent revenue. Rent, however, is never enough to cover the full cost of maintaining the buildings, so Lovette is constantly scrambling for grants. In a way, she’s like the mayor of a small town with 1,200 constituents who live in authority-controlled housing. “Part of the job is building relationships,” she says. “I like talking to people informally, getting to know the kids, the aunties, the grandmas, the whole extended family.” Lovette and her husband, Michael, have two sons. Once when asked for a word that described his wife, he said “humanitarian.” She had never thought of herself that way: “I was not taught to look at myself like I really mattered. I was taught to take care of others.” 

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Lovette is passionate about her work — which is reflected by a slew of community-service awards — and is committed to helping the city embrace its diversity. Her work is more important than ever — especially in Winter Park — as decent housing has become exponentially less affordable.

Jack Rogers

Retired Architect 

THE PARKS PROMOTER

When Jack Rogers was 13, he and his 15-year-old brother Gamble (later of folksinger fame) took a 2.5-mile canoe trip up Howell Creek (then referred to as Snake Run) from Lake Osceola to Lake Howell. Rogers, 82, never forgot the primal beauty of the forests and wetlands that flanked the creek. The impression made by that long-ago adventure explains, at least in part, why the native Winter Parker remains passionate about preservation. “We’ve never had an opportunity like we have today to create more greenspace,” says Rogers, who’s chair of the planning and acquisitions committee of the Winter Park Land Trust. The courtly retired architect — whose other pursuits include carpentry, boat building and maintenance of his family’s circa-1860s timber-and-peg cottage in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains — is the son of another architect, James Gamble Rogers II, whose elegant homes, about half of which still stand, have long defined Winter Park’s neo-Mediterranean ambiance. Jack Rogers, in fact, was a leader in saving one of his father’s most significant residential projects, Casa Feliz, from the wrecking ball. Rogers was a founding member of Friends of Casa Feliz, a nonprofit that raised funds to move and renovate the Spanish farmhouse-style structure — which reopened as a civic space in 2004. While guitar-picking Gamble worked briefly in his father’s practice, it was his younger brother — a graduate from the University of Virginia — who grew the operation into Rogers, Lovelock & Fritz (now RLF), a big-time firm with institutional clients worldwide. He stepped down as chair and CEO in 2006 but remained busy with projects and causes. In 2021, Rogers designed an arts-and-crafts-style chapel for the Glennon House, previously an inn and now headquarters for the healing ministry of adjacent All Saints Episcopal Church. “I’ve seen how effective this can be,” says Rogers, himself a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who serves as a prayer minister. In addition, Rogers is re-creating his father’s studio at Casa Feliz, complete with everything from the legendary architect’s drawing boards and reference books to his long-necked banjo adorning the wall. The studio will open in the fall, says Rogers — winner of the 2022 Winter Park Mayor’s Founders’ Award — who with his wife, Peggy, have a daughter, Betsy Owens (who was the inaugural executive director of Casa Feliz) and two sons, John and Geoffrey.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Doing well by doing good: Rogers has served on numerous boards, usually those dealing with healthcare and children’s issues, and established, with RLF, a scholarship in his father’s name for architecture students at the University of Florida. 

Michelle Strenth

Senior Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Orlando Health

THE CONSENSUS BUILDER

As board chair of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Strenth is a testament to the city’s vital interconnectedness with greater Orlando. Strenth, senior director of government affairs and public policy for Orlando Health — the 3,200-bed hospital system that also operates specialized care centers such as Jewett Orthopedic Institute and the Women’s Pavilion in Winter Park — is a master relationship builder. It’s her job to know issues and to know people. To a chamber nearing its 100th anniversary and looking for partners to help address concerns identified in its new “Prosperity Scorecard,” Strenth brings a talent for finding consensus. It’s her goal, she says, “to have everybody around the table with a shared purpose and vision” — no easy task in Winter Park. The Prosperity Scorecard, born of the economic shock of the early pandemic, uses a variety of data — job growth and housing prices, for example — to assess the financial health of the community. But it also offers metrics related to social and governance issues, such as sustainability and election turnout. “We can only make things better when we know what challenges exist,” says Strenth, 47, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance from East Tennessee State University and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. Strenth and her husband, Brian, an Orlando Health flight medic, have two children: Madeline, 9, and Garrett, 8. A native of Broward County, Strenth moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in middle school. She came to Orlando to work for Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU) and then dove into public affairs, first at CNL Financial Group and then, since 2009, with Orlando Health. Strenth’s dedication to healthcare is both personal and professional. When she was age 5, her late father experienced a health crisis that required some 30 surgeries and months in the hospital. Her son, born prematurely, spent four weeks in neonatal intensive care. Strenth has a grasp of both the complexities of modern medicine and its miracles — and can explain these things to networks of legislators, association leaders, and county and state officials. Strenth is a graduate of Leadership Florida, Leadership Orlando and Leadership Winter Park. Though there’s no “g” in the spelling of her last name, Strenth’s leadership style clearly brings even more strength to the chamber’s formidable volunteer leadership.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Leadership Winter Park continues to produce difference-makers. Says Strenth: “I truly strive for an environment where there can be consensus in an environment where there’s a difference of opinions — and we can find a path toward forward progress. It’s not about me, but what’s best for Winter Park.”

Mike Vertullo

Math Teacher, Rowing Coach, Winter Park High School

THE CREW CAPTAIN

When Mike Vertullo was choosing a life path there was little uncertainty, no anxious weighing of career options, no letting fate decide. For most of his 53 years, starting in eighth grade, Vertullo has been rowing for a crew or coaching one. In 22 years at the helm of the Winter Park High School women’s rowing team, he has done everything but walk on water. The always-formidable Wildcats have won 46 Florida Scholastic Rowing Association championships. And Vertullo’s current squad of oarswomen, ranked No. 1 in the United States, has been invited to this summer’s London’s Henley Royal Regatta — the most prestigious rowing competition in the world. The only other time in the 60-year history of the school’s program that a Wildcat crew participated in the elite event was 15 years ago — and it was the men who went. “We had an opportunity in February to race two of the top teams from the Northeast,” Vertullo says. “We won that regatta, which put us on our trajectory to go to Henley.” Vertullo was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, where rowing stokes passion in the same way that football does in Florida. He was a medal-winning rower in high school and competed at Rutgers University while earning a degree in statistics. In seven years as rowing coach at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, Vertullo restored the women’s program to national prominence and twice was named coach of the year. Why did he leave behind a growing legacy in rowing’s heartland for a coaching gig in Florida that he found in the classifieds? “I was single, ready to move on,” says Vertullo, who now has a blended family of four adult children with his wife, Heather. He wasn’t sure how local high schoolers would respond to his spartan regimen of “land training,” with copious running and lifting weights. But they responded like the champions they became. “In rowing, hard work will beat technique every time,” he says. “I can teach hard workers to row — I can’t teach someone to be tough.” Vertullo, though, deflects credit for his astonishing run of success. “It’s more about the kids and what they’re doing, and where they’re going after rowing at Winter Park.” One destination is certain — the record book with their coach.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

The Henley Royal Regatta, which takes place on the River Thames, is in June, so by the time you read this you’ll likely know the results. But whatever the outcome, Vertullo has built a dynasty at WPHS and, according to parents and former rowers, has been a role model for how to leverage hard work to achieve goals. He says:
“I’m tough but have learned how to adapt over 30 years.”

John Wettach

Retired Attorney

THE OPERA AMBASSADOR

John Wettach was almost 40 before he found his voice — literally — when he was recruited from his pew for the All Saints Episcopal Church choir. His booming bass-baritone was an asset, and almost a surprise, to the 6-foot-5-inch real estate litigator, who took voice lessons to hone his talent. Wettach, 58, made his debut in the chorus of Orlando Opera Company’s production of Aida in 2005. But the fiscally challenged company — which predated today’s thriving Opera Orlando — went bankrupt in 2008. Wettach then jumped to the fledgling Florida Opera Theatre, founded by volunteers from the defunct organization. There he served on the board of directors and became its president in 2015. Most significantly, however, he was instrumental (so to speak) in guiding Florida Opera Theater through its transformation into Opera Orlando in 2016. Today, the revitalized (and innovative) nonprofit stages three full-scale productions during its Opera on the MainStage series at Steinmetz Hall. Also on the annual schedule are Opera on the Town and a Summer Concert Series at the University Club of Winter Park. Opera Orlando — which boasts a youth company and a variety of educational programs — now has 11 employees and a $1.8 million annual budget. Best of all, says Wettach, who stepped down as president in June, the operation is in the black. Getting there wasn’t easy, though. The failure of Orlando Opera left some people bitter and many others skeptical. “The ability I brought to the board was to work with these other groups,” says Wettach, a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and a resident of Winter Park for 45 years. “It was a vision people could see and get behind.” Wettach, a veteran of numerous charitable boards, attended Trinity Preparatory School and the University of Florida, where he majored in journalism, earned a law degree and married his high-school sweetheart, Amy Lowndes, also an attorney and daughter of the late John Lowndes, a legendary lawyer, developer and philanthropist. The couple has a daughter, Callan, 28. Now, says Wettach, who recently retired from his law practice, he’ll welcome a return to the background, to the chorus of the great operas that he believed all Central Floridians should be able to enjoy. “We’re the keepers of the flame,” he says. “We may be the only way people see Puccini, Verdi or Mozart.” 

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Wettach is emblematic of successful Winter Parkers who devote their skill and savvy to bolstering arts and culture. Says Wettach: “I truly believe that collaboration is the key. I’ve been very lucky to have mentors, both professional and personal, who’ve shown me how important it is to bring people together and to build relationships while working on any project.”

Keith Whittingham

Professor, CEO of Artifx Café 

THE COFFEE CRUSADER

“Think globally, act locally” could be Keith Whittingham’s mission statement — if you flipped the order. Thinking locally led to acting globally for the associate professor of management science at Rollins College. Whittingham, 55, is CEO and founder of Artifx Café, a company that nurtures small farms in Costa Rica and Mexico by creatively packaging high-quality coffee products and marketing them throughout the United States. “The better we understand the people and places that produce our food, the stronger our bonds across the Earth will be,” he says. Born in The Bronx, New York, to immigrant parents from the Caribbean, Whittingham spent his Wonder Years in Trinidad and Tobago before earning a bachelor’s degree (Howard University) and a Ph.D. (Cornell University) in electrical engineering. He worked in semiconductor research and development for Lucent Technologies and Bell Laboratories in Orlando, until Bell shut down its local operation in 2002. Whittingham was offered an opportunity to transfer to Allentown, Pennsylvania, but declined and became a college professor instead. “I realized that my passion lay more in connecting with people and solving their problems,” he recalls. Since joining the faculty, Whittingham has become an expert on global sustainability and social entrepreneurship, taking MBA students — and sometimes his two sons — on overseas trips to places where farmers struggle to survive while large companies that wholesale their coffee reap massive profits. “As I researched business models to help these small producers climb out of poverty, I began to understand there are barriers to overcome to achieve that goal,” he says. “Artifx was launched to break through those barriers.” Artifx Café imports coffee from those growers and sells it online and through such upscale retail outlets as The Ancient Olive in Winter Park and St. Augustine. Each bag of beans, emblazoned with such names as Deep Cloud Forest and Tierra Monteverde, features a striking image by an artist from the region. Profits help provide a fair wage to growers, fund microloans for startups, and bolster recycling and water filtration projects. Launched in 2018, Artifx Café was a “café” in name only until April, when Winter Park Distilling co-founder Paul Twyford was awarded the food and beverage concession for Winter Pines Golf Club. Part of the upgraded clubhouse is The Artifx Café Coffee Bar. 

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Whittingham embodies the Rollins College ethos of social entrepreneurship as a way of facilitating change, both in the community and in the world. He says: “I try to be empathetic and empowering to all around me, I seek the win-win and I am not afraid to take risks if I can make a difference.”

Dawson’s books prior to Alias Anna had sent him to Ukraine and Israel where he could walk in his mother’s footsteps, see the places she had described and meet some of the people who had helped her survive — sometimes at great risk to themselves.

FINDING ZHANNA

Zhanna Arshanskaya’s favorite sheet music, Fantasy Impromptu, was the only thing she saved when the Nazis forced her family from their home. That and this blue silk scarf, recently returned to her by best friend Svetlana — now a Ukrainian refugee in the United States — are the Dawson family’s most cherished mementos of Zhanna’s once idyllic childhood in Kharkiv. Photo by Carlos Amoedo

My mother, Zhanna, and younger sister, Frina, both piano prodigies from Kharkiv, Ukraine, cheated death and survived the Holocaust by assuming false identities and spending the war entertaining Nazis who didn’t know they were Jewish. 

I knew nothing of this until I was nearly 3o years old, when Mom broke her silence and revealed the broad outline of her astonishing story. But it would be another 15 years before she described in lacerating detail the emotional scars left by this horrific chapter of a long and otherwise happy life. 

She divulged it all to our daughter, Aimée, then 13, who was interviewing her grandmother for a history assignment at Glenridge Middle School in 1994. Mom, quite unexpectedly, described how the Arshansky family was rounded up with 16,000 other Jews in Kharkiv, mocked and humiliated by the Nazis, kept in squalid conditions then put on a death march to a ravine called Drobitsky Yar.

She revealed how she miraculously eluded extermination, and how for the rest of the war she burned with anger as she played Chopin for audiences of soldiers who had murdered her parents and grandparents — and would certainly have murdered her, had she not slipped away after her father, using a gold watch, bribed a guard to look the other way. (Frina, who died in 2018, never told the story of how she, too, escaped.)

Why, I asked my mother, had she not told me and my brother her story? “How can you tell children about such things?” she replied. “It would have been too cruel.” As the decades passed, however, she decided that her real-life tale of terror should be — must be — passed along. And Aimée’s seemingly innocuous interview request provided an opening.

When the war ended in 1946, Zhanna, 19, and Frina, 17, were discovered in a displaced persons camp in Germany by a U.S. Army lieutenant and music lover, Larry Dawson, who heard them playing an old piano. The soldier pulled strings and called in favors to get them aboard the first ship of Holocaust survivors to arrive in America. 

There, both sisters were awarded scholarships to the Juilliard School in New York City. Zhanna married the lieutenant’s brother — later my dad — a Juilliard-trained violist named David Dawson. Both had careers teaching and performing at the Indiana University School of Music. Frina, too, married a musician, pianist Ken Boldt, and worked as a performer, teacher and administrator at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Yes, the story had a happy ending — as if the term “happy” could ever be used considering the horrific circumstances. Let’s just say the Arshansky sisters were more fortunate than millions of others.

As you might expect, the revelations changed everything and sent me — along with my wife, Candy — on a journey to find out more. The result was Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival (Pegasus Books, 2009), which was written over the course of six years while I was working at the Orlando Sentinel as a consumer columnist. 

When the book was published, Ukraine was, to say the least, far from top of mind for most Americans. I never could have imagined that only a dozen years later, Mom’s home country would become a household word and a fixture in our collective consciousness.

Coincidentally, before the Russian invasion, I was working on another book, Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis, a reworking of the story for young readers that I co-authored with Susan Hood, a renowned writer of children’s books. Alias Anna was published in March by HarperCollins. (The sisters, concealing their Jewish heritage, performed as Anna and Marina Morozova, hence the new book’s title.)

By then the unimaginable had happened: History had repeated itself in a macabre reverse-mirror image, with a Russian leader doing to Ukraine what Hitler had done 80 years before. In 1941, terrified Ukrainians packed trains going east toward Siberia away from invading Germans. In 2022, they filled trains headed west toward Germany to escape Russian invaders.

Hitler was the greater mass murderer, killing an estimated 5 million Ukrainians — among them my grandparents and great-grandparents — but history will show that Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a fratricidal rage, wreaked far more devastation on the cities and villages and institutions of a place he considered part of his homeland.

Dawson says: “Zhanna’s story has become a family mission.” His wife, Candy, has penned a screenplay optioned by filmmakers, a live drama produced in three states, and made a short documentary filmed in places now ravaged by Putin’s war, including Kyiv. The onset of the war and publication of Alias Anna has compelled the couple to look for additional ways to support Ukrainians in their darkest hour, just as they helped Dawson’s mother and her sister in theirs. Photo by Carlos Amoedo

Zhanna’s story has become a family mission. Candy penned a screenplay optioned by filmmakers, a play produced in three states, and made a short documentary filmed in places now ravaged by Putin’s war, including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol. A quarter century after that fateful school assignment, history came full circle for Aimée when HarperCollins invited her to narrate the audio book of Alias Anna.

For Candy and me, the confluence of the war and publication of Alias Anna has compelled us to look for ways to support Ukrainians in their darkest hour, just as they helped my mother and Frina in theirs. More specifically, I’m referring to friends we made when we visited Ukraine in 2006 to research the first book to see the places that my mother had described. 

Among their number are descendants of the Christian family that had sheltered the fleeing sisters at their own great peril; a middle-school teacher who for years has shared Zhanna’s story with her students (and, at press time, was still teaching despite the chaos of war); and a young scholar who served as our translator and is now a soldier on the front lines.

Finally, I’m thankful that my mother, now 95 and befogged by dementia, is not able to comprehend what is happening to her beloved homeland — this time at the hands of Russians. It would break her heart all over again. 

What follows is my original afterword for Alias Anna — written before the invasion but edited and updated to reflect magazine editorial style and events of the war in Ukraine. Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)


I never had the experience of being a grandson. I never rode on my granddad’s shoulders or went downtown with him on Saturdays for ice cream. I never sat on my grandmother’s lap as she read Tom Sawyer aloud or helped me learn how to swim. 

I never heard stories about where my mother’s parents grew up, what life was like when they were my age or what my mom and dad were like when they were kids. I knew my dad’s father had died young, and I only saw his mother once when she was quite ill.

All this seemed normal to me. The space filled by grandparents in most families was empty in mine — a vast desert devoid of family trees, stories, faces. It stretched to the horizon beyond my ken.

“Why didn’t you ever ask about your grandparents?” I was 60 years old when first asked the question. It came from someone in the audience at a Barnes & Noble where I was speaking about Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival, which had recently been released. 

I had no answer for the baffled questioner and jokingly said that I was just a clueless kid interested in sports and TV cowboys. But I wondered, too, and the question keeps coming up about my mother’s parents. 

Why didn’t I ask about them when I was growing up? Maybe because I didn’t even hear their names — Dmitri and Sara Arshansky — until I was pushing 30. That’s when my mother, for the first time, told me the basic outline of how they, along with her grandparents, were murdered by Germans at the edge of a ravine in Ukraine.

Aimée Dawson (below), who interviewed her grandmother, Zhanna, for a history assignment at Glenridge Middle School in 1994, got more than anyone bargained for. A quarter century after that fateful school assignment, history came full circle for Aimée when HarperCollins invited her to narrate the audio book of Alias Anna (above), which is based on her grandmother’s accounts and is marketed toward younger readers. Also shown is a written account from Zhanna to her granddaughter that describes in terrifying detail life in Ukraine under Nazi control. Photo by Carlos Amoedo (above); Photo courtesy of Greg and Candy Dawson (below)

My children, Chris and younger sister Aimée, were blessed by rich relationships with grandparents: my wife Candy’s mother and father and his second wife, and my mother, Zhanna. They never knew my dad, their paternal grandfather, who died four months after Chris’s birth — a priceless connection short-circuited. 

If not for my mother’s vivid presence in Aimée’s life, the remarkable story recounted in my book would have gone untold, buried like her parents and grandparents and countless others in the annals of Holocaust crimes.

Aimée was 13 when her history teacher at Glenridge Middle School asked students to interview a grandparent about what their life was like at the same age. Aimée, unaware of her grandmother’s story, turned to “Z” as she affectionately called her. We silently wished Aimée lots of luck in penetrating a fortress of silence.

Fifteen years earlier, when I was a columnist at my hometown newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, NBC aired the groundbreaking miniseries Holocaust over four nights in April 1978. All I knew then was that my mother was a Russian refugee who came to America after the war. 

Always desperate for material, I hoped she might have a few wartime memories that I could cobble together for a column to run during the miniseries. Gingerly, I asked her to share some memories. Grudgingly, she offered a small part of the story that she had kept from me and my brother. 

The column ran, but my mother didn’t watch Holocaust and made it clear that she had no interest in ever again speaking about her life as a young girl in Ukraine. So when Aimée wrote her grandmother with an interview request, we didn’t hold our breath.

We had underestimated the mystic bond between grandchild and grandparent. Aimée’s “Dear Grandma Z” letter elicited a “Hi, Dear Aimée” reply — four handwritten pages on 8-by-10 stationery — in which my mother related her Holocaust experience in a deeper and more personal way than she had years earlier for my column. 

Her words rang with love for her homeland, sorrow for her lost family, fury for the Nazis — “I can never tell anyone what hatred I had for them” — and a commitment to making her story “known to this world.” It was a long-delayed catharsis, an unlocking of memories, a second liberation — and her granddaughter had supplied the key.

Fired by a new mission, my mother agreed to be interviewed for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Project — a video archive of survivor testimonies — and sat down with me for many hours of conversation leading to the publication of two books, Hiding in the Spotlight and Judgment Before Nuremberg: The Holocaust in Ukraine and the First Nazi War Crimes Trial (Pegasus Books, 2012).

Books with artful covers, numbered pages and compressed narratives can give the false impression of history as an orderly beast. Like history and life itself, book research is disorderly — a long and crooked road with hard obstacles and sweet serendipity, dry wells and gold mines, despair and triumph. 

At first, I thought I could tell my mother’s story using the interviews and material gleaned from the internet, such as the ship manifest for the U.S.S. Marine Flasher that brought her to America. But it turned out to be more complicated than that. The Nazis blew up Ukraine, scattering ashes to the winds. Imagine a crime scene with evidence — the dead, the buried, the missing — strewn across thousands of miles from America to Ukraine and Israel.

Troupes of non-Jewish Ukrainian entertainers — singers, dancers, musicians — were forced to perform for the Nazi invaders and to pose for propaganda purposes. Zhanna and her younger sister Frina (above) performed under the aliases Anna and Marina Morozova. In recent years, the Dawsons visited the memorial at Drobitsky Yar (below) and saw Zhanna and Frina’s names mistakenly listed among those murdered in the killing fields there. The memorial was recently desecrated by Russian bombs. Photos courtesy of Greg and Candy Dawson

My first draft, which I hoped was the final one, recounted the amazing facts of my mother’s journey, but it didn’t feel amazing. It lacked passion, a sense of place. “You need to go to Ukraine,” Candy said. And she was right.

I had to walk the streets of Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov, my mother’s birthplace, where little Zhanna roamed the bazaars, sorted shells on the beach and joined funeral processions, bewitched by the mournful music. 

I had to visit the grand music conservatory in Kharkiv, where she and her sister Frina studied, and stand at the door of the apartment where Nazis terrorized the family. 

I had to see the barren field where the doomed Jews were kept for two weeks in a tractor factory with no heat, water or bathrooms in the dead of winter. 

I had to walk their final walk — the exact route, on the same day, in the same arctic weather — to the killing field of Drobitsky Yar (recently desecrated by Russian bombs). And I had to see the spot where my mother jumped out of line into the woods, cheating Hitler.

In 2006, Candy and I visited Ukraine and Israel. Written after our return, my second draft was twice as long and much better than the first. I discovered the wisdom of the old saying that “eighty percent of success is showing up.” 

Only because we showed up in Kharkiv was I able to visit the memorial at Drobitsky Yar and see Zhanna and Frina’s names mistakenly listed among those murdered there. Brushing my fingers across my mother’s name etched in Cyrillic on the marble wall was surreal and chilling, like reading my own epitaph — had the Nazis not let this particular girl get away.

Only because we showed up did we acquire one of the most remarkable photos in the books: A troupe of non-Jewish Ukrainian entertainers — singers, dancers, musicians — forced to perform for the invaders and to pose for propaganda purposes. All are staring straight at the camera except my mother, head turned in fear of being recognized as the famous Jewish prodigy from Kharkiv.

The photo was given to us by the woman who took it. She and her sister had worked with the troupe and read in a Jewish newspaper that we planned to visit the Kharkiv Holocaust Museum. We were stunned when they introduced themselves and presented us with the photo. They had been equally stunned to learn that the girls they knew as Anna and Marina were Jews in hiding.

Only because we traveled to Kharkiv could we visit the home of Zhanna’s classmate Nicolai Bogancha, whose Christian family risked death by sheltering the fugitive sisters for two weeks, helping them invent new names and a fresh life story before the girls departed on their long journey from persecution and fear to freedom. We broke bread with Nicolai’s widow in the same house, eating on the same beautiful plates the girls had used.

In May 1946, when Zhanna and Frina boarded the ship carrying some 800 Holocaust survivors on the voyage to America, all she brought with her from Ukraine was the sheet music for her beloved Fantasy Impromptu — five delicate pages that she had miraculously preserved through five years of war. 

My father, David, died in 1975 at age 62, and by 2006, my mother was living and teaching in Atlanta. One day she picked up the phone and was taken aback when a woman speaking English with a heavy Russian accent said that her name was Tamara, a cousin.

Dawson’s books prior to Alias Anna had sent him to Ukraine and Israel where he could walk in his mother’s footsteps, see the places she had described and meet some of the people who had helped her survive — sometimes at great risk to themselves.

Unlike the Arshankys, her family had taken an eastbound train to Siberia and survived the Nazi siege. Tamara said she was calling from Israel, where her family emigrated after the war, and that she had never given up trying to discover what had happened to Zhanna. 

Mom didn’t believe her, suspecting an impostor, but Tamara finally made her believe, and sent the family photos used in my books. It was the first time I had seen pictures of my mother as a child and my first glimpse of the faces of my grandparents, Dmitri and Sara. When we visited Tamara in Israel, she gave us more photos expanding the picture of my mother’s life — and mine.

Nearly 80 years after the terror began, pieces of my mother’s fragmented story continued to appear — belated fruit of our research and publication of the books. In 2018, I received a Facebook message from a stranger named Ludmila who lived in Ukraine. She explained that her mother, Svetlana, a friend of Zhanna’s mentioned in the book, was still alive and lived in the same home in Kharkiv.

Before the Jews were sent to Drobitsky Yar, Zhanna had given Svetlana her blue silk concert dress for safekeeping. After escaping the death march, Zhanna returned to retrieve the dress and on the way out the door a matching scarf “dropped unnoticed and was left with me forever,” Svetlana said.

“Forever” ended in 2019. Svetlana’s granddaughter, Kate, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her Russian husband, Dmitriy, visited her mother in Kharkiv and returned with the priceless blue ribbon of silk cloth. The scarf and Fantasy Impromptu sheet music — the only remnants of the life Zhanna left behind — have become our most treasured possessions. 

On our next visit, we handed my mother this lost piece of fabric, a symbol of her past. By then, at 92, dementia had stolen her voice, but her eyes told us that she knew what she was gently running through her still nimble fingers. She nodded and smiled with a faraway look. And I thought of the last thing she told me in our many hours of conversation.

“Somehow the story, the history, went around us instead of through us. It is a miraculous thing because anything could have been done to us at any moment in those five years. We did not remain the same, I assure you.” 

Nor have we. 


Editor’s Note: Greg Dawson, a former Orlando Sentinel columnist and a contributing writer to Winter Park Magazine, lives in Maitland with his wife, Candy. His books include Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival (Pegasus Books, 2009) and Judgment Before Nuremberg: The Holocaust in Ukraine and the First Nazi War Crimes Trial (Pegasus Books, 2012). A new book, Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis (HarperCollins, 2022), is a reworking of Hiding in the Spotlight for young readers that he co-authored with Susan Hood, a renowned writer of children’s books. 


UKRAINE BALLET BENEFIT ORIGINATES IN WINTER PARK

Marc McMurrin, president and CEO of the Winter Park-based Ginsburg Family Foundation, has pulled together an extraordinary benefit that will feature local arts groups performing with the National Ballet of Ukraine. All proceeds for the event will benefit humanitarian organizations working in Ukraine. The Ukraine Ballet Benefit will be Saturday, August 27, at Steinmetz Hall, the acoustic venue at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Performing with the ballet, which was on tour in Western Europe when the Russian invasion began, will be the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Orlando. For more details on the benefit and how you can support it, visit our Events page.

Holt, a lifelong Republican, became an enthusiastic supporter of President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. He believed that the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations would lead to the sort of robust (and well-armed) world government that he envisioned. Photo courtesy of Rollins College Archives; photo restoration by Will Setzer at Circle 7 Studio

HOLT’S ELUSIVE DREAM

Photo courtesy of Rollins College Archives; photo restoration by Will Setzer at Circle 7 Studio

In the classic 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still, a humanoid from another world, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), lands his flying saucer on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., causing worldwide alarm. 

Exiting the saucer, Klaatu announces that he has “come in peace and good will,” but is shot and wounded by an overeager soldier. A hulking robot called Gort then appears and turns several military vehicles to ash using a mysterious ray blast emanating from behind a visor-like opening.

A wounded Klaatu later explains that the inhabitants of other
planets have become concerned by the existential threat now posed by the Earth, particularly since pugnacious humans have developed rockets and rudimentary atomic power.

The planet will be “eliminated,” Klaatu warns, unless the people unite and agree to end war. Over the course of 90 minutes or so, earthlings do everything possible to confirm the interstellar emissary’s impression of them as hopelessly warlike.

As Klaatu takes his leave, having failed to unite the world’s political leaders (and getting shot yet again for his trouble), the erudite alien issues a stark warning to a multicultural gaggle of scientists and sympathizers assembled around the saucer.

He explains that other civilizations throughout the galaxy have managed to live in harmony because an interplanetary organization has created a police force of invincible robots like Gort, whose sole purpose is to destroy those who attack other planets — with no questions asked. 

Not surprisingly under such an irrevocable arrangement, there would be considerable incentive to negotiate peaceful settlements when disputes between planets threatened to boil over.

“In matters of aggression, we have given [the robots] absolute power over us,” Klaatu concludes. “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer.”

In 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien and his invincible robot land in Washington, D.C., to warn that the planet would be “eliminated” unless nations ceased their warlike behavior. Hamilton Holt, president of Rollins College from 1925 to 1949, might have sympathized with a more earthbound version of the alien’s point of view.

So, what is the relationship between the premise of this Cold War-era morality tale — today considered by The New York Times as one of the “1,000 Best Movies Ever Made” — and Rollins College President Hamilton Holt, who led the institution from 1925 to 1949? 

For decades, Holt had been preaching about peace through world government. Although he is best remembered today for his classroom innovations and educational reforms, his true passion was to see all nations confederated under one authority that would arbitrate disputes and keep the peace. 

That sounds relatively benign, although entirely unrealistic. However, although Holt certainly did not envision deploying an army of invincible robots to compel good behavior, he did envision a legally constituted international entity that could use force against aggressor states.

Yes, Holt agreed, individual countries could maintain small armies. But the so called world government — a kind of United Nations on steroids — would command an army larger than any single country or alliance of countries. 

The idea that every nation on the planet — particularly superpowers and bitter regional enemies whose hatreds can be traced to ancient times — would agree to this sort of subjugation seems naïve at best. 

But what appears today to be a crackpot theory was, at times, considered at least worth discussing among academics and intellectuals like Holt. Milder versions (sans the international army) were even given lip service by some prominent politicians, including several presidents. 

The United States, it was argued, was founded as 13 colonies bound together by the Articles of Confederation. The nations of the world, then, ought to be ready and willing to implement “a new order of civilization” based upon the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.

Suffice it to say, one need not be a professor of international affairs to understand why world government was always a nonstarter. Holt, however, was a leader in this quixotic movement. And he never wavered in his belief that it was “the manifest destiny” of the United States to unite the all nations in “a Declaration of Interdependence.” 

He gave essentially the same world government speech perhaps thousands of times between 1910 and 1950, and seemed legitimately convinced that reasonable people, regardless of their country of origin or their political and cultural differences, would eventually see the logic and come around. 

Holt, whose heart was surely in the right place, died believing this — which says more about the man and his unflinching optimism than about the Utopian idea that he championed.

An Opinionated Editor

Hamilton Holt was never reticent about expressing opinions. As the owner/editor of an influential weekly opinion journal prior to his 24-year stint as president of a college in out-of-the-way Winter Park, Holt was a public intellectual whose high-profile crusades for social justice and world peace helped shape the national discourse preceding and following World War I. 

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1872, Holt was the son of George Chandler Holt — a district court judge in the Southern District of New York — and Mary Louise Bowen Holt. Later his family moved to Spuyten Duyvil in The Bronx, where he spent his childhood. 

Holt, an 1894 graduate of Yale University with a degree in economics, was an undistinguished student who despised the classical curriculum and mind-numbing lecture-and-recitation pedagogy that he had endured in college. Surely, he thought, there was a better way.

While studying sociology at the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Holt worked part-time at the family-owned magazine, co-founded in 1848 by his maternal grandfather, Henry C. Bowen.

Originally a pro-abolitionist religious journal, The Independent had evolved to encompass content intended for sophisticated and politically progressive readers. In 1897, Holt abandoned his pursuit of a doctoral degree to focus on his new role as managing editor of the weekly. 

He solicited manuscripts, edited copy and wrote editorials and features, perhaps most notably a series of 75 “lifelets” — a memorable moniker for compact but compelling autobiographical sketches of “the humbler classes” representing various races and ethnicities.

He collected 16 lifelets for a 1906 book, The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans: As Told by Themselves, which he described hopefully in the introduction as having “perhaps some sociological importance.” 

At The Independent, Holt came to believe that a lively, collaborative workplace was more intellectually stimulating, and more conducive to learning, than a stuffy classroom in which a professor pontificated while students struggled not to snooze. 

In 1912, Holt formed the Independent Weekly Corporation and bought The Independent outright from his uncle, Clarence W. Bowen, for $44,000, most of which was borrowed from friends. 

In the coming years, Holt and a rotating roster of notable contributors championed such causes as civil rights, organized labor, open government, universal suffrage and prison reform. 

“The average reader has no conception how much hard thinking and painstaking experiment is given in every up-to-date magazine to the headlines, titles, sub-titles, borders, tail pieces, etc., before the desired effect is precisely secured,” said the meticulous Holt. 

He also pursued aggressive growth strategies. Between 1912 and 1917, The Independent absorbed three other magazines — The Chautauquan, Harper’s Weekly and Countryside — pushing circulation to more than 125,000. 

However, to the detriment of thoughtful mass-market journalism, such contemplative (if wordy) weeklies began to disappear in the early 1920s, when a sharp economic downturn pummeled the advertising market and the public clamored for lighter fare such as The Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies Home Journal.


“Peace has at last become a practical political issue soon the political issue before all the nations. It seems destined that America should lead in this movement. The United States is the world in miniature. The United States is a demonstration that all the peoples of the world can live in peace.”

—An excerpt from Hamilton Holt’s stump speech on world government


The peripatetic Holt — likely to the detriment of The Independent, which might have lasted longer with his undivided attention — expended more time and energy as a peace activist. 

He barnstormed the country from 1907 to 1914 delivering his “Federation of the World” lecture under the auspices of the Peace Society of New York, the World Peace Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

“Now, my friends, the peace movement is no longer a little cult of cranks,” said Holt in a typical stump speech, which was usually illustrated by stereopticon images of the 1907 Hague Convention in the Netherlands, which was attended by delegations from more than 100 countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany Russia, China and Persia (today Iran).

Holt, who covered the conference for The Independent, believed that the international Permanent Court of Arbitration established there was a step in the right direction but ultimately inadequate because it lacked the authority to enforce its rulings. 

“Peace has at last become a practical political issue — soon the political issue before all the nations,” he declared. “It seems destined that America should lead in this movement. The United States is the world in miniature. The United States is a demonstration that all the peoples of the world can live in peace.”

Then came the presentation’s final flourish: “And when that golden period is at hand — and it cannot be very far distant — we shall have in very truth Tennyson’s dream of the parliament of man, the federation of the world, and for the first time since the Prince of Peace died on Calvary, we shall have peace on earth and good will to men!” 

The title of Holt’s lecture was a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1843 poem “Locksley Hall.” The relevant portion reads: “Till the war drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furled / In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world. / There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe / And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.” (The most famous line from “Locksley Hall” is: “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”)

In 1910, Holt chaired the World-Federation League and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. He and other members supported a league-authored resolution introduced by Representative Richard Bartholdt of Missouri.

This resolution called upon President William Howard Taft to appoint a commission that would draft “articles of federation” for the “maintenance of peace, through the establishment of a court that could decide any dispute between nations.”

The commission would consider “the expediency of utilizing existing international agencies for the purpose of limiting armaments of the nations of the world by international agreement, and of constituting the combined navies of the world [into] an international force for the preservation of universal peace, and to consider and report upon any other means to diminish the expenditures of government for military purposes and to lessen the possibilities of war.”

Unlike The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, the more powerful body could “enforce execution of its decrees by the arms of the federation, such arms to be provided to the federation and controlled by it.” 

Wary of the policing provision, both houses of Congress instead unanimously passed a far less ambitious joint resolution that called for a commission to investigate both arms reduction and the creation of a multinational naval force to patrol the sea. 

Holt, tenacious but never one to take an all-or-nothing position, thought that the diluted resolution was at least a step in the right direction and personally asked former President Theodore Roosevelt — who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War — to serve as the commission’s chairman. 

“It is said to be extremely likely that before many months have passed, a powerful peace commission will be in existence with the Colonel at its head,” predicted one widely circulated editorial. 

Roosevelt, however, demurred, telling Holt that no U.S. president should pioneer an international movement. “Let others sow the seed,” said the Rough Rider, according to later accounts from Holt. “But let [the president] reap the harvest.” 

Holt may have been puzzled by the response, particularly considering Roosevelt’s supportive public declarations. In his 1904 address to Congress, Roosevelt had announced a “corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine vowing that the United States would act as an international police force to bar foreign intervention in Latin America. 

More recently he had gone even further. During a belated 1910 Nobel lecture in Oslo, Norway, he had called for treaties of arbitration between nations as well as “a league of peace, not only to keep the peace among [league members], but to prevent, by force if necessary, its being broken by others.”

In any case, Taft, whose diplomats floated the idea and received discouraging feedback from their counterparts, let the matter of a commission drop for the time being. 

Holt, a lifelong Republican, became an enthusiastic supporter of President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. He believed that the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations would lead to the sort of robust (and well-armed) world government that he envisioned. Photo courtesy of Rollins College Archives

A (Not So) Practical Proposal

At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Holt revisited the topic of world government in “The Way to Disarm: A Practical Proposal.” The editorial, which appeared in The Independent and other publications in September of that year, contained little that was new but was widely praised. 

“That the world should go on after the appalling experiences it is now undergoing … is a prospect to which no thinking mind can reconcile itself,” wrote the New York Post. 

The editorial continued: “When the bloodshed and devastation come to an end, the best thought in every nation must be centered upon the possibilities of remedy. And it is not improbable that it will be along such lines as those indicated by Mr. Holt that the remedy will be sought.” 

Encouraged, Holt marshaled his resources. The League to Enforce Peace, again subsidized by Carnegie’s foundation, was formed in 1915 by Holt and Theodore Marburg, a long-time activist in international peace movements and a previous U.S. minister to Belgium. 

Now-former President Taft, again at Holt’s behest, agreed to chair the new organization. Executive committee members included Holt as well as Abbott Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University, and Oscar S. Straus, former secretary of commerce and labor under Roosevelt.

Charter members also included another Roosevelt administration alumnus, Elihu Root, former secretary of state; as well as Alexander Graham Bell, scientist and inventor; Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, progressive social activist; Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore; and Edward A. Filene, a department store magnate representing the newly formed United States Chamber of Commerce. 

In June of that year, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, league members endorsed a federation of nations whose members would “jointly use their economic and military force against any one of their number that goes to war or commits acts of hostility against another.”

Just weeks prior to the meeting, German submarines had sunk the British ocean liner Lusitania. The Kaiser, league members agreed, must be held to account; war, they assumed, was inevitable. The issue for Holt and others was how the world would be structured in the war’s aftermath. Once Germany was subdued, perhaps their ideas could gain real traction.

With a new sense of urgency, Holt again crisscrossed the country with a world government lecture that covered familiar territory but seemed more relevant in light of world events. Since antiquity, he told audiences, cities and states had resolved their differences with one another through legal means. Could nations not do the same?

Said Holt: “The peace problem, then, is nothing but the problem of finding ways and means of doing between the nations what has already been done within the nations.” 

World government advocates were not, he was careful to explain, intractable pacifists who demanded that all nations lay down their arms immediately. Nor did they propose that nations give up their operational autonomy. 

Because smaller individual armies would be permitted, “the league therefore reconciles the demand of pacifists for the limitation of armaments and eventual disarmament, and the demand of militarists for the protection that armament affords.” 

Still, because international police power remained a delicate issue, Holt vowed that any world governing body would exhaust every option before resorting to force against recalcitrant federation members. 

In the meantime, Germany continued its program of unrestricted submarine attacks against all ships that entered the war zone around the British Isles. In addition, it was revealed that the German government had sought a military alliance with Mexico to recapture Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, who had been reelected the prior year in part by maintaining neutrality, appeared before the U.S. Congress and called for a declaration of war “against human greed and folly, against Germany, and for justice, peace and civilization.” 

The league wholeheartedly supported the Allied effort to stamp out German militarism — it was, after all, a league to enforce peace, not just to wish for it — and distributed hundreds of thousands of pieces of pro-war literature. It also established a National Speakers Bureau through which some 3.8 million people were reached, according to league estimates. 

In the spring and early summer of 1918, Holt spent three months in Europe, sending surprisingly jingoistic dispatches from the front lines to The Independent. 

“The way our soldiers and sailors and marines have waded into the big fight and made good has electrified England and the continent,” he told the New York Sun upon his return. 

Holt added: “I don’t think it is too much say that the people in France, Italy and the other countries I visited look up to President Wilson as much or more than their own great leaders. They have come to revere him as their savior.” 

No ‘Mongrel Banners’

When the war ended with the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, concepts put forth in “The Way to Disarm” and supported by the League to Enforce Peace informed much of Wilson’s thinking. 

In early 1919, Holt and Straus traveled to the Paris as observers when Wilson (who was ill and erratic, perhaps the result of a stroke) negotiated and signed the Treaty of Versailles. Granted, the resulting League of Nations was considerably less potent than a world government that could by law — or, if necessary, by force — act to maintain order and guarantee security. 

But Holt and his allies rallied around the organization, reasoning that it was at least a start and could later be strengthened. 

“The dreams of the poets, prophets and philosophers have at last come true,” Holt wrote in a dispatch from Paris published in The Independent. “There can be no doubt whatever about it. The peace conference itself is the germ from which a real united nations will eventually develop.” 

Holt, a lifelong Republican, became an enthusiastic Wilsonite — although he did not yet change his party affiliation. In 1920, he was named the first executive director of the endowment fund for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, an educational nonprofit established to make cash awards to individuals and groups that advanced world peace. 

Chairman of the National Committee of the Wilson Foundation was former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who proved to be a surprisingly ineffective fundraiser. 

Still, donors received a certificate imprinted with Wilson’s words from his 1917 address to Congress seeking a declaration of war: “The world must be made safe for democracy. Peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.” 

Holt also became involved in various international friendship societies, including the Italy America Society, the Netherlands America Foundation, the Friends of Poland Society, the American-Scandinavian Foundation and the Greek American Club.

In Holt’s view, the world would inevitably become “federated in a brotherhood of universal peace” even if progress toward that noble goal was incremental. 

Then, despite Wilson’s exhausting effort, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. At issue was Article 10 of the League of Nations covenant, which regarded collective security. 

“I have loved but one flag and I cannot share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for a league,” thundered Massachusetts Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, an opposition leader who contended that the article violated U.S. sovereignty and could lead to unwanted military entanglements. 

Holt, though, was unwilling to capitulate; in 1922, he organized the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association and through it attempted to rally public opinion and exert political pressure. 

After disassociating himself from The Independent’s successor publication, which ambiguously declared that its purpose was to “promote the principles of liberal conservatism,” Holt continued to participate in internationalist organizations.

In 1924, after anti-league Republican Warren G. Harding won the presidential election, he bolted the party for good and ran as a Democrat for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, where he had registered to vote just months before. (His summer residence was his mother’s family homestead in Woodstock, a picturesque village in the northeastern corner of the state.) 

Holt discovered, however, that League of Nations membership was not a compelling enough issue to overcome the statewide strategic advantage enjoyed by Republicans.

The Hartford Courant, in endorsing his Republican opponent, Hiram Bingham, contended that Holt’s world government crusade had hindered preparedness and cost lives when the United States entered World War I. 

“We would not say that Mr. Holt knew that would be the result when he opposed preparedness,” wrote the Courant. “But he is properly chargeable with bad judgment … and we want no bad judgment in the handling of the votes of the state of Connecticut in the United States Senate.” 

The editorial went on to call Holt “a pronounced pacifist” — which was not strictly true, since he had supported the war effort. In contrast, Bingham, was described as “gallant and soldierly.”

Holt lost the race in a rout and was back on the lecture circuit when he received a fateful letter from Rollins College in Winter Park.

Small Town, Big Ideas

A proverbial citizen of the world, Holt was not intimidated dealing with representatives from a shaky provincial college that surely needed him more than he needed it. 

Although he had never run a college — he did not, in fact, hold an advanced degree — he had opined frequently about higher education’s perceived shortcomings. 

Colleges were infected with three major ills, Holt wrote: “First, the insatiable impulse to expand materially; second, the glorification of research at the expense of teaching; and third, the lack of human contact between teacher and student.”

Holt was no stranger to Rollins or to Winter Park. He first visited the campus in 1910 to deliver his perennial “Federation of the World” lecture. 

There is no mention of the address in The Sandspur, the student newspaper, but it was likely well received on campus (assuming the audience consisted of young idealists), and Holt was a guest of honor at a reception hosted by President William F. Blackman. 

In 1914, Blackman invited Holt to join the college’s board of trustees, on which he served a single two-year term, resigning when it became apparent that he was too preoccupied trying to save mankind (not a hyperbolic statement in Holt’s case) to meaningfully participate. 

In 1924, Holt returned to Rollins during another lecture tour and informally discussed the now-vacant presidency. (Robert James Sprague, a college dean, was serving as acting president.) But the position was offered instead to William Clarence Weir, formerly president of Pacific College in Forest Grove, Oregon. 

(Weir mysteriously retired due to unspecified health reasons a year later. But whatever ailed him didn’t linger. A few months following his departure from the college, according to city directories, Weir and his wife, Nettie, were operating The Weir System, a real estate office, in Orlando.)

Bestselling novelist Irving Bacheller, a college trustee, then wrote Holt to gauge his interest in the position. He suggested a salary of $5,000 per year (the equivalent of about $70,000 today), noting that the job would be “a cinch for a man of your capacity.” 

The timing was fortuitous for Holt; his recession-battered magazine had been absorbed in 1921 by The Weekly Review, a competitive publication, leaving Holt with $33,000 in personal debt. 

In addition to having no steady source of income, Holt was beset by concerns that he had for years neglected his health and his family, which consisted of his wife, Alexandria Crawford Smith, and their four children: Beatrice, Leila, John Eliot and George Chandler.

For these and other reasons, Holt was eager to settle in Florida — a place he believed offered boundless opportunity — and was intrigued by the challenge of testing his theories about higher education. But he was accustomed to earning at least twice as much, even if the checks were less steady.

“I could not accept the terms you offer as I am unwilling to have any permanent connection with any educational institution that is compelled to underpay its president or professors,” he replied, countering at $10,000 per year. Both parties, he added, could reevaluate after the winter term.

In fact, some trustees speculated that Holt was “too big a man” to be truly interested in becoming a small-town college administrator, with its attendant paper-pushing and glad-handing. 

But perhaps out of regard for Bacheller’s judgment — and when a less expensive but arguably more qualified candidate declined — the college hired Holt in October 1925. 

Congratulatory messages from notables in politics and academia poured into the college, including one from now-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taft that read: “[Holt] is a man of the highest probity and character, a man of wide experience and great ability. I felicitate the college on securing him.” 

On that mannerly note, the Holt Era began.

“When I became president of Rollins College my viewpoint, naturally, was that of a layman,” Holt recalled decades later as he prepared to retire. “But I knew very definitely what I did not want in the way of educational methods. I had suffered under the lecture-and-recitation system too long for too many years not to know how seriously [such a system] may handicap any real flowering of a student’s mind; how eagerness may be replaced by indifference and finally boredom.”

Holt’s solution was the so-called “conference plan,” which replaced lectures with discussions and one-on-one interactions between professors and students. He also insisted that the college limit enrollment and recruit professors who were first and foremost skilled teachers — “golden personalities,” he called them. 

In 1931, Holt organized a high-profile colloquium on liberal-arts education led by renowned educational philosopher John Dewey. Ultimately, the conferees validated what Holt had called “a common-sense approach to higher education,” and endorsed key aspects of the conference plan and other reforms — including the elimination of grades and the reduction of specific course requirements. 

Holt also started the Animated Magazine, which each winter brought celebrities and prominent personalities to campus for a day of public presentations. Rollins, it seems, was constantly getting national attention for one initiative or another, thanks to the president’s background as a journalist and a promoter of causes.

In addition, Holt presented a plethora of honorary degrees to attract luminaries to campus and keep the college in the news. Most of the recipients did, in fact, warrant the recognition.


“Hamilton, if you’re about to tell me that the Roosevelts have accepted an invitation to come here, and that you want to have the convocation in the chapel, don’t forget I gave that chapel to the college not with any strings attached. It’s for you to use as you see fit. So, if that’s the purpose of all this, you’re wasting your time. I just have one request. Don’t ask me to be in town when those people are here, because I will not be here when they’re in town.”

—Frances Bangs Knowles, on word that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would visit Rollins


In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived to receive an LHD (an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters) in ceremonies at Knowles Memorial Chapel. (Eleanor Roosevelt received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan medallion, prompting her husband to remark that it was the first time he had seen his “better half” in a cap and gown.) 

Many conservative Winter Parkers despised FDR, but most — in that simpler time — respected the office of the presidency and held their tongues. John “Jack” Rich, in his 2005 oral history interview with Wenxian Zhang, head of the college’s archives and special collections, recalled the reaction of Rollins chapel benefactor Frances Knowles Warren to the Roosevelts’ visit: 

“The residents of Winter Park were very conservative, dyed-in-the-wool Republicans … who hated the name Roosevelt. So when [Holt] finally worked out the date for the Roosevelts to come… [he] thought it would be a polite gesture to let Mrs. Warren know. … She said, ‘Hamilton, if you’re about to tell me that the Roosevelts have accepted an invitation to come here, and that you want to have the convocation in the chapel, don’t forget I gave that chapel to the college not with any strings attached. It’s for you to use as you see fit. So, if that’s the purpose of all this, you’re wasting your time.’ And she said, ‘I just have one request. Don’t ask me to be in town when those people are here, because I will not be here when they’re in town.’”

President Franklin D. Roosvelt (left) received an honorary degree from Rollins in 1936. Holt (right) presented the Doctor of Humane Letters to Roosevelt and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan medallion to his wife, Eleanor (to Holt’s right). The uniformed man is not identified. “[Holt’s] old friends were not at all surprised when he substituted new ideas in education for old practices,” said Roosevelt. “These changes at Rollins are bearing fruit. They are being watched by educators and laymen. The fact that in some respects they break away from the old academic moorings should not startle us.” Photo courtesy of Rollins College Archives

The Roosevelts had originally scheduled their trip to coincide with Founders’ Week, but when they were delayed, the college pulled together a special convocation at which FDR heaped praise upon his host. 

“[Holt’s] old friends were not at all surprised when he substituted new ideas in education for old practices,” said Roosevelt. “These changes at Rollins are bearing fruit. They are being watched by educators and laymen. The fact that in some respects they break away from the old academic moorings should not startle us.”

Added Roosevelt: “In education, as in politics and economics and social relationships, we hold fast to the old ideals and only change our method of approach to the attainment of the ideals. Stagnation follows standing still. Continued growth is the only evidence of life.”

But one thing never changed, and that was Holt’s passion for world government. For a time, his crusading was subsumed by his duties as a college president. But as his early educational innovations became established, he increasingly returned to what he considered to be his most important life’s work — and used the college as a sort of bully pulpit.

A world again spiraling out of control may have prompted Holt to renew his activism. He supported the allied effort in World War II and, when the war ended in 1945 after atomic blasts devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he traveled to San Francisco as an independent observer when a charter was adopted establishing the United Nations.

He deemed the resulting organization only a marginal improvement over the soon-to-be defunct League of Nations, which had limped along without the United States and had notably failed to prevent yet another world war as its members dropped out (or were expelled, as was the case with Russia) and became combatants.

With the advent of nuclear weapons, Holt believed, it was more important than ever that a world government — not any independent nation — should control such awesome destructive power. 

The United Nations, he said, must be “transformed from a league of sovereign states into a government deriving its specific powers from the peoples of the world.” Realizing that this was unlikely, Holt insisted that someday — perhaps not in his lifetime — nations would join “in one universal brotherhood, in which cooperation shall succeed competition, faith shall supplant fear and law shall expel war.”

In 1946, Holt had an opportunity to personally deliver what he called “an open sermon” to President Harry S. Truman, who was in the midst of a whirlwind trip to Central Florida and stopped by the college to receive an honorary degree of his own. As the Cold War dawned, he urged Truman to call for a revision to the United Nations to revise its charter and reconstitute itself as a world government “with direct power to tax, conscript and otherwise make and enforce laws.” Photo courtesy of Rollins College Archives

In February 1946, Holt had an opportunity to personally deliver what he called “an open sermon” to President Harry S. Truman, who was in the midst of a whirlwind trip to Central Florida and stopped by the college to receive an honorary degree of his own. The steely Missourian’s Founders’ Week appearance came at a time of increased tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. That struggle for global dominance, destined to span decades, would soon become known as the Cold War.

“We are working for peace,” vowed Truman, who likely anticipated — and just as likely did not wish to hear — an admonition from Holt. “We want peace. We pray for peace all the time in the world. And to attain that peace we must all learn how to live together peaceably and to do to our neighbors as we would have our neighbors do to us. Then we will have a happy world. And that is what we all want.” 

Holt, in turn, repeated much of his now-familiar world government stump speech and argued that Truman’s military buildup was as likely to cause conflict as to preserve peace. 

“The fact is there is no such thing as absolute preparedness,” he said. “That is why the generals and admirals are never satisfied.” Yes, Holt acknowledged, the Soviet Union almost certainly intended to “extend her political ideologies to the outside world and thus eventually abolish capitalism, if not democracy.”

But the answer, he continued, was not “feverishly to arm ourselves against an impending World War III.” Truman should instead call for the United Nations to revise its charter and reconstitute itself as a “world government with direct power to tax, conscript and otherwise make and enforce laws.” 

Holt claimed that he did not know what the domestic political ramifications of such a stance would be for Truman. He insisted, however, that in the grand scheme of things it hardly mattered. 

“If you are reelected you will have four more years to carry out your great design,” Holt said. “If, however, you are defeated, you will still have the acclaim of millions of mankind as well as the personal satisfaction of having done more than any living man to put this great ideal into the minds and hearts of your fellow men.” 

How would a world government deal with a recalcitrant Soviet Union? “We might have to set [it] up without Russia and her satellites,” Holt conceded. “But sooner or later, all the outside nations will come in.” 

Although he tempered his remarks during convocation, he had previously opined that any nation — most notably Russia — that rejected United Nations control over atomic energy “should be wiped off the face of the earth with atomic bombs.” 


“If you are reelected you will have four more years to carry out your great design. If, however, you are defeated, you will still have the acclaim of millions of mankind as well as the personal satisfaction of having done more than any living man to put this great ideal into the minds and hearts of your fellow men.” 

—Hamilton Holt in an “open lecture” to President Harry S. Truman about stopping the arms race


Truman, of course, never went so far as to endorse world government. But at the 1948 dedication of a war memorial monument in Nebraska — and speaking specifically of arbitration — he sounded very much like Holt when he said that international disputes between nations should be solved in the same way as disputes between states within nations: 

“When Kansas and Colorado fall out over the waters in the Arkansas River, they don’t go to war over it; they go to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the matter is settled in a just and honorable way. There is not a difficulty in the whole world that cannot be settled in exactly the same way in a world court.”

Holt’s stance, though, went far beyond an obvious nod to the value of arbitration over armed conflict. Philosophically, he was closer to Klaatu, the intergalactic emissary, but without a shimmering spacesuit and a robot companion. He wanted nothing less than an end to war — even if it meant obliterating warmongers.

World Government on Campus

In March 1946, almost immediately following Truman’s on-campus appearance, Holt convened the Rollins College Conference on World Government, inviting 40 like-minded luminaries — 25 of whom traveled to Winter Park. Among them were representatives from academia, industry, politics and the clergy.

After several days of discussion, the group, chaired by historian Carl Van Doren, adopted an “Appeal to the Peoples of the World.” The three-page document, which mirrored Holt’s convocation speech, called for creation of a world government “to which shall be delegated the powers necessary to maintain the general peace of the world based on law and justice.” 

Conferees agreed that the United Nations, toothless in its present form, at least provided a ready framework — much as the League of Nations had more than 25 years before — and could be reconstituted as a legislative body that would regulate the use of atomic energy, impose civil and criminal sanctions against violators of international law and, if necessary, launch military action against malefactors. 

Although practical detail, as usual, was missing, the document was signed by 80 prominent individuals. Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, whose warning to FDR about Germany’s atomic research had spurred the Manhattan Project, was among the absentee signatories. 

Others who were not in attendance but who signed the document included Justice William O. Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court; Florida U.S. Senator Claude Pepper, who later served in the U.S. House of Representatives; and California U.S. Representative H. Jerry Voorhis, who is remembered for losing his seat to a Red-baiting novice named Richard M. Nixon. 

Holt’s son, George, who had graduated from Rollins and was now its director of admissions, chaired the conference. Also in attendance was Edwin S. Slosson, Holt’s colleague from The Independent who had written Great American Universities, and Ray Stannard Baker, a muckraking journalist whose eight-volume Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters (1927–1939), won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1940. 

Holt, rather hyperbolically, declared the committee’s proposal to be “the soundest, most advanced and most statesmanlike yet issued to the world by men of high distinction and responsibility.” 

He also announced that the college would launch an Institute for World Government led by 25-year-old Rudolph von Abele, an assistant professor of English who had been active in the world peace movement during graduate school at Columbia University. 

When von Abele did not return to the college in 1947, the fledgling operation, the purpose of which was to promote internationalist ideals, was placed under the supervision of professor of mathematics George Sauté, who would later direct the college’s reconstituted adult education program. 

Holt headed the executive committee, which also included E.T. Brown, college treasurer; Edwin L. Clarke, professor of sociology; Royal W. France, professor of economics; Nathan C. Starr, professor of English; and Mary Upthegrove, a student active on the Inter-Racial Committee and the Pan-American League. 

The executive council included students Weston Emery, Eleanor Holdt, Marcia Huntoon, Tony Ransdell and Phyllis Starobin. Wendell C. Stone, the college’s dean; Horace A. Tollefson, the college’s librarian; and Alex Waite, professor of psychology, also served.

No longer solely a personal crusade, Holt had aligned the college with a cause that was surely going to cause controversy in the community as well as among donors and trustees.

In October 1947, Holt sent Sauté to the Convention of the United World Federalists in St. Louis, where more than 300 earnest activists representing 37 state chapters gathered to chart a course forward. 

The movement was, in fact, enjoying a brief resurgence in the years between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War. Gallup Polls in 1946, 1947 and 1948 asked: “Do you think the U.N. should be strengthened to make it a world government with the power to control the armed forces of all nations, including the United States?” 

In each of those three years, around 55 percent said yes. The number began dropping in 1949 and bottomed out at 40 percent in the mid-1950s. After two world wars in little more than 20 years, it appears that many in the mid-1940s were at least willing to listen.

Several months prior to the St. Louis gathering, world government advocates from 51 countries had gathered in Montreux, Switzerland, for the grandly named Conference of the World Movement for World Federal Government. 

The resulting Montreux Declaration stated that “the United Nations is powerless, as at present constituted, to stop the drift of war” and opined that only the establishment of world government “can ensure the survival of man.”

Following this conclave, five smaller world government organizations — representatives of which had attended the meeting in St. Louis — merged to form the United World Federalists, which was based in Asheville, North Carolina.

Although there were internal disagreements, ultimately the attendees agreed that world government should be brought about through changes to the United Nations charter. As reconstituted, the organization would take ownership of nuclear technology and prohibit any nation from possessing arms deemed to be beyond the level required for internal policing. 

There would be no wiggle-room or opt-out clauses. National governments would agree “to the transfer to the world federal government of such legislative, executive and judicial powers as relate to the world affairs.” Miscreants would answer to “a supranational armed force capable of guaranteeing the security of the world federal government and of its member states.”

Sauté, who had been hired by Holt in 1943 and shared his internationalist fervor, was energized by the trip. “This crusade is not one to join, talk about, go home and forget,” he reported to Holt upon his return. “It is a crusade that will continue until a rule of law is established for the settlement of international disputes; then and only then can we enjoy lasting peace.” 

Clearly Sauté was preaching to the choir with Holt, who was nonetheless pleased to have found a faculty surrogate with whom to share the burden of advocacy.

In January 1948, the Rollins Institute for World Government hosted a meeting of the Florida UWF branch, which included delegations from chapters in Kissimmee, Lakeland, Orlando, Tampa and Winter Park. Sauté was elected state chairman, and it was agreed that Rollins would become state headquarters.

When the meeting concluded, an editorial in The Sandspur by Samuel R. Levering, a Quaker pacifist from Virginia who was among the founders of UWF, lauded Holt’s vision and listed prominent public supporters of world government, including activists, academicians, several industrialists and two U.S. Supreme Court Justices. 

The world government movement was neither communist or socialist, Levering wrote, and its lofty goals were “much more practical than the alternative — continuing the arms race with destructive war almost certain.”

But what about Russia? Would it participate in such an organization? Levering had an answer: 

“If Russia refuses, the rest of the world should go ahead anyway, leaving the way open for Russia to come in later. Should Russia stay outside, the rest of the world, united, would be stronger than at present, since Russia, isolated and in a worse moral position, would be less likely to attack.”

In any case, Levering concluded, time was of the essence “if our civilization is to survive … and World War III is to be prevented.”

Sauté, who possessed the physical endurance that Holt, now past 70, found more difficult to muster, began lining up speaking engagements. Although he was not an orator of Holt’s caliber, Sauté addressed virtually every civic group in Central Florida and many around the state. 

One headline announcing a Sauté presentation most accurately described his ambitious objective: “Sauté Charts Course Needed to Save World.” 

In addition, Sauté became a prolific writer of letters to the editor, and while his missives lacked Holt’s literary flair, they were effective in their forthright fashion. 

“Some people say we cannot hope to have a world government until nations understand each other better and are willing to cooperate,” he penned in a 1948 edition of the Winter Park Herald. “They add that you should have peace at home, in your community and in your country before you talk about world peace.”

The column continued: “Why do some think that the protection of law is all right up to the level of nations but shrink from the idea of extending it to the international level? There is nothing whatsoever that we are advocating … that denies the necessity of our country’s keeping a strong military until world government is established. Our strong contention is that we will not prevent war by preparing for it and doing nothing else.” 

Sauté even launched a weekly radio program, World Government and You, on Orlando station WORZ-AM, and was interviewed over Voice of America radio speaking entirely in French (having been raised in Belgium, he was fluent in the language). 

Yet Sauté seemed an unlikely crusader, according to a profile in a local weekly, The Corner Cupboard: “A man with an enviable philosophy of life is George Sauté. He lives life as it comes, day by day, with a deep conviction in the power of prayer to set things right. In his own affairs, Prof. Sauté takes a middle-of-the-road position. He is not one to have more courage than wisdom. Rather, his is a moral courage that has the patience and the self-control to await the outcome of events.” 

Holt, in the meantime, could not afford to wait for anything. He wore himself out chasing money; in May 1947, following the groundbreaking for Orlando Hall, he was hospitalized following an emergency appendectomy and spent much of the summer recovering at his home in Woodstock. 


“I see a bend in the river and try to tell myself that if I reach the turn, the water will be calm. But I know that is not so. When a problem is solved, there are others to take its place.”

—Hamilton Holt on his lifelong peace activism


“No one will ever know how hard [Holt] and his assistants worked during the late stages of the drive,” reported the Rollins Alumni Record. “This tremendous effort drained his physical strength and undoubtedly contributed to his illness.”

The story continued: “[Holt] personally wrote hundreds of letters, sent innumerable telegrams and made countless long-distance telephone calls in his appeal for funds. [He] felt there was nothing else to do but put his whole strength into the undertaking or he would probably not reach his goal — and he says that he would do it again.” 

The twin responsibilities of keeping the college solvent and saving the planet weighed on Holt’s health and surely on his psyche. “During a crisis I feel like a man battling a current,” he reflected in 1949, as he prepared to retire. 

“I see a bend in the river and try to tell myself that if I reach the turn, the water will be calm. But I know that is not so. When a problem is solved, there are others to take its place.”

Holt’s health had been in precipitous decline since his leg had been amputated due to diabetes. A seeker of peace, he finally found it on April 26, 1951, when he died of a heart attack at his home in Woodstock.

Holt was exhausted when he retired in 1949. The twin responsibilities of keeping the college solvent and saving the planet had weighed on his health and surely on his psyche. A seeker of peace, he finally found it on April 26, 1951, when he died of a heart attack at his home in Woodstock, Connecticut.

The Last Crusader

The beloved “Prexy,” as Holt was known, was replaced by Paul A. Wagner, a brilliant but arrogant 32-year-old wunderkind who, among other affronts, fired one-third of the college’s teaching staff, many of whom had earned tenure. It was a budgetary matter, he said.

Sauté’s job was among those on the chopping block. But, following an imbroglio that dragged on for nearly two years, Wagner was fired and, after much drama, evicted from the campus. Holt protégé Hugh F. McKean, a professor of art, was named president in 1951 and promptly rehired the dismissed faculty.

But the Institute for World Government was eliminated, ostensibly because there were no funds available. More likely, the institute was a casualty of Cold War wariness. 

With McCarthyism and the Red Scare running rampant, internationalists often found their names on lists of communists and other fellow travelers. In any case, the college was in no position to agitate anyone. 

“When I first started lecturing on the United Nations, atomic energy and international control of armaments for peace, it was popular,” said Sauté in a 1969 oral history interview. “And then suddenly it got very unpopular. I would be lecturing or debating, and someone would say, ‘You’re from Belgium, aren’t you? Well, then you’re not an American.’” 

Further, although McKean was an admirer of Holt, he was no crusader, and did not share his mentor’s political fervor. He had a college to save, after which, it was then assumed, he would return to teaching, curating and painting. 

Instead, he would serve as president for 18 years, retiring in 1969 and founding the Morse Museum of American Art with his wife, Jeannette. McKean died in 1995 at age 86. 

Sauté went on to direct Courses for the Community, a modest adult education program that eventually evolved into the Hamilton Holt School. However, the quality of the program never met McKean’s amorphous standards, and Sauté was frequently the recipient of terse memos from his boss threatening to shutter adult education altogether unless improvements were made.

Perhaps that is the primary reason that on McKean’s way out, he made certain that the mild-mannered mathematician, who had reached the college’s mandatory retirement age of 65, would also be put out to pasture. 

After 26 years, Sauté was not reappointed — over his vigorous protest — and died in 1986 at age 83.

World federalism has not gone away. Today, the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization “committed to the realization of global peace and justice through the development of democratic institutions and the application of international law.”

While Holt’s world government crusade may have been hopeless from the outset and especially off-putting to conservative Winter Parkers, no one doubted his deep-seated desire to render war obsolete. 

Two world wars occurred in Holt’s lifetime, and the human toll of war impacted him deeply. Little wonder that he undertook the Sisyphean task of trying to change what was likely not changeable.

Holt’s outrage over war in general would be exemplified in mortar and steel on the Rollins campus in 1938, when his Peace Monument was unveiled in front of Lyman Hall. Dedicated on Armistice Day, the monument was emblazoned with a powerful message: 

“Pause, passerby, and hang your head in shame” was written beneath a World War I-era German mortar shell presented to Holt by his friend Poultney Bigelow, co-owner of the New York Evening Post. Affixed to the monument’s base was a plaque with text written by Holt that read:

“This engine of destruction, torture and death symbolizes the prostitution of the inventor, the avarice of the manufacturer, the blood-guilt of the statesman, the savagery of the soldier, the perverted patriotism of the citizen, the debasement of the human race; that it can be employed as an instrument in defense of liberty, justice and right in nowise invalidates the truth of the words here graven.”

In August 1943, the Peace Monument was destroyed in an act of vandalism.

Holt, a lifelong Republican, became an enthusiastic supporter of President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. He believed that the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations would lead to the sort of robust (and well-armed) world government that he envisioned. Photo courtesy of Rollins College Archives; photo restoration by Will Setzer at Circle 7 Studio

MAYBE WE’RE AMAZED

McCartney’s connection to Rollins was through his stepson, who was a student majoring in communications. During his visits to Winter Park, the legendary composer of “Yesterday” and dozens of classic pop standards usually — but not always — kept a low profile. Photo by Scott Cook, Rollins College

Two men in their 70s dining at a casual Park Avenue eatery wouldn’t normally draw much attention. However, on this day in 2012, the man whose seat faced the front door of the bustling Briarpatch Restaurant was former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (and Winter Park resident) Billy Collins with his wife, Suzannah Gail Collins. 

Their dining companion, who was seated with his back to the entrance and surrounded by extended family and friends, was a visitor named Sir Paul McCartney. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. 

As significant buzz began to build among astonished patrons, some of whom undoubtedly choked on their kale salads and performed involuntary spit-takes with mouthfuls of hot coffee, McCartney and Collins discussed the topic of adulation.

“I like to be aduled,” deadpanned McCartney, who was knighted in 1997. “It’s good to be aduled now and then.”

That kind of wordplay has been a constant in McCartney’s career. As a solo artist, he has filled arenas and stadiums for 50 years — and will continue to do on Saturday, May 28, when he performs at Camping World Stadium in Orlando as part of his “Got Back” tour. 

Prior to going solo, during his career with — oh, what was the name of that band again? Oh, yes, the Beatles. In any case, back then drummer Ringo Starr’s malapropisms often provided inspiration for songs and film titles: We’ve been working eight days a week. It’s been a hard day’s night. 

McCartney has always had a keen ear for turning an intriguing phrase into a No. 1 record. So maybe someday the Briarpatch banter will result in a song about being aduled. If it does, you’ll know when and where the idea originated.

After lunch, Collins says, McCartney didn’t try to avoid those waiting to adule him. “When we left, there was this gathering of acolytes,” he recalls. “He didn’t duck it. He walked right into it.” 

In Collins’s view, his genial dining companion that day — who just happens to be one of the most influential musicians in the history of the world — is the same guy whether he’s having lunch with friends or encountering adulers while, without disguise or security, he’s hoofing his way along the streets of New York City. 

“The charm is always there,” Collins says. “It’s his default position. There’s a genuine approachability. On the other hand, he’s a Beatle and people behave differently.” McCartney is indeed fan-friendly but, out of deference to those he’s with, eschews being photographed or giving autographs while eating.

Collins and McCartney had met years earlier at function of PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit that defends and celebrates free expression through the written word. They had remained friendly, which isn’t surprising considering McCart-
ney’s love of poetry and Collins’s love of music.

That’s why Collins was surprised to learn that McCartney had been spotted in town, prompting him to dash off a playful email: “How dare you sneak in and out of Winter Park without telling me.”

Until that point, McCartney had been unaware of Collins’s residency at Rollins College. The pair quickly arranged to meet and picked a favored gathering spot for most Winter Parkers. 

If you’re a Briarpatch habituate, especially during peak hours, you know that McCartney wasn’t overly concerned about remaining under the radar. If you’re there, you’ll be seen.

Billy Collins and Paul McCartney had been acquainted prior to McCartney’s visits to Winter Park. In New York, McCartney (left) had attended a book launch party for Collins’s new collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, at the townhouse of journalist George Plimpton (right). The gathering was on September 10, 2001. The world would be a far less happy place the following morning, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center.

THE ROLLINS CONNECTION

Coincidentally, it was the college that had brought McCartney to the City of Culture and Heritage. Arlen Blakeman, son of McCartney’s third wife, Nancy Shevell, was an undergraduate major in communications at the top-rated liberal-arts institution. 

From 2011 until Arlen’s graduation in May 2015, the McCartneys visited often enough to buy a luxury condominium near all their favorite haunts on Park Avenue. McCartney sightings became rather frequent during those years — although some may be dismissed as wishful thinking.

He did, however, on occasion attend services at All Saints Episcopal Church on East Lyman Avenue when he was in town on Sundays. 

Chevalier Lovett, now chief operating officer of a nonprofit called Florida Rising, is also a classically trained opera singer and was a member of the church’s choir.

McCartney, who usually sat in the first several rows, sought Lovett out after hearing his solo turn in “There is a Balm in Gilead.” 

Says Lovett: “The first time he complimented me it was surreal. I was like, ‘One of the greatest musicians in the world said that he loved my voice and that it made the service.’”

A second time, McCartney asked Lovett about his life and work. “I told him that I went to school for music, but worked in the nonprofit sector,” Lovett recalls. “I said that music was a part-time gig and my way out of a hectic world. He said I should seriously consider making music my thing.”

Which he did. Today, in addition to his work with the nonprofit, which helps marginalized communities organize politically, Lovett is music director of the contemporary service at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and a frequent performer with, among other arts groups, Opera Orlando.

At the time, Collins was Senior Distinguished Fellow at the college’s Winter Park Institute, which presented a speaker series that attracted such luminaries as David McCullough, Jane Pauley, Ken Burns, Garrison Keillor and was anchored by an annual reading from Collins himself. 

He and WPI Executive Director Gail Sinclair had been discussing ways to get McCartney to the campus for some sort of public event. Usually, WPI speakers gave traditional presentations. But Paul Simon’s 2008 appearance was structured as a one-on-one discussion with Collins. Perhaps, he and Sinclair mused, such a format would appeal to McCartney.

Collins offered to contact the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer (a two-time inductee as both a solo artist and a member of the Beatles). In old-school fashion, Collins sent McCartney a personal letter of invitation. McCartney replied in the affirmative, via a neatly typewritten note with a drawing of an odd-looking cartoon character beneath his signature. The date was set: October 26, 2014.

Introducing McCartney to 600 lottery winners jammed into Knowles Memorial Chapel, Collins kept it short, sweet and typically wry: “He’s here to very generously share his experience and his wisdom about songwriting and being in the music business. And just as importantly, he’s here to make me look like a cool guy.” Photo by Scott Cook, Rollins College

“I knew he didn’t want to give a ‘concert’ of any kind,” says Collins. “After all, he was here to see his stepson graduate. He knew I had interviewed Paul Simon on stage more than once and had some experience talking about music. That was the focus, the music — not ‘my life as a Beatle.’ I might have suggested that he bring a guitar but maybe he just knew to bring one.”

The venue would be Knowles Memorial Chapel, but it all had to be strictly hush-hush. An all-campus eblast the morning of the event advertised a lottery system for 600 tickets to see an as-yet unnamed VIP.

It wasn’t announced until the last minute that the speaker was McCartney. Many, though, had already figured it out and tickets were snapped up almost instantly.

Collins remembers: “Paul wanted an intimate venue. If you’re him, 600 is intimate.” 

And so it was that the country’s most popular living poet, a veteran of hundreds of live readings before large audiences, faced a packed house buzzing with anticipation over the chance to see and hear an iconic rock legend whose level of fame occupies its own stratospheric category. 

Collins kept the introduction short and sweet, while adding a dose of his signature wry humor:

“He’s here to very generously share his experience and his wisdom about songwriting and being in the music business. And just as importantly, he’s here to make me look like a cool guy. Without further ado, a warm Rollins College welcome to Sir Paul McCartney.” 

Seconds later, McCartney’s appearance inside the ornate chapel drew shrieks reminiscent of the Beatles’ live show at Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl 50 years previous. 

Asked Collins, tongue in cheek: “You were in the Beatles, weren’t you?” When McCartney good-naturedly acknowledged that obvious fact — “Yeah, I was really in the Beatles, man” — the crowd shrieked again. 

“Now that the Beatles’ body of work is done,” McCartney offered. “I do think about it more. There were four people in this world who were Beatles, and I was one of them. I was the guy who wrote with John Lennon. I was very blessed.”

Collins steered the conversation to the early days, when Lennon and McCartney started their storied writing collaboration. “We did covers,” he replied. “The trouble would be, if you were on a bill with other bands, they may do your entire act. The only way ’round that was to write our own songs — prevent them from doing it before we did.”

Noted Collins: “You know the expression, ‘one hit wonder.’ You’re like an 800-hit wonder.” When asked about his approach to songwriting, McCartney candidly admitted: “I don’t know how to do this. Sometimes the music can come first, sometimes the words. If you’re lucky, the two together. There’s no rules.”

Of “Yesterday,” one of his most famous compositions, McCartney said, “I dreamed that song.” A melody had been wafting through his brain, he recalled, so he went around humming the tune, asking if anyone knew it. “After two weeks,” he said, “I claimed it.”

Collins noted how McCartney’s songs have been covered by countless bands over the years. (“Yesterday” alone has been recorded by more than 2,200 artists.) How did he feel about that? “If someone on the street corner is reading one of your poems,” he replied, “is it going to bother you?”

At the conclusion of an evening sprinkled with iconic moments, McCartney performed “Blackbird,” the song inspired by the Little Rock Nine — Black students who faced vitriol as the first to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. (In 1964, the Beatles had insisted that their Gator Bowl show be integrated.) 

Following the hourlong presentation, Collins and McCartney, accompanied by Arlen — now a successful attorney in Miami — and a group of his college-age friends celebrated the evening with dinner at Luma on Park, a sleek and trendy restaurant that closed in 2020. “I think the whole motivation for subjecting himself to the interview was to give his stepson a chance to show him off,” says Collins.

Josh Walther and Phase 5 had played plenty of special events before. But when they performed at a graduation gig at Interlachen Country Club for Arlen Blakeman, the young man’s stepdad joined the band for a rendition of “I Saw Her Standing There.”

THE INTERLACHEN GIG 

McCartney reprised the role of cool stepdad the following year. He donned a coat and tie to attend Arlen’s graduation ceremony — attempting, futilely, to go unnoticed — and that evening cut loose at a celebration for his stepson held at Interlachen Country Club. 

Josh Walther is the lead singer of the Tampa-
based music group Phase 5, whom Nancy Shevell hired as the evening’s entertainment after conducting an internet search for bands. 

Here’s how the gig came about. Walther’s cellphone rang as he pushed a cart down the aisle at Home Depot. The caller was a mom looking to have live music for her son’s special occasion at some country club in Winter Park. In other words, business as usual.

“She said, ‘Well, my husband might get up and sing.’” recalls Walther, who was accustomed to talent-challenged relatives seeking a turn in the spotlight at such events. “Well,” he replied as politely as possible, “We usually don’t let someone get up and sing like that. We won’t know the song.”

“Oh, you don’t know who my husband is,” she replied. “Are you sitting down? It’s Paul McCartney.” Walther, who had not been sitting down, was stunned. “This can’t be real,” he replied. “Let me know what he’d like to play.” 

Still, Walther had been told many times that celebrities might show up when they performed, but it had never happened. He assumed it wouldn’t happen this time, either, especially considering who the celebrity in question was: “I told the band, ‘This lady is married to Paul McCartney, but I doubt he’ll be here.”

The night of the celebration, Phase 5 had been instructed to start playing early. During that awkward stretch, before people were in the mood to move, the dance floor remained empty. Mercifully, one irrepressible 73-year-old man finally broke the ice and stepped out.

“Oh my God, there he is!” exclaimed Phase 5’s singer Robyn Lista. There, on the dance floor, carrying a bulky video camera, was none other than McCartney, who clearly didn’t need any help from his friends to get the party started. Soon everyone was dancing.

During a break, McCartney approached Walther and the band: “I can do a tune,” he said. “Do you know any of my songs?” Walther said they knew a few, but not the one McCartney wanted to play: “I Saw Her Standing There.” 

However, when Paul McCartney offers to sing with your band, you do like the song says and figure out a way that “we can work it out.” Walther agreed to do some woodshedding during the next break and learn the chords.

Video of that performance demonstrates that Phase 5 did an admirable job working up the rollicking 1963 release, which was written by McCartney (with an assist from John Lennon) specifically to incite smitten female teens. “[McCartney] was shouting out chords and conducting,” Walther says of the performance. “I still get goosebumps thinking about it.” 

The band, having the time of their lives, then joined McCartney in a blues improv. After the 10-minute performance, McCartney took time to compliment the band and ask them about songwriting. The bassist, who played left-handed like McCartney, called the former Beatle his hero who had inspired him to emigrate to the United States from Japan. 

“It blew everyone’s mind when he got up and played,” Walther remembered. “I did have that feeling he was trying to impress his stepson.” Which begs the question: What does it take to impress kids these days? 

During the long ride home to Tampa, in a traffic jam, the gravity of the evening began to sink in for band members. Walther texted a few friends to share the amazing news. “Part of me didn’t want to say anything about it on Facebook,” he says. “It was such a nice moment. I didn’t want to capitalize on it.” 


WHEN SHE SAW HIM STANDING THERE

Ellen Titen, owner of ET Consultants in Winter Park, was a Beatlemaniac as a young girl. She, like most Winter Parkers, was aware that Sir Paul McCartney was known to pop up from time to time on the Rollins College campus or along Park Avenue. 

One evening in May 2014, he popped up on Titen’s birthday, while she was celebrating with friends and family at Luma on Park. 

At a table across the dining room sat McCartney, who was also dining with a small group. Service had been spotty because of the hubbub over his visit, but it hardly mattered. 

“It was so much fun for me, just to know that he was there,” says Titen, who adds that she would never have approached arguably the most important figure in 20th-century popular music because “he deserves his privacy.” 

Well, of course he does. But when McCartney and his guests finished their meal and began to stand up, Titen quickly engineered a way that the two would have to cross paths naturally — more or less: 

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re leaving.’ I figured if I walked toward the front, they’d have to pass me on their way out. So I did, and they did. As he was walking by, I said, ‘Sir Paul, it was my birthday today, and it was more special just because you were here.’”

McCartney, she recalls, genially offered his best wishes and then sang “Happy Birthday” for her. Had she been a teenager, Titen might have screamed and torn her hair out. Instead, she composed herself and thanked him for being so thoughtful.

“It was just one of those brief moments in time,” she says. “But it said so much about [McCartney]. He’s one of those people who you feel good when you see. I know I’ll never forget that birthday.”

Venues often get booked well over a year in advance. So if you find that the venue you want is available on the date you selected, it’s best to go ahead and book it. For wedding transportation, some couples — especially those tying the knot in a historic space like Casa Feliz — enjoy the panache of renting a vintage automobile. Photos courtesy of JP Pratt Photography (table) and Arthur's Creative Events & Catering (couple)

COUNTDOWN TO FOREVER TOGETHER

Its cultural vibe and historic charm have always defined Winter Park. But if you’re getting married here, you’ve already noticed something else: The city is a very, very romantic place, with its graceful homes, granddaddy oaks, shimmering lakes and quaint (if bumpy) brick streets.

Couples expecting to tie the proverbial knot here will find an array of indoor and outdoor venues that stay busy virtually year-round hosting weddings and receptions. But this year could be perhaps the busiest yet. Many of those who postponed their nuptials due to COVID-19 (or settled for a small, informal ceremony with the intention of throwing a post-pandemic blowout) are suddenly flooding the market.

It has always been the case that memorable (in a good way) weddings don’t just happen — they must be planned. Now, though, planning and making arrangements even further in advance is mandatory for the sort of elaborate weddings that tend to take place in Winter Park.

Some couples — as many as one-third, according to some estimates — choose to hire a wedding planner. A planner can be a day-of coordinator or a full-service field general who shepherds the process from conception to completion. Other couples — those with plenty of time on their hands or those whose ceremonies will be intimate and uncomplicated — chose a do-it-yourself approach. 

Whatever your personal level of involvement, following a timeline or checklist can help smooth the often-fraught journey to what ought to be a joyous and hassle-free day.

Venues often get booked well over a year in advance. So if you find that the venue you want is available on the date you selected, it’s best to go ahead and book it. For wedding transportation, some couples — especially those tying the knot in a historic space like Casa Feliz — enjoy the panache of renting a vintage automobile. Photos courtesy of Arthur's Creative Events & Catering (couple) and JP Pratt Photography (table)

Find a Venue? Book It

A good time to begin planning is 18 months before your wedding day. And the first decision to make is how many guests you want to invite. The size of the guest list will determine your budget — or how much money you’ll spend per head. 

At this point you might decide to invite fewer guests or add some more. Then there’s the question of who’ll foot the bill: parents, couples or both? This is no insignificant question, as the average wedding cost $28,000 in 2021, according to The Knot Real Weddings Survey — up from $19,000 in 2020. Of course, 2020 was the height of the pandemic, when ceremonies were simplified.

According to traditional wedding etiquette, a bride’s family pays for the wedding ceremony and reception, while a groom’s family covers the cost of the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon. 

A same-sex couple can follow this breakdown, designating one family to pay for each set of expenses. But more mature couples, especially those who’ve lived on their own for any significant amount of time, might (and perhaps should) foot the bill themselves if they’re able.

The next step is to find your dream venue and make sure it’s available on the day you’ll need it. The venue determines not only how many guests you can accommodate, but the setting for your photos. Its unique ambiance may also suggest themes for the ceremony.

Does your style lean toward black-tie elegance in a formal setting? Or would you feel more comfortable in a casual venue, maybe even staging a rustic farm wedding? 

Venues often get booked well over a year in advance. So if you find that the venue you want is available on the date you selected, it’s best to go ahead and book it. Remember: In some cases, the venue may end up being your biggest expense. 

If you plan to get married in a church or to have a civil ceremony at the courthouse, now is the time to check availability and any requirements you’ll need to meet. (As of now, historic First Congregational Church of Winter Park is the only church in the city that unconditionally performs same-sex marriages.) 

Once the venue is secured, you can now comfortably move forward with your wedding planning. 

Your wedding should be as much fun for your guests (well, almost as much fun) as it is for you. At least 12 to 16 months before the big day, you should select a theme. This decision will influence your choice of flowers, style of photographer/videographer and even the type of music you’ll want. The ambiance of the venue may suggest a theme — or not. The Winter Park Library and Events Center (below) is a sleek and contemporary building, but it’s decked out here in a country-cozy traditional style. Photos courtesy of JP Pratt Photography (couple) and Lora Wardman Events (venue)

How Planners Can Help

Lisa Lyons, owner of Lisa Lyons Events & Etiquette in Winter Park, has been in business for 19 years. She believes that if you book six to 12 months in advance, a good wedding planner ought to be available. But these are not normal times.

“Now that we’re coming out of COVID, what we’ve been hearing is that 2022 and 2023 are going to boast the most weddings since 1984,” Lyons notes. “That makes it extremely competitive for us. So we’re looking at 12 or even 14 months. There are only so many Saturdays, and so many venues.”

Because of Florida’s temperate climate, she adds, March through April and October through December are busiest, particularly for outdoor ceremonies.

For each of her clients, Lyons creates a web portal so they’ll know exactly what’s happening every step of the way. This digital component is handy for couples who have successful careers and busy lives, because they can log on any time.

Lyons has worked with several venues in Winter Park. She speaks highly of the Alfond Inn — a beautiful, art-filled boutique hotel where the hospitality services are outstanding. She’s also excited about the new Winter Park Library and Events Center, which has a large ballroom and rooftop terrace. 

Lora Wardman of Lora Wardman Events in Orlando has been in the wedding planning business for 30 years. When it comes to hiring a planner, her advice is straightforward:

“The sooner the better,” she says. “Once you get engaged is best because of the number of weddings and venues available. Try not to set a date until you find the perfect venue for you.” 

Wardman’s team walks through the venue with the couple to discuss everything from lighting, tables, chairs, tabletop design and floral suggestions. 

“The details matter,” says Wardman. “We can save you money in the end knowing who to call, who has the best products and what things you don’t need to spend a fortune on.”

Speaking of fortunes, planners can also help set realistic budgets. As anyone who has tried to plan a wedding without professional assistance can tell you, costs can easily soar far beyond expectations. 

Order personalized paper products nine to 12 months in advance because of the time required for printing. In addition to invitations, you’ll need various printed pieces for place settings as well as thank-you cards or stationary. Photos courtesy of Maureen Hall Stationery and Invitations

Vendors and Themes

When hiring vendors, keep in mind that there are some who can service only one event at a time. Even the best DJ, for example, can’t be two places at once. So it’s doubly important to book solo practitioners far in advance.

Other vendors — such as bakers, florists or caterers — have large staffs and can handle more than one client on the same day. But that doesn’t mean that their capacity is unlimited. Only early booking will ensure that the vendor you want will be available.

At least 12 to 16 months before your wedding day, you should select a theme. This decision will influence your choice of flowers, style of photographer/videographer and even the type of music you’ll want. If the venue doesn’t provide food service, then you’ll also have to hire a caterer.

Designer Lori Strickland, with Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering in Altamonte Springs, says that the wedding’s theme can inform the food offerings. She also points out that some venues have certain restrictions or logistical challenges that a caterer needs to know ahead of time. 

“You should provide your guest count as soon as possible,” Strickland says. “It doesn’t have to be locked in yet, but a rough number helps determine menu style and the number of service staff needed.”

Strickland suggests scheduling an initial meeting eight to 12 months in advance. That gives the caterer time to get acquainted with your vision, arrange a tasting and create a menu. 

When considering food, remember that some venues where in-house catering isn’t offered present certain restrictions or logistical challenges that a caterer needs to know about ahead of time. Meet with your caterer eight to 12 months ahead of time to share your vision for the event, arrange a tasting and create a menu. Photos courtesy of Arthur's Creative Events & Catering

Few vendors are more significant than photographers, whose work will define the ceremony for generations to come. A good wedding photographer will be intimately familiar with the most popular venues and will know, for example, what sort of lighting setup is needed for each. 

“Since photographers can usually book only one client a day, and many of us will likely only take one wedding for an entire weekend, you’ll want to book as soon as possible,” says Kristen Weaver, owner of Kristen Weaver Photography. “Some will only book 12 months out, while others may open their calendar for a longer period.” 

Once you’ve set the date, Weaver — who opened her Oviedo-based business in 2009 — suggests that you determine your top three choices and make certain right away that one of them will be available.

If you’ve already booked a venue, she says, the photographer can put together a tentative timeline and decide how many hours will be needed — including travel time between locations, such as a church to a reception hall. 

KWP offers two photographers for eight hours. It costs more to book Weaver herself as part of the team. “Couples who may not be able to book me for either budget or availability reasons could still have an amazing photographer with my style,” she says.

Flowers are important for obvious reasons, but selections may be dictated by the season. Lee Forrest, owner of Lee Forrest Design in Orlando, recommends meeting with a floral designer as soon as you’ve set the date and booked the venue. 

“This gives you time to meet with a couple of possible vendors,” he says. “But dates book up pretty quickly. Some florists may already be full in popular times of the year.” 

During your appointment, Forrest says, “We discuss the moon and then see where we land on Earth. After we get a grasp on who you are as a couple and what’s important to you, we’ll create a proposal for everything.”

To accomplish that goal, Forrest says he’ll want to know your overarching vision for the big day. He also recommends bringing pictures and color swatches to the meeting. 

When it comes to invitations, many couples choose to send save-the-date cards followed by formal invitations, which should be mailed two months in advance of the wedding date. 

Maureen Hall, owner of Maureen Hall Invitations in Winter Park, recommends ordering personalized paper products nine to 12 months in advance because of the time required for printing and addressing. 

“A lot of people will use their engagement picture for the save-the-date card,” says Hall. “What’s nice about that is it allows you to see how you work with your photographer. Many times, that photographer is also the wedding photographer.” 

Another popular option for the card is a pen-and-ink drawing, such as an outline of the wedding venue — especially if the venue is a distinctive and recognizable structure.

The wedding suite traditionally encompasses several components: an invitation and an envelope, a response card and an envelope, and an information card with details about the event. Plus, there’s wedding stationery to be used for writing thank-you notes. 

Although some couples use websites for guests to RSVP, Hall says this procedure is more appropriate for weddings with international guests or a short lead time where mailed response cards might arrive too late. 

“I’m a traditional invitation store, and I promote mail-back cards because they’re keepsakes,” she says. “People write notes on them for the bride and groom, and so they become dear memories.” 

If you think it’s illogical to pay so much for a dress that will only be worn once, then you obviously are not the bride who’s planning to wear that dress. But remember — even an off-the-rack dress will require alterations that could take a couple of months. Grooms and groomsmen should also make their selections early. Photos courtesy of Kristen Weaver Photography (brides) and Laura Wardman Events (couple)

About That Dress

The average manufactured wedding dress costs $1,800, according to The Knot Real Wedding Survey. But alterations and additions increase the price, and custom-made dresses can cost many times that amount.

If you think it’s illogical to pay so much for a dress that will only be worn once, then you obviously are not the bride who’s planning to wear that dress. “A bride can never be overdressed for her wedding,” says Roberta Noronha, co-owner of The Bridal Finery in Winter Park.

“We normally recommend shopping for the dress anywhere between six to eight months before the wedding day,” adds Noronha. “The sooner the better.” 

Brides also need to take into consideration that alterations usually require about two months — but can be done more quickly in an emergency. 

“If you need a dress in a couple of weeks and you’re buying off the rack, it’s definitely doable,” adds Noronha. “We have an in-house seamstress who’s able to turn it around in three days if we need to.”

Noronha says many brides want dresses that can be adapted and worn at both the ceremony and the reception. For example, a dress with detachable sleeves and straps can be converted into a sleeveless or strapless garment for post-ceremony gatherings. 

At the 10-month mark, you’ll want to consider the wedding cake or wedding cupcakes, which have become popular. Set up a cake-tasting and place your order at least four months in advance to make sure that the baker you want will be available. Above all, give yourself a break from worrying about the calories. Photo courtesy of Lee Forrest Design

And Don’t Forget …

At the 10-month mark, you’ll want to consider the wedding cake or wedding cupcakes, which have become popular. Set up a cake-tasting and place your order at least four months in advance. 

Eight months out, confirm decorating and rental items for the venue. It’s also time to create your bridal registry and wedding website. Start thinking about booking wedding transportation — possibly a limo or special vintage car. 

At the same time, make a list of recommended hotels for out-of-town guests and arrange a group discount if possible. And, of course, don’t forget honeymoon plans. If you’re traveling, make reservations now.

At the six-month mark, book hair and makeup artists. Some brides enjoy a spa day with their bridesmaids the day before the ceremony. Book that as well. 

If you want live music but haven’t secured a band, now is the time. Also, pin down where you’d like to have the rehearsal dinner. Depending upon the scope of work you’ve agreed to, a wedding planner can help with all these tasks. 

Two to four months out, the groom and groomsmen need to decide upon their attire. John Craig Clothier in Winter Park, which carries both off-the-rack and custom-made tuxedos and suits, is a good place to start.

Alan Chambers, director of operations, says that more wedding customers than ever are opting to go the custom-made route. “Last year was our biggest suit and tuxedo made-to-measure year ever, and we have seven stores,” he says. “People are still dressing up and wearing tuxedos — but a lot of guys, especially groomsmen, like the suit option.” 

For custom-made clothing, Chambers says to allow six to eight weeks, which includes one fitting to measure and select fabric, and another for tweaking when the garment arrives. 

John Craig Clothier also offers custom ties, including bow ties handmade from feathers — everything from peacock feathers, which are particularly appropriate for Winter Park, to pheasant feathers. 

“A lot of grooms will gift their groomsmen with a custom tie or bow tie,” Chambers notes. “We did one wedding where the bow ties were monogrammed with their initials.” 

And the to-do list continues. There’s buying gifts for your wedding party and hosting bachelor or bachelorette nights out. And tending to small details that can make a wedding truly special? How about a special cake knife, ring-bearer pillow, toasting flutes, guest books and wedding favors? 

Yikes! If this all seems overwhelming, take solace in the fact that memories of the inevitable difficulties will begin to fade almost immediately after you say, “I do.” And remember: Although the wedding may be over, true love stories never really end — they just begin new chapters. 

In 1953, Alphonse “Phonsie” Carlo, was recruited to teach violin through Community Courses for Young People. By all accounts a kind and patient man who enjoyed instructing students of all ages, Carlo agreed and offered after-school lessons, as did his accomplished wife, Katherine, a concert pianist with whom he frequently performed. Original photo courtesy of the Rollins College department of Archives and Special Collections

FUN 101

Exclusive Book Excerpt
Editor’s Note: The following is a revised and condensed version of a chapter from a 2019 book entitled Rollins After Dark: The Hamilton Holt School’s Nontraditional Journeys. This chapter focuses on the children’s programs that were launched by President Hugh F. McKean as a community outreach effort in the aftermath of Paul A. Wagner’s brief but tumultuous presidency, which left faculty and students stunned and the community deeply divided. The programs, eventually assembled under the umbrella of the Rollins College School of Creative Arts, were introduced concurrently with adult education efforts that eventually evolved into today’s Hamilton Holt School.


Photo Restoration and Colorization by Will Setzer at Circle 7 Studio

The Rollins College School of Creative Arts drew thousands of youngsters to the campus for a variety of courses. Some of the teachers were full-time faculty members, such as Doreen Bligh-Jones (seated at left), who taught drama. Original photo courtesy of the Rollins College department of Archives and Special Collections

Anarchy on Ollie Avenue? An overstatement, perhaps, but it can certainly be said that Community Courses for Young People — launched at Rollins College in 1951 by new President Hugh F. McKean — brought children to the campus in droves: singing children, dancing children, painting children, acting children, swimming children, weaving children and musical-instrument-playing children.

Community Courses for Young People was initially directed by George Sauté, a professor of mathematics whom McKean had tapped to strengthen ties between the college and the community by offering educational and recreational programs for local residents. 

The impetus for doing so was likely fallout from the divisive debacle of Paul A. Wagner’s brief presidency, which roiled the campus and divided the community. (See “A Master Class in Chaos” in the Fall 2020 issue of Winter Park Magazine.)

Thousands of present-day baby boomers fondly recall attending after-school classes, which were sometimes taught by highly credentialed day school faculty, or the program’s popular Summer Day Camp, which began in 1967 and ran through the summer of 2015. 

Community Courses for Young People — an ancillary program to Courses for the Community, which would decades later evolve into today’s Hamilton Holt School — offered after-school piano lessons as well as rhythmics (dance), choral singing, junior theater, and arts and crafts. Headquarters was a barracks-like studio on Ollie Avenue, behind the infirmary near Dinky Dock. (Today the parcel is home to the college’s massive parking garage.)

Lessons in other musical instruments were added, along with instruction in swimming and canoeing. By the late 1950s, each eight-week quarter attracted more than 500 youngsters from pre-school to high school.

ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT

From 1953 to 1958, students from the young peoples’ program commandeered the 400-seat Annie Russell Theatre for The Spring Thing, a collection of short plays, some of them original, as well as scripted and improvised skits. 

During the show’s run, art students created works to be displayed in the lobby, while crafts students helped to create sets, props and costumes. Music students provided accompaniment, and beaming parents packed the venue for performances. 

British-born actor Peter Dearing, director of the college’s Department of Theater Arts and an instructor for the young peoples’ program, offered his energetic charges numerous opportunities to perform with the Rollins Players onstage at “the Annie.” 

A former professor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Dearing began his career as a curly-haired child actor in films before touring the U.S. and Europe with the Ben Greet Players, a stock company that specialized in open-air Shakespeare productions.

Ben Greet was the stage name for Sir Philip Barling Greet, who may have inspired Dearing’s interest in children’s theater. When Greet managed London’s Old Vic theater from 1914 to 1918, he persuaded the U.K. Department of Education to sponsor school visits to the historic 1,000-seat venue. 

Over the course of four years, Greet presented Shakespeare plays to more than 20,000 elementary school students. Dearing joined the Ben Greet Players at age 14 and remained until Greet’s death nine years later. He clearly understood how to relate to children with a theatrical bent. 

 In 1955, Dearing cast 9-year-old Annette Moore and 12-year-old Danny Carr in an Annie Russell Theatre production of Mrs. McThing, a fantasy about children and witches written by Mary Chase of Harvey fame. Although a critic from The Sandspur savaged the play, opining that “the progression of innumerable ideas is exceedingly awkward,” he managed to coherently praise young Annette for “stealing the show” with her poise and stage presence.

Also appearing in Mrs. McThing was Rollins drama student Ann Derflinger, who would become a legendary drama teacher at Winter Park High School. The auditorium at the school is named for Derflinger, who died of cancer in 1983. She often cited Dearing as a major influence on her decision to teach. Derflinger, in turn, inspired actors such as Tom Nowicki (The Blind Side) and Amanda Bearse (Married With Children), both of whom were her students.

Dearing later drafted talented young peoples’ program participants for campus productions of The Crucible and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And in 1957, when he directed Maxwell Anderson’s The Bad Seed for the Orlando Players, a community theater production, Dearing plucked a junior-high schooler for a plumb role. 

Precocious Anne Hathaway, 11, chewed up the scenery as pigtailed psychopath Rhoda Penmark in a performance the Orlando Sentinel described as “brilliant … [Anne] was able to project a chilling ruthlessness, which told her audience that under the smile a twisted brain was plotting murder.” 

Also that year, Dearing notched his only U.S. film credit, a small role in Naked in the Sun, a low-budget effort about the Seminole Indian warrior Osceola. Although ostensibly set in the Everglades, Naked in the Sun was shot primarily (and appropriately) in Osceola County. Despite lurid posters and “flaming Eastman color,” the film descended into obscurity following its grand premier at Orlando’s Beacham Theater.

Dearing left Rollins shortly thereafter to become artistic director at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, where he gained a reputation for staging lavish musicals such as The Boy Friend, Oliver, West Side Story and My Fair Lady. He died in 1971 at age 58, and memorial services were held at the venue’s main auditorium.

British-born actor Peter Dearing (standing), director of the college’s Department of Theater Arts and an instructor for the young peoples’ program, offered his energetic charges numerous opportunities to perform with the Rollins Players onstage at “the Annie.” In 1957, Dearing notched his only U.S. film credit, a small role in Naked in the Sun, a low-budget effort about the Seminole Indian warrior Osceola. Although ostensibly set in the Everglades, Naked in the Sun was shot primarily (and appropriately) in Osceola County. Despite lurid posters (inset) and “flaming Eastman color,” the film descended into obscurity following its grand premier at Orlando’s Beacham Theater. Original photo courtesy of the Rollins College department of Archives and Special Collections

TICKLING THE IVORIES

Marion Marwick, a pianist who had tickled the ivories with the Toronto Symphony and the Orlando Symphony Orchestra, enjoyed playing jazz — and was good at it. She also enjoyed teaching others to play the piano, and was among several adjunct instructors in 1957, when Community Courses for Young People was inexplicably renamed Community Courses for Children. 

She later became director of the program’s music division and, still reporting to Sauté, was named director of all activities under the auspices of the newly formed Rollins College School of Creative Arts. The school subsumed the children’s program — including the Summer Day Camp — following a reorganization in 1962. 

Under the energetic Marwick, a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, piano instruction dominated after-school offerings. By Marwick’s account, she taught more than 1,000 people of all ages to play during her career. 

“Everyone who took piano lessons from my mother loved her,” recalls Robert Marwick, her son. “She was dedicated. She built that program into a major force in the community and something that meant a lot in the lives of young people.”

Indeed, a social media post from Robert Marwick seeking memories of his mother drew dozens of nostalgic responses recounting how Mrs. Marwick had made a difference — as good piano teachers often do — by becoming a friend and confidant. 

Marwick’s jaw-dropping student count, however, was possible because in addition to individual instruction she was an exponent of the Pace Method — created by pianist and educator Robert Pace — which advocated teaching piano in large groups. The School of Creative Arts was one of the first in the U.S. to adopt the method. 

Pace, director of the piano department at Teachers College, Columbia University (from which he had earned a doctorate) and director of the National Piano Foundation, consulted with Marwick and visited Winter Park each year to check the program’s progress.

 Visitors to the School of Creative Arts when it moved to R.D. Keene Hall in 1974 (location of the college’s Virginia S. and W. W. Nelson Department of Music) remember the second floor as containing dozens of pianos of every sort, many side by side, and youngsters playing them while wearing headphones.

By the mid-1960s, the burgeoning school offered nearly 30 courses per term and attracted some 1,200 students who could choose from sessions in piano, voice, brass and woodwinds, violin and viola, and guitar and banjo. There was also instruction in painting and sculpture, ceramics and weaving and, somewhat incongruously, conversational Spanish and French. 

An annual Rollins Piano Festival of the School of Creative Arts was launched and drew music students and educators from around the U.S. Pace, among others, attended as an adjudicator for student competitions. Marwick, who left Rollins in 1970 to begin a private piano instruction school called Creative Keyboards, died in 2005 at age 81.

The School of Creative Arts was one of the first in the U.S. to offer piano instruction using the Pace Method, created by pianist and educator Robert Pace, who advocated instruction in large groups. Teacher Mary Jarmon Nelson is shown here, but the music program was run by Marion Marwick (inset), a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Original photo courtesy of the Rollins College department of Archives and Special Collections

PHONSIE’S LASTING LEGACY

Most classes in Community Courses for Young People — and later the School of Creative Arts — were taught by adjunct faculty, often teachers from Orange County Public Schools. One prominent college music professor, however, found a mission through the program and in so doing created a lasting but underappreciated legacy by establishing the Florida Symphony Youth Symphony. 

Violinist Alphonse “Phonsie” Carlo, during an interview for a job at the college’s music department — then known as the Rollins College Conservatory of Music — was asked by Rollins President Hamilton Holt, who had sung first tenor in the Yale Glee Club, if he could play an Irish folk song, “Londonderry Air.”

The tune, which originated in County Londonderry in Ireland, is used as the victory anthem of Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games, an international multisport competition. But anyone who has ever heard the popular ballad “Danny Boy” will recognize “Londonderry Air,” from which the melody is appropriated.

Carlo, who studied violin at Yale University and the Julliard School of Music, deftly fulfilled Holt’s request, accompanied by the president on an old stand-up piano stationed in his office. A delighted Holt offered Carlo a job as an assistant professor of music in 1943. 

In 1953, Carlo was recruited to teach violin through Community Courses for Young People. By all accounts a kind and patient man who enjoyed instructing students of all ages, Carlo agreed and offered after-school lessons, as did his accomplished wife, Katherine, a concert pianist with whom he frequently performed. 

Shortly thereafter, Carlo persuaded the Orange County School Board and the Florida Symphony Orchestra — for which he had become concert master — that a youth orchestra would benefit everyone involved. 

Through such a program, schools could offer orchestral training without the expense of starting orchestral programs. And the symphony could develop players-in-waiting while expanding its base of support through the proud parents of school-age musicians. 

Announcements were made and an article was published in the Orlando Sentinel. On the first Saturday in November 1953, more than 100 students from middle school through high school, their instruments in tow, assembled at Howard Junior High School. 

On subsequent Saturdays, there were free classes for beginning and intermediate players followed by a rehearsal for students who were sufficiently advanced to become the first members of the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra. Assisting the busy Carlo, who also played in a baroque ensemble, were several other symphony players and public-school music teachers. 

Glenridge Junior High School was the first local public school to form an orchestra, in 1957. (Winter Park High School did not have an orchestra until 1962.) Forming a competent, much less a good, youth orchestra was no small feat in 1953, when the music programs in most public schools were centered upon brass-heavy marching bands. 

Still, Carlo had a gift for recognizing and cultivating young talent. In 1954, the 30-member youth orchestra — perhaps seeded with some more experienced collegiate ringers — played alongside the professionals at the Florida Symphony Orchestra’s annual Spring Pops Concert at Orlando Municipal Auditorium (now the Bob Carr Theater). 

“I’ve never seen a group of students with more self-discipline and more earnestness in their work,” said Edward Preodor, head of the violin department at the University of Florida in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. 

Continued Preodor: “Students who will give up their Saturday mornings to study are the best type of students. But more important still is the leadership of your conductor, Alphonse Carlo. He is obviously a leading musician who understands young people and who loves to work with them.” The fledgling youth orchestra also performed solo concerts, including at least two that were televised locally. 

Carlo stepped down as conductor in 1960, but remained a steady and supportive presence. The college covered some operating expenses and was listed for several years in the 1970s as the youth orchestra’s sponsoring organization — although the nature of the partnership appears to have been informal. 

The Florida Symphony Orchestra’s Women’s Committee, meanwhile, provided scholarships for young players to study with Carlo and others at the School of Creative Arts. The youth orchestra, despite its popularity, received scant attention from the professional orchestra’s management team until 1978, when it was granted “full arm” status. 

Ironically, the junior partner emerged unscathed even after the senior partner collapsed under financial pressure in 1993. 

“Because we remained attached at the hip for so long, our historical narrative has been told from the Florida Symphony Orchestra’s perspective,” says Don Lake, president of the youth orchestra’s board of directors. “But Rollins College, through its former School of Creative Arts, was a profound co-sponsor and financial supporter. Our organization would not even exist without the help the college gave us.” 

Today, Phonsie’s pet project is a thriving 501(c)(3) organization with three full orchestras, a string training orchestra, a chamber music ensemble and a 24-piece jazz orchestra. While Rollins is rarely given credit, the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra can trace its beginnings to Community Courses for Young People and the School of Creative Arts.

The legacy of the Carloses continues in other ways. The Alphonse and Katherine Carlo Music Scholarship, which was established in 1993 thanks to a gift from the Alphonse Carlo Trust, provides scholarships for students to study piano or stringed instruments. There is also a Carlo Room in the R.D. Keene Music Building. Katherine Carlo died in 1990; her husband died in 1992.

In 1953, Alphonse “Phonsie” Carlo, was recruited to teach violin through Community Courses for Young People. By all accounts a kind and patient man who enjoyed instructing students of all ages, Carlo agreed and offered after-school lessons, as did his accomplished wife, Katherine, a concert pianist with whom he frequently performed. Original photo courtesy of the Rollins College department of Archives and Special Collections

A LONG GOODBYE

Whatever happened to the Rollins children’s programs and the School of Creative Arts? It is indeed a long and convoluted story. But essentially McKean — who started the program — lost interest in it as his determination to establish a full-fledged, degree-granting adult education program grew. 

In 1960, McKean announced formation of the Institute for General Studies, which encompassed three divisions: Courses for the Community, which included the School of Creative Arts; the Graduate Programs, which offered an MBA as well as advanced degrees in physics and teaching; and the School of General Studies, which would for the first time in the college’s history offer an undergraduate degree — a Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies — to adult learners. 

Although the institute had no dean, Sauté directed Courses for the Community and the School of General Studies. The Rollins Alumni Record described the programs as “much more than a fine community gesture” and lauded Sauté as “not interested in press clippings and service awards; he is interested in education.”

His boss, however, had no qualms about generating press clippings. The following year, McKean attempted to launch a so-called Rollins College Space Institute, which he envisioned would become the crown jewel of the School of General Studies. 

Despite much hoopla — and lavish media coverage — the liftoff fizzled and the project was never mentioned again in print after 1963. However, the mercurial president continued to be intrigued with new ideas for expanded offerings — none of them involving children’s programs.

When McKean did take note of the School of Creative Arts, he seemed annoyed — perhaps embarrassed — by its presence. Several times, in fact, he threatened to shutter the program over administrative snafus. 

“I have appointed no one to teach in the [School of Creative Arts] for this fall term,” McKean wrote in a 1962 memorandum to Marwick. “If anyone is actually teaching, by this memorandum I will direct the treasurer to discontinue their salaries. No department of this college can or should make laws for itself. Unless the [School of Creative Arts] can conform to the principles and practices of the college, I will recommend to the trustees that it either be discontinued or reorganized.” 

While McKean was justified in insisting that Marwick follow established protocols, such as securing proper approvals for instructor appointments, his tone seemed unduly harsh. The school was, after all, a nonacademic, noncredit program that primarily taught arts, crafts and music to children. 

It is also not quite clear why McKean did not first take the matter up with Sauté, who was nominally Marwick’s supervisor. But Sauté, too, at times incurred the patrician president’s icy ire. In a 1963 memo, McKean expressed concern to Sauté about the caliber of the adjunct faculty in the institute’s degree-granting program.

“No one who would not qualify as a member of the College of Liberal Arts is to teach in the Institute for General Studies,” McKean wrote. “Unless it is possible for us to maintain identical standards in the institute and the liberal arts college, I will recommend that the trustees discontinue the institute at the end of the year.”

Frustrated by what he felt were mediocre programs but unwilling to invest in their improvement, McKean was surely elated in 1964, when the college received a $1 million gift from financier Roy E. Crummer. Now here was something McKean could be proud of — a prestigious, well-funded graduate school that didn’t draw comparisons to a kindergarten, a country club or a community college (then called junior colleges).

The funds were used to build and endow the Roy E. Crummer School of Finance and Business Administration (now the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business), which originally offered both MBA and Master of Commercial Science degrees. 

Said McKean: “[The Crummer School] will help to strengthen the human element in business. It will strive to make men of its students, not machines. The business world needs leaders prepared to think responsibly, not rely on pushing buttons and pulling levers.”

 With the MBA program now having its own dean, McKean dropped the Institute for General Studies and formed the Central Florida School for Continuing Studies, which had responsibility only for Courses for the Community, the School of Creative Arts and a branch campus at Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County. Sauté was retained as the school’s director.

Still, McKean never embraced the School of Creative Arts, nor the multi-named, all-purpose adult education program under which the children’s activities operated. Perhaps he had come to believe that they were detrimental to the college’s vision of itself as a serious academic institution.

Yes, he had allowed both programs to continue — but he complained about them constantly and never articulated a path forward that would gain his favor. The fence-mending outreach initiatives that had seemed so important a decade earlier now seemed to have become annoyances, especially as the Wagner debacle faded into memory.

As McKean approached retirement age, he continued to put forth big ideas. In 1967, he made headlines with a proposal to create a national university through which a student of any age and in any location could earn a low-cost bachelor’s degree through courses on television and radio, videotape recordings and correspondence instruction without setting foot on a physical college campus. 

“We cannot send everyone to college,” he said. “But we can send college to everyone.” The idea presaged later notions of virtual universities and the “colleges without walls” concept.

McKean, who had become an iconic figure in the region through his high-profile presidency, announced that he would retire and assume the newly created role of chancellor by the beginning of the school year in September 1969. 

“I’m just an old art teacher,” he would later tell the Orlando Sentinel. And perhaps he would have preferred just to paint, ensconced in his Park Avenue “scriptorium” (an apartment studio above the Winter Park Land Company) turning out haunting, impressionistic images dominated by blues, greens and blacks — some containing the sort of supernatural elements, such as ghosts and angels, often found in folk art. 

McKean, however, would not be the only departure from Rollins in 1969. In February of that year, Dean of the College Donald W. Hill sent a brief memo to the president: “Mr. Sauté, age 65, may be retired, if desired.” 

Obviously, McKean desired precisely that. In March, he notified Sauté by letter that it was his “unpleasant assignment … to tell you that the board of trustees have agreed, in view of the fact that you are 65 years of age, not to reappoint you to the position of director of the Central Florida School for Continuing Studies (previously known as the School of General Studies.)” 

Sauté was thanked for his years of service and offered an opportunity to teach — likely at an adjunct’s stipend — if he wished. The mathematician, however, resisted. He was healthy and, in his estimation, had done a good job given the limited resources at his disposal. 

True, enrollment in his program had dropped from a peak of 1,155 in 1966 to 828 in 1969, but Sauté had planned to introduce new courses for law enforcement officers as well as programs for public servants in recreation, finance and fire safety. 

Further, the School of Creative Arts, which Sauté allowed Marwick to run as she saw fit, had launched a successful Summer Day Camp two years prior — more than 1,000 youngsters attended its programs — and it had continued to foster goodwill in the community. 

But McKean would not back down — he had, in fact, already extended an offer to someone else — and Sauté’s plea to incoming President Jack B. Critchfield, the 36-year-old chancellor of student affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, was politely rebuffed. 

“In attempting to learn as much as I can about your retirement, it appears that the executive committee of the board of trustees, along with President McKean, decided that this action was necessary and that it should be a firm decision,” wrote Critchfield to Sauté. However, the incoming president continued, he hoped that he could count on Sauté’s wisdom and guidance in the coming months. 

In academia, it seems, pink slips are often accompanied by plaudits.
Sauté was dismissed with decorum at the May 1969 commencement. McKean read a citation, which surely sounded more like a eulogy to the honoree: 

“George Sauté, dedicated professor, concerned citizen, leader in common ventures; as one who has helped lift our vision of world peace, given new directions and dimensions to the education of adults, and helped so many to carry on past their discouragements and even their small hopes; for what you have done and the tradition in which you stand, it is my privilege to bestow upon you as a faithful servant of Rollins, the Rollins Decoration of Honor.” 

And so ended a 26-year career at the college. Sauté pioneered the program that would become the Hamilton Holt School, yet his name is little remembered today. His legacy, however, can be seen most nights on campus when classrooms fill with men and women of all ages and backgrounds — many of whom have already spent the day working or caring for children.

Although he was also named professor emeritus, there is no record that George Sauté, dedicated professor, concerned citizen and faithful servant, ever again taught at Rollins.

The School of Creative Arts continued for a while. But it was absorbed in 1982 by the Division of Non-Credit Courses, which was a subsidiary of what had by then been renamed (again) and was known as the School of Continuing Education. After several other iterations, it became today’s Hamilton Holt School in 1987. 

A last vestige of the School of Creative Arts, the Summer Day Camp, remained until the plug was pulled in 2015. In an email to the families of campers, Rollins Assistant Vice President Patricia Schoknecht wrote that the program was being canceled “after careful consideration and assessment of resources.”

Ironically, the program was more popular than ever, even with three- and four-week sessions costing $825 to $1,100. “We’re a huge fan of it, and we’re sad to see it go away,” said parent Sally Castro in an Orlando Sentinel story about the closure. “It was unique.” Added parent Susan Godorov, who went to the camp as a child and also sent her daughter: “I feel like a gem in the community has been lost.”

Perhaps the children’s programs were a vestige of an earlier, simpler time. But for many Winter Parkers of a certain age — and for many of their children — the after-school hours spent laughing and learning on a college campus made a profound impact. Even if it sometimes felt like anarchy on Ollie Avenue. 


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