WINTER PARK, TIME TO TAKE A BOW

Winter Parkers have their names on two of the three indoor venues at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Recently completed Steinmetz Hall (above) is named for Chuck and Margery Pabst Steinmetz (below). Another theater is named for Jim and Alexis Pugh (bottom). Jim Pugh is also the arts center’s original (and current) board president. Photos by Rafael Tongol (Steinmetzes and Pughs)

When Steinmetz Hall at downtown Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts hosts its first performances in January, among those taking a bow ought to be the citizens of Winter Park. Several, though, have earned additional bravos.

Among them are Chuck and Margery Pabst Steinmetz, who in 2015 announced that they would donate $12 million for a planned third venue, an acoustically pristine 1,700-seat hall to complement the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater and the more intimate 300-seat Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater — which is likewise named for a pair of Winter Parkers. 

Additionally, Jim Pugh is the original (and currently presiding) chairman of the arts center’s board of directors and was a driving force behind making the decades-long dream of a world-class, multivenue campus a reality.

Although only the Steinmetzes and the Pughs have theaters emblazoned with their names, many Winter Park residents are significantly invested. Next time you attend a show, just peruse the list of directors and supporters printed in ArtsLife or Broadway at Dr. Phillips Center. You’ll recognize plenty of neighbors.

In fact, along with the heavy hitters, everyone who lives in the city has pitched in to some degree. In 2014, local elected officials — namely Mayor Ken Bradley and Commissioners Steve Leary, Tom McMacken and Sarah Sprinkel — stepped up and voted to allocate $1 million to the project, to be paid in 10 annual installments of $100,000 each. 

The money comes from a city trust fund earmarked for organizational support. Other beneficiaries include the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts, Mead Botanical Garden, United Arts, the Winter Park Day Nursery and the Winter Park Historical Association. 

Such largess hardly breaks the budget. Contributions are equal to .0025 percent (that’s one quarter of one percent) of revenue collected for the general fund and utilities services. The not-so-grand total is about $350,000 per year.

For context, if you divide $350,000 by the 14,600 households within the city limits, you get about $24 per year per household. But, because that calculation fails to include revenue from utilities customers in unincorporated Orange County, even $24 is an overstatement. 

Be that as it may, let’s avoid more complicated math and concede that maintaining the trust fund costs every bit of $24 annually for city residents. If that’s the case, then about $7 per household has gone to the arts center. I’ve paid more for a pint of Guinness Stout at Fiddler’s Green.

Sure, $1 million is a lot of money. But the city’s donation was modest in the scheme of things, and more important symbolically than financially. It came at a pivotal time, and no other municipality (except for Orlando) had skin in the game.

Bradley, Leary, McMaken and Sprinkel knew that the project, even with an address in Orlando, would disproportionally benefit residents of Winter Park — a place where support for the arts is embedded in the civic DNA. And they were right. The last time I checked, people who use 32789 as their zip code made up the second-largest block of arts center ticket buyers.

So, when all is said and done, what has that $7 per year helped to buy? Here’s how Jim Pugh put it at a recent press preview for Steinmetz Hall, the opening of which marked completion of the complex as it was envisioned more than 20 years ago: 

“We set out to build one of the greatest performing arts centers in the world — one that could transform our region and serve as a model for the future — and I think we did exactly that.” 

Plenty of people agree. Even prior to the opening of Steinmetz Hall, more than 2.5 million people had attended 2,400-plus performances that ranged from ballet to Broadway. And more than 633,000 people had enjoyed educational programming through the arts center’s AdventHealth School of Arts.

Was it cheap? No, but anything worth building is worth building right. The 698,312-square-foot facility has cost some $612 million, with support coming from more than 14,000 individual and corporate donors as well as the state, the county, and the cities of Orlando and Winter Park.

Each venue is state-of-the-art, but there are only a handful of buildings on the planet that can match Steinmetz Hall. It was designed to achieve an “N1” sound rating, which is the lowest level at which humans can detect sound. That means it’s built with “unplugged” performances in mind. 

And, as a multiform venue, the hall can change its configuration to suit any kind of performance — from full orchestras to small ensembles to dance troupes to solo recitals. 

In addition, the first 22 rows of seats in the lower orchestra can pivot forward 180 degrees and are stored upside down when the angled floor is flattened. In that way, the space can accommodate up to 1,000 people for a cocktail party or up to 688 people for a seated banquet. You have to see it to believe it. 

So, bravo Winter Park, for having the vision seven years ago to support an effort that would elevate the region internationally. Now it’s time to take a bow.

TWO SURGEONS WITH AN AXE TO GRIND

The Axe Trap (above) is definitely an aesthetic improvement over the suggestively domed strip club that it replaced . But more than spiffing up a scuzzy block of Lee Road, entrepreneurial vascular surgeons Manuel Perez and David Varnagy (below, left to right) have enlivened the city by combining food and drink with an oddly therapeutic form of recreation (bottom).

With all the new buildings turning up in Winter Park, you may have missed one that was completed last spring on Lee Road, just east of I-4: an upscale, family-owned enterprise that encourages patrons to enjoy a snack with a beer or a cup of coffee, then pick up an axe and throw it at the wall.

It’s called “The Axe Trap.”

The name is a droll reference to the corner lot’s previous occupant, a strip club that had gone by various names over the years but was best known as The Booby Trap — a creepy up-nod to the club’s architectural profile, once described with characteristic savoir faire by Billy Manes, the late and beloved Orlando Weekly columnist, as “two suggestive domes.” 

Seven years ago, Winter Park officials had a suggestion of their own.

They approved a plan to buy the property for $990,000, have the building torn down, offer up the lot for sale and hold out for a buyer with a business model more apropos for the northwest gateway to the City of Culture and Heritage. 

Eventually, two unlikely takers emerged: vascular surgeons David Varnagy and Manuel Perez, who’ve been partners in an Orlando practice for eight years and best friends for longer still. They have frequently and cheerfully enmeshed families, leisure activities and vacation plans — so why not join forces on a business venture?

“We complement each other,” says Perez, who is from Cuba and Puerto Rico. 

“I always know what he is going to like, and vice versa,” adds Varnagy, who is from Venezuela.

The bond extends to their being unusually well-matched as surgeons. Perez is right-handed and Varnagy is a southpaw, making it easier for both to operate using their respective dominant hands from their places on either side of an anesthetized patient. 

The notion of partnering in an after-hours enterprise evolved after Perez’s son took him to a trendy millennial nightspot in downtown Orlando: an axe-throwing bar. Think craft beers and dart boards, only with bigger targets and heftier projectiles.

Perez was initially unimpressed — “It was all particle board and chain-link fence. It looked like aisle 15 of Home Depot” — but intrigued enough to make a second visit and bring along his bestie, who announced: “Manny, we can do this better.” 

As they have.

The pair bought the lot for $950,000 and spent half again as much to build an airy 5,000-square foot venue with the feel of a converted circa 1920s waterfront warehouse. 

A rear entrance via a deck leads to a quiet seating area featuring industrial-chic couches, semiprivate cubicles — and a yet another homage to the past: a stripper pole fashioned by Perez, a handyman who did much of the interior work himself. 

Perez also installed a hidden door that can be swung into place to hide the pole — which is, of course, for decorative use only — if its presence offends a guest.

An ornate bar is in the middle of the venue, cushioning the lounge area from the staccato thuds and generalized hubbub that begins emanating in late afternoons from the poplar-lined walls of the five netted bays on the far side of the facility. 

Axe-throwing ranges from leisurely to competitive as coached and safely stewarded by Ian White, a young devotee whose fixation with the Canadian lumberjack-born pastime dates to his childhood. 

There’s plenty of cross pollination between the two sides of the place among patrons, as evidenced by Jessica Sudler, a 28-year-old online program manager who works remotely and frequently turns up at the venue, laptop in hand.

“I just have to get out of the house sometimes,” she says. There’s that, plus the late-morning coffee and spinach-artichoke dip, plus the chance for Sudler, who played varsity softball as an undergrad, to head over to the axe-throwing side to wing a few and work out the day’s stressors.

Perhaps you remember Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, the two combat surgeons on M*A*S*H, the feature film and 1970s TV series, who would retreat to a makeshift bar for mingling and martinis after a tough day tending to the wounded. 

I’m reminded of these fictional Korean War medicos when Perez and Varnagy turn up at their new venture in the evenings, sometimes still in their scrubs, clearly enjoying the surroundings.

“They have people’s lives in their hands,” says Varnagy’s wife, Miriam, who has been drafted as the venue’s manager. “They needed a place like this.” 

Maybe that accounts for a second sign on the back side of the enterprise. It applies to the doctors. It applies to the patrons. It applies to the City of Culture and Heritage. 

It says, simply: “Remedy.” 


Michael McLeod, mmcleod@rollins.edu, is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

THE MAN IN THE MOON

For much of my childhood, I couldn’t see the Man in the Moon. I thought my parents were making him up. Or could only adults see him? But one night, all my mother’s pointing paid off, and there he was. I remember feeling sorry for him, being so far away and always looking down at me with his sleepy blue smile. On this poem’s winter night, the moon kept rising and falling teasingly behind the woods I was driving through. When he finally showed his face, he looked different, younger, and, somehow, in love. Like a crooner. But that’s all in the poem, isn’t it?  As Frost said, to paraphrase a poem is “to say it worse.”

THE MAN IN THE MOON

He used to frighten me in the nights of childhood,
The wide adult face, enormous, stern, aloft.
I could not imagine such loneliness, such coldness.

But tonight as I drive home over these hilly roads
I see him sinking behind stands of winter trees
And rising again to show his familiar face.

And when he comes into full view over open fields
He looks like a young man who has fallen in love
With the dark earth,

A pale bachelor, well-groomed and full of melancholy,
His round mouth open
As if he had just broken into song.


Billy Collins is a former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2002-03) and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “The Man in the Moon” originally appeared in Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins. ©2001. Reprinted by permission of Random House.

Photo by Suzannah Gilman

HIDDEN GEM WILL GET EASIER TO FIND

Ena Heller (above left), director of the Rollins Museum of Art, is eagerly awaiting a 2023 move to a new facility (above right) in downtown Winter Park, next to a new facility for the college’s Crummer Graduate School of Business. Then the city’s “hidden gem” of a museum will be hard to miss. Photo by Rafael Tongol (Ena Heller)/Rendering courtesy of Rollins College

When travel guides call the Rollins College Museum of Art “a hidden gem,” Ena Heller takes it as a left-handed compliment. She’s fine with the “gem” part. It’s the “hidden” she could do without.

For nearly a decade, Heller has been director of the museum, built in the late 1970s on the far side of campus, where Holt Avenue dead-ends at Lake Virginia. 

It’s a great location for solitude and scenery, but sorely lacking in two necessities for an institution that’s open to visitors: convenient parking and nearby foot traffic. 

This relative seclusion will end in three years, when the museum is scheduled to move across Fairbanks Avenue to Winter Park proper and into a two-story, $22.6 million facility that will triple its current size and encompass an auditorium, a café, larger galleries for exhibitions and study rooms for students. 

As for parking, there’s the nearby SunTrust garage. As for foot traffic, Park Avenue is just a block away.

The new museum will be situated at the corner of Interlachen and New England avenues. That puts it directly across the street from the Rollins-owned Alfond Inn. There, the college has already established a bustling beachhead where works from the museum’s growing Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art are displayed. 

Next door to the museum will be a 44,000 square-foot building designated for the college’s Crummer Graduate School of Business. These three buildings — the hotel, the museum and the business school — have been dubbed the “Innovation Triangle” by college planners. 

To usher in this new and more high-profile era, the museum’s name was changed this past summer from the Cornell Fine Arts Museum — in honor of Rollins graduates George and Harriett Cornell, the couple who funded its construction — to the Rollins Museum of Art.

You’d expect Heller to be over the moon about all of this. She is. But when she calls the move “a once-in-a generation opportunity,” she has more than location, location, location in mind.

When the job at Rollins became available, Heller was living in New York City and managing a busy kunsthalle, a facility that mounts temporary art exhibitions. “But I was always more interested in teaching,” she says. “And in the back of my mind, I had the type of museum where I would like to be one day.”

Heller, who immigrated to the United States as a child whose family fled Romania to escape a communist regime, has social activism in her blood. That’s obvious from the wide-ranging exhibitions the museum has hosted that emphasize inclusion and multiculturalism. 

Clearly, Heller’s push-the-envelope approach has worked. Despite its obscure location, the museum’s annual visitor count has quadrupled during her tenure.

A recent example of the museum’s more intellectually challenging direction is American Modernisms at the Rollins Museum of Art, which highlights an often-overlooked, multicultural trove of 20th-century artists. The exhibition runs through May of next year.

Such changes reflect a rapidly accelerating evolution among other American art museums, particularly those connected to institutions of higher learning. Many are transitioning away from “being about something to being for somebody,” in the words of the late Stephen Weil, who was emeritus senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Museum Studies.

That decades-long movement involves engaging modern audiences by reassessing marginalized artists, emphasizing multicultural art and creating exhibitions that reflect contemporary sensibilities and issues. The trend has intensified in recent years in light of changing demographics and heightened social unrest. 

Heller says she’s intrigued by the dynamic of exploring that fresh artistic landscape in the middle of Winter Park, given its “label of elitist.” She also praises the late Hugh McKean, past professor of art and later president of the college who, with his wife, Jeannette, founded the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. 

McKean — an anti-elitist despite his patrician personality — strove to make art more accessible and less inscrutable. An early name he chose for his collection was “The Museum of Living Art,” through which objects were distributed to various on-campus buildings rather than being ensconced in a single place. 

In 1941, he opened the college’s Morse Gallery of Art — which preceded the modern-day museum, unaffiliated with the college, on Park Avenue. That means, upon completion of the Rollins Museum of Art, downtown Winter Park will be anchored on the north and the south by two very different but equally intriguing arts attractions.

By the way, it’s likely that by the time the Rollins Museum of Art moves into its new home, two other Central Florida museums will have relocated or expanded.

The city of Orlando’s Mennello Museum of Art has a $20 million expansion planned that will encompass its current home in Loch Haven Park, while the nearby Orlando Museum of American Art hopes to celebrate its 100th birthday by adding a second location in a 33-story five-star hotel bordered by Church and Pine Streets in downtown Orlando.

The travel guide folks will have plenty of gems from which to choose. And none of them will be hidden. 


Michael McLeod, mmcleod@rollins.edu, is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College. 

LOOKING FOR ‘PEOPLE TO WATCH’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A NEW DAY FOR THE WINTER PARK INSTITUTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—R.N.

BACK TO THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD

Setzer (above left) touches up an image of Paul Day’s lifelike Fred Rogers sculpture prior to it being cast in bronze. The owner of Circle 7 Design Studio also creates large-scale graphics for exhibitions, including those at the Winter Park History Museum. A prime example (above right) is a mural of Rollins College students in the 1930s diving into Lake Virginia.

Just as Fred Rogers liked you just the way you are, we hope you like this issue of Winter Park Magazine just the way it is. And it all starts with the cover, which is a genre-spanning work of art within another work of art.

On October 29, Rollins College will unveil a sculpture depicting its most famous alumnus, the man who would inspire generations of youngsters (and their parents) through his PBS TV series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Naturally, we wanted to show the completed monument on the cover. Photographs of the clay version, which was sent to a foundry in the Czech Republic for bronzing, revealed an extraordinary accomplishment by British sculptor Paul Day.

Day showed Rogers as he would undoubtedly wish to be seen — entertaining wide-eyed children with the help of Daniel Striped Tiger, one of his iconic hand puppets.

The problem was, photographs of the monument finished in bronze had been embargoed by the college until the unveiling ceremony — which wouldn’t happen until a month after this issue went to press.

What to do? Enter Will Setzer of Circle 7 Design Studio in Winter Park. Setzer, a master at refurbishing and colorizing vintage photographs, has created many large-format graphics for museum exhibitions (including those at the Winter Park History Museum). 

His work can also be seen at Hard Rock Cafés and throughout Walt Disney World, where he has worked for Walt Disney Imagineering and now creates environmentally themed images that promote the company’s Conservation Fund. 

In fact, Setzer’s original ambition was not to be an artist but a large-animal veterinarian. He earned a two-year degree in animal science at the University of North Carolina before discovering his passion for design and illustration. He later earned a degree in graphic design from Flagler College in St. Augustine.

Says Setzer: “Today, I’m able to combine my animal science and graphic arts degrees to bring awareness to animal conservation through art and storytelling.”

But a lot of his work involves people, too. For this issue’s cover, Winter Park Magazine provided Setzer with digital closeups that showed details from the clay version of A Beautiful Day for a Neighbor, the title of Day’s sculpture. The image that isolated Rogers and Daniel Striped Tiger seemed the best candidate.

However, the puppet was out of focus in the image chosen. So Setzer took the shy and scruffy cub from a different image and combined the two before converting everything to black and white and layering colors. “Creating about 15 different skin tones for the face and eight different red tones to complete the sweater was just a part of the process,” says Setzer, who used an airbrush tool to apply and blend the muted hues. There are 52 layers in the final Photoshop image.

Setzer says he enjoyed taking a preliminary version of Day’s sculpted art and reimagining it graphically: “Each new experience elevates my creativity and drive to express my heart and passion.” 

To see more of Setzer’s work, visit behance.net/willsetzer.

PARK AVENUE: ENDEARING, ENDURING

Park Avenue is, in every way, the heart of Winter Park. At Simmons Jewelers, co-owner Robin Simmons (above left) employs Bling and Chiwa to raise the spirits of customers. At the nearby Ancient Olive, owners Jeffrey Schrader and and Bryan Behling (above right) helped a Farmers’ Market vendor weather the pandemic. Photography by Rafael Tongol

Ask me to name my favorite Park Avenue establishment and ordinarily I’d nominate the Morse Museum, for the stained glass, or the Briar Patch, for the California Benedict. These days I’d have to go with Simmons Jewelers, for the girls on the runway.

By girls I mean Bling, a fluffy Pomeranian, and Chiwa, a fashion-forward Chihuahua. By runway I mean the display cases at the avenue’s oldest shop, where at any given moment you might find Bling and Chiwa promenading, their polished nails ticking delicately against the glass.

“The tourists especially ask to see them,” says co-owner Robin Simmons. “They’re working girls. They love the attention.”

I’m no stage-door Johnny, and my taste in dogs historically runs to huskies, pit bulls and mutts. But over the past year and a half, I’ve been worried enough about the avenue to find the sight of scale-model pets strolling above Rolex watches and expensive jewelry reassuring. Nothing like a couple of mascots to boost your morale.

Walk the length of Winter Park’s signature commercial boulevard these days and you’ll pass 11 vacant storefronts. Pandemic casualties range from a fun, true-to-its-name toy store called “Lighten Up!” to the progressive-cuisine emporium Luma on Park. 

But the majority of the 140 merchants in the downtown district used a combination of ingenuity, inventiveness, savings accounts, PPP loans and a lucky break or two to survive. 

“I became the book fairy,” says Lauren Zimmerman, owner of Writer’s Block Bookstore. For the benefit of bibliophiles hesitant to visit the shop, she began delivering books as well as puzzles —  the latter a hot item among cabin-fever victims. Meanwhile Zimmerman and her staff were beefing up the shop’s website for expanded e-commerce.

Some boutique owners opened after hours so customers could shop solo. Lisa West, owner of Charyli (the name is an amalgam of her four children’s first names), got into the delivery business, too, and did a healthy swimsuit trade thanks to homebound customers using the opportunity to work on their tans. 

Like several other merchants up and down the avenue, Kevin and Jami Ray, co-owners of Peterbrooke Chocolatier, took pride in getting through the pandemic without having to lay off staff — a feat they managed with an assist from the National Basketball Association. 

The shop got a boost when the NBA needed help stocking welcome baskets for players and staffers after creating the “NBA Bubble” at Walt Disney World — a self-imposed quarantine zone to gather and protect its athletes and try to salvage a single-site 2019-20 season.

Another stroke of luck, perhaps the most important one: A year before the pandemic, a group of small-business owners had formed the Park Avenue District as a think tank and lobbying group. 

“Little did we know how much we were going to need each other,” says Sarah Grafton, a savvy and engaging financial adviser whose idea it was. “We had some members who were really in a tough spot.”

The presence of the group enhanced a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie that was epitomized, despite dour headlines and pervasive angst, by a moment that took place out of sight, in an airy alcove just off the avenue called The Hidden Garden.

It happened just outside The Ancient Olive, a gourmet outpost filled with hard-to-find olive oils and vinegars. Its owners, Jeffrey Schrader and Bryan Behling, were talking to one of the merchants at the Farmers’ Market, located a block away, which was closed for two months in the early phase of the pandemic.

“They were saying they’d just have to take everything back to the farm and plow it under,” says Schrader. “So, we arranged to have them set up their tables outside our store.”

Hearing the tale that day, a customer who wishes to remain anonymous bought all the produce —  to the tune of $5,000 — and donated it to a retirement home. 

Park Avenue is a place where that kind of magic can happen. When you say it’s in the heart of Winter Park, there’s no need to point out the double meaning. It’s our avenue, meant to be celebrated, especially now.

On one of my recent visits, as I headed toward the avenue from the direction of the train station, I saw a little girl who must have been about 9 years old. She was jumping up and down and clapping her hands for the joy of having spotted SunRail cars approaching.

I said to myself: That’s the spirit.


Michael McLeod, mmcleod@rollins.edu, is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

IT’S A TIEDTKE FAMILY TRADITION

Philip Tiedtke (above right) originally thought the Winter Park Library & Events Center (above left) was too large and costly. Now he’s funding the amphitheater that will bear his family’s name.

Winter Park could use a lot more folks like Philip and Sigrid Tiedtke —  and not just because they’re well positioned to make a difference through philanthropy. That’s nice, of course, but hardly unique in a city filled with people whose bank balances are healthy enough to support an array of causes. 

What’s so admirable about the Tiedtkes is the purposeful way they go about their giving, always seeking to solve a problem, fill a need or make the community a better place culturally and intellectually. Take the Winter Park Library & Events Center, for example.

When news broke that the city had fallen $750,000 short in private fundraising needed to complete an amphitheater on the soon-to-open campus, Philip Tiedtke picked up the phone, called City Manager Randy Knight and offered to cover the entire tab.

Just a few weeks later, it was announced that the amphitheater would be completed on schedule and would heretofore be known as Tiedtke Amphitheater.

I never worried that no one would step up. But this particular benefactor was an unexpected one. Tiedtke happened to be among those who, from the very beginning, thought the whole glitzy celebritect-designed complex was simply just too costly for a small city — even an affluent one. 

Such a viewpoint was entirely defensible and shared by nearly half of registered voters. After all, a razor-thin majority approved the bond issue in 2016, a result that reflected genuine discomfort among many voters. Elections, however, have consequences.

“It’s happening, so all those arguments are moot,” says Tiedtke, whose donation was made through his family’s Florida Charities Foundation. “The only thing that matters now is, do you care about the future of Winter Park? If you do, then you need to get behind this beautiful project.”

Take a moment and let that sentiment sink in. A person initially unsupportive of the entire effort just wrote a substantial check to pay for an enhancement — and at the same time called for erstwhile naysayers to rally around the flag. 

No, that doesn’t mean Tiedtke believes he was incorrect in 2016. He does, however, believe this: Once a new library and events center became a fait accompli, the focus should have shifted toward making it a great library and events center. 

Also intriguing about the Tiedtke connection is possible synergy between Winter Park’s brand-new civic hub and Enzian’s 30-year-old Florida Film Festival. 

Enzian, the region’s only art-house cinema, was funded by the legendary John M. Tiedtke, Philip’s father, and was first run by Philip’s sister Tina. Later, Philip and Sigrid had charge of the beloved community institution, which is tucked away on that familiar wooded lot in Maitland.

Today, Enzian’s managing director is Elizabeth Tiedtke Mukherjee, Philip and Sigrid’s daughter, who spent much of her childhood darting around the theater and began helping as soon as she was old enough to take tickets.

“The film festival was an afterthought when I made the donation for the amphitheater,” insists Tiedtke, who adds that cooperative opportunities will be explored. “Maybe there are ways we could broaden the festival’s footprint into Winter Park. If there are, we’ll try.” 

So, while it’s much too early to suggest any specific connection between the star-studded, Oscar-qualifying event and the dazzling David Adjaye-designed campus in Winter Park, the possibilities are intriguing. Also intriguing is speculation about what Tiedtke may do next.

Just prior to writing a check for the amphitheater, his family foundation contributed $3 million for an as-yet unnamed black box theater and rehearsal space on the campus of Rollins College (see page 24). The new building would replace the Fred Stone Theater, a charming but rickety circa-1920s church that had been demolished due to safety concerns.

“Again, it was a question of need,” says Tiedtke, who’s a member of the college’s board of trustees. “It was time to give the theater project a nudge forward.”

Surely arts philanthropy is in Tiedtke’s genes. His father became an angel to nearly every arts organization in town, including the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, the Florida Symphony Orchestra, the Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Opera and the Festival of Orchestras in addition to being a founder/funder of United Arts of Central Florida.

The elder Tiedtke, who had made his fortune growing sugar in South Florida, even took over operation of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park when founder Isabelle Sprague-Smith died in 1950.

The music-loving magnate served as president of the nonprofit and would remain in that position — often funding deficits from his own pocket — for 54 years until his death at age 97. The flagship music venue at Rollins is the John M. Tiedtke Concert Hall. 

With that sort of family history — and with two
headline-making acts of philanthropy in rapid succession — could it be assumed that Tiedtke has more delightful surprises up his sleeve?

“That’s how you should end the column,” says Tiedtke with a smile, leaving me momentarily puzzled and prompting him to repeat himself. “I mean, you just wrote your ending. The column should end with that question.”

Of the 2,100 day students at Rollins College, 541 are taking classes virtually. Consequently, professors like writer Michael McLeod have had to find new ways to teach just as students have had to find new ways to learn. Photo by Rafael Tongol

IT'S BUMPY, BUT ALSO ENLIGHTENING

Of the 2,100 day students at Rollins College, 541 are taking classes virtually. Consequently, professors like writer Michael McLeod have had to find new ways to teach just as students have had to find new ways to learn. Photo by Rafael Tongol

It’s mid-February as I write this, not that you’d know it from the artificial Christmas tree still standing in my girlfriend’s living room. 

Denise is neither a procrastinator nor a haphazard housekeeper: This is a woman who makes me take my shoes off at the door.  

But as a teacher in the time of COVID-19 — a Montessori practitioner who devotes 14 hours a day, five days a week to teaching 19 homebound, public-school 6- to 9-year-olds online — she’s both overtaxed and isolated.

Maybe she doesn’t have the time to take the tree down. Maybe she just needs the warmth it provides.

Educators of every ilk have been faced with the sterile challenge of retooling their way of doing things because of the pandemic. For Denise, that means inventing virtual work-arounds in her dining room, which serves as a solitary, one-room schoolhouse.

Montessori teaching emphasizes a hands-on approach. Online teaching ties those hands. Boisterous children whom Denise once engaged in a warm, energetic social setting now appear as individual faces lined up in neat rows on her small, school-issued laptop. Meanwhile she materializes on their screens as just another talking head. 

She does her best to compensate. “My style in the classroom was Fred Rogers,” she says. “Online, I feel like I have to be Barney the Purple Dinosaur.” 

Tell me about it. Thousands of educators who work with every age level have been adapting to Jurassic-period transitions of their own. That includes me and my Rollins College colleagues. 

The only visible post-coronavirus changes on campus are a few tented open-air classrooms and signs advising (insisting, actually) that visitors wear masks. Underneath it all is a transformation roughly equivalent to a GMC production line suddenly charged with cranking out Teslas.

Of the 2,100 students enrolled in Rollins’ College of Liberal Arts, 541 are taking classes from off campus. That turns professors into jugglers: face-to-face with some students while connecting concurrently, via WebEx, to others.

It’s a situation met with scholarly inventiveness by the likes of environmental science professor Lee Lines, who uses a headset for sound and a cell phone link for visuals to bring virtual students along for the ride as he conducts tours of Winter Park to study architecture, urban hydrology and tree canopies.

Lucy Littler, a lecturer in the English Department, worries about how to be sure virtual students are fully engaged. So she borrowed a tactic from a favorite professor from her own undergraduate days, who perked everyone up by asking a silly question while taking attendance (“If a movie was made of your life, what would the title be?”). 

Her approach is less jovial, but effective: She poses a question about class content to each student. “I’m not as funny as he was,” she concedes. But her expectations about classroom preparation, be it online or in person, are clarified quite nicely.

Mindful of how isolated first-year virtual students can feel, Ellane Park, who teaches an introductory chemistry class, sometimes uses her Apple iPad as a social conduit during breaks, flipping it around so that her virtual students can get a glimpse of both campus and classmates and take part in casual chats.

When I had students in my composition class write about the situation, I was struck by an essay penned by communications major Danielle Gober, who addressed how cheated she felt after deciding to spend her senior year off campus. 

It took me back to how pride and nostalgia mingle during that long-awaited final year, when the feeling that you own the place is gradually superseded by the dawning revelation that the place, in its own particular way, will always own you.

Rollins has a longstanding hands-on approach of its own, going overboard to provide students with an array of seminars, performances, lectures, focus groups and social events — roughly 400 a year, according to Micki Meyer, the college’s Lord Family Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, who’s been in charge of arranging such activities for 16 years.  

She says that despite the screen burnout plaguing both online and face-to-face students, the response has been enthusiastic for virtual gatherings this year, ranging from crafts to karaoke to trivia to creating tailor-made greeting cards. She told me, as did many professors, her online adaptations have been a bumpy but enlightening ride.

“I feel like my entire professional identity had to change. I’ve had to reimagine my whole career.”

Sounds like a Montessori teacher I know. 


Michael McLeod, mmcleod@rollins.edu, is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

A Beautiful Day for a Neighborhood appropriately shows Mister Rogers surrounded by children. Photo courtesy of Rollins College

A MONUMENT TO A GENTLE SOUL

A Beautiful Day for a Neighborhood appropriately shows Mister Rogers surrounded by children. Photo courtesy of Rollins College

Last winter in this space, several months before the world changed, Winter Park Magazine revealed that a Rollins College graduate named Fred McFeely Rogers (Class of 1951) would be immortalized with a sculpture on the picturesque campus where, as an undergraduate, the soft-spoken music composition major was inspired by a plaque that read “Life is for Service.”

Paul Day — whose public-art installations include The Meeting Place, a 30-foot-tall sculpture in London’s St. Pancras International, a major railway station — had already been commissioned to create a bronze monument to the man who had become known worldwide as Mister Rogers.

Then, in March 2020, everything went to hell in a handbasket. I assumed that the project, much like life as we knew it, had been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But since Allan Keen was the primary mover and shaker behind the initiative, I should have known better. At this writing, Day has completed the work, entitled A Beautiful Day for a Neighborhood. The clay creation is now being bronzed in the Czech Republic and will be installed, with much fanfare, in October at a campus location yet to be determined.

Expect whatever patch of real estate the monument ultimately occupies to become akin to a holy place for fans of Mister Rogers and his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And isn’t that just about everyone?

I’ll briefly recap how it all came about. Keen, who in 1968 earned an MBA from the college’s Crummer Graduate School of Business, is today owner of the Keewin Real Property Company in Winter Park. He has twice been chairman of the college’s board of trustees (from 2006 to 2008 and 2016 to 2019). 

In May 2019, Keen and his wife, Linda, were enjoying a barge canal cruise through rural France when they noticed some intriguing sculptures in the vessel’s gathering area. The wife of the barge captain explained that the artist was Day, a world-renowned figure who happened to be a family friend. Would they care to visit his country studio near Dijon in Burgundy, France?

Well, of course they would! Then Keen had a thought. Because of Day’s international reputation, wouldn’t a Mister Rogers monument created by him be a meaningful addition to what was already regarded by U.S. News & World Report and others as the most beautiful college campus in the country?

Day, however, was unfamiliar with Rogers. So, at Keen’s invitation, the sculptor visited Rollins in September 2019 to scout locations and interview administrators and staffers who could testify that the man and the TV personality were essentially one in the same. Mister Rogers, Day discovered, was the real deal.

The monument — which was funded by private donations — is seven feet tall and weighs 3,000 pounds. Rogers, who continued to visit his alma mater until the final year of his life, would surely appreciate the fact that he is shown seated — wearing his trademark sweater and sneakers and surrounded by children.

Just look at the faces of the youngsters. They’re enthralled by Daniel Striped Tiger, to the obvious delight of the puppet’s creator, whose familiar gentle smile will compel you to smile back — regardless of how terribly your day is going. 

Other residents of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe adorn the back of the monument, while lyrics from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” are inscribed on the base. Suffice it to say, there isn’t a heartstring that this overdue homage doesn’t pluck. 

Keen says that A Beautiful Day for a Neighborhood will cost north of $600,000. But given the state of the world and the ability of Mister Rogers — nearly two decades after his death — to uplift and inspire, I’d say it was a bargain.

—Randy Noles

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