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


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 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

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


Billy Collins once compared what he does for a living to taking people out for a drive and then dropping them off in a cornfield, a little dazed but none the worse for wear. 

Good thing for him that it’s just a metaphor, given how hard cornfields are to come by in Winter Park, where the 79-year-old native New Yorker and former two-term U.S. poet laureate has been living since 2007. 

Good thing for us, too, now that it’s time for another joyride.

Whale Day: And Other Poems (Random House, 2020), published in September, is Collins’ 13th volume of verse — and his sixth since moving to the home near downtown where he lives with his wife, Suzannah. The previous book, The Rain in Portugal, was a New York Times bestseller.

The new collection demonstrates that Collins, who has been described as the most popular poet in the country, remains a shrewd craftsman and puckish storyteller. 

As is his custom, Collins named his latest collection using the title of one of its poems, which in this case revolves around his whimsical suggestion that we ought to create a holiday to honor whales in recognition of their epic circumnavigating:

 So is it too much to ask that one day a year
be set aside for keeping in mind
while we step onto a bus, consume a ham sandwich,
or stoop to pick up a coin from a sidewalk
the multitude of these mammoth creatures
coasting between the continents,
some for the fun of it, others purposeful in their journeys.

Collins is a dedicated and imaginative ferryman, ever ready to arrange transport for himself and his readers through the lukewarm haze of day-to-day life toward humble or hidden wonders more often near than far. 

Here he is, in “Walking My Seventy-Five-Year-Old Dog,” traversing his usual route with an elderly canine companion:

She’s painfully slow,
so I often have to stop and wait
while she examines some roadside weeds
as if she were reading the biography of a famous dog.

Here he is in the grocery store produce aisle with a poem dubbed “Banana School,” which revolves around his recent discovery — no telling where he heard it — that humans are the only primates who peel the eponymous fruit from the curved stalk at the top.

The day I learned that monkeys
as well as chimps, baboons, and gorillas
all peel their bananas from the other end
and use the end we peel from as a handle,
I immediately made the switch.

Go ahead. We’ll wait. Try it. It will make you wonder where else along the line we as a species have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Then take the time to consider whether you favor sleeping on your right side or your left. 

This is not generally a topic that comes up in casual conversation. But that’s why Billy Collins is the poet laureate and we are not — or as he would say: “Poets have to keep track of these things.”  

Hence: In “Sleeping on My Side,” one of several poems in which Collins has his poetic persona speak as if addressing a close friend, an acquaintance, a perfect stranger — or, in this case, his wife — he muses:

At home, it’s the east I ignore,
with its theaters and silverware,
as I face the adventurous west.

But when I’m out on the road
in some hotel’s room 213 or 402
I could be pointed anywhere.

yet I barely care as long as you
are there facing the other way
so we are defended in all degrees
and my left ear is pressing down
as if listening for hoofbeats on the ground.

This poem is not the quirky little confection you might initially take it to be. It’s a love poem that emphasizes how lucky some of us are to be blessed with the company of someone who always has our back. In its simplicity, it says more about relationships — and says so more powerfully — than the most florid epics you’ll ever plow through.

Collins travels widely — at least he did before the virus descended — and there are dispatches from abroad in Whale Day that showcase his inventive descriptiveness. 

Here are four stanzas I especially like, from “Lakeside Cottage: Ontario,” in which Collins shares both the sight of Canada geese and the emotions engendered by watching them in flight:

and they flew from right to left
like a text written in Hebrew
almost touching the slightly ruffled water
as they passed by the dock at the end of the lawn.

You know, the dock with the little flight of stairs
that disappears into the lake, which made it easier
for your parents to go for a swim
in the cold water before they both died

only months apart, as if Jack followed Mary’s lead.
Otherwise, they might be sitting here now
in the two chairs by the picture window,
maybe holding cups of morning coffee,

as all the geese sailed by, heading who knows where
so close to the water, each holding its position,
the leader pointing the way with its neck
extended, as if he were pulling the others along.

Not surprisingly, given Collins’ stage of life, there are several poems about mortality in Whale Day. When I mention this, he tells me that age has less to do with their presence than I might have thought. Poetry, he says, regardless of the age of the poets and the era in which they write, is eternally dedicated to boiling life down to the basics.

That makes death one of two mainstays bound to be in the spotlight as long as there are poets, pens and paper. “Love and death are the magnetic poles of poetry,” Collins notes. “And there’s that quote from Kafka: ‘The meaning of life is that it ends.’”

Naturally, any guest appearance mortality makes in a Billy Collins production is going to happen on the poet’s own terms. In “Cremation,” a poem about deciding whether or where to have one’s ashes scattered, he brings one of his favorite comedians on stage to weigh in:

Now, I’m not sure how you heard it,
but in my version, Bob Hope’s wife
asked her husband on his deathbed
whether he wanted to be buried or cremated.
“Surprise me,” replied the comic before expiring.

Other poems about mortality, however, don’t have such overt punchlines. In “Life Expectancy,” Collins reflects on the fact that he can no longer be assured of outliving the animals he observes, while in “Me First” he suggests that the older partner in a relationship, meaning himself, ought to be the first to die. 

Similar themes are explored in the poignant “On the Deaths of Friends” and the surreal “My Funeral,” in which Collins imagines a traditional memorial service followed by a celebration with musical accompaniment provided by an assortment of wild animals.

Collins, obviously, is far too wry to get morose, even about final farewells. And he’s too much of a New Yorker to get overly sentimental — although some of these poems will surely evoke some combination of goosebumps, misty eyes and ragged sighs.

Billy Collins, who has been described as the most popular poet in the country, is known for finding humor in everyday situations. But, without ever getting overly sentimental, he’s just as adept at evoking some combination of goosebumps, misty eyes and ragged sighs with his writing. Photo by Rafael Tongol

Emotional heartstrings may also be tugged when Collins waxes nostalgic in “My Father’s Office, John Street, New York City, 1953,” which turns remembrances of childhood visits to a lower Manhattan high-rise into an elegy for the vintage trappings of insurance-sales outposts such as fountain pens, rotary phones, paperweights and stacks of documents.

Collins’ poems often start with such seemingly random observations but end with a gut punch — a trademark of his work. After lamenting the now-obsolete ephemera of this unremarkable Eisenhower-era business office, he concludes by noting, “And gone the men themselves and gone my father / gone my father as well.”

Despite the pandemic’s restrictions, Collins is as industrious as ever. He writes nearly every day; as he says in an introductory poem in Whale Day, “…the function of poetry is to remind me / that there is much more to life / than what I am usually doing / when I am not reading or writing poetry.”

“The Function of Poetry” reminded me of a famous statement once made by Robert Frost: “My goal in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation, as two eyes make one in sight.”

Collins also makes multiple online appearances at poetry seminars and readings. In addition, he conducts The Poetry Broadcast, his own late-afternoon production five days a week that is accessible through his Facebook page. It’s a format ideally suited to his witty and casual conversational style.

The sessions are introduced with vintage jazz classics from his extensive collection. They’re followed by 30-minute readings and lively discussions of his own works and the poems of other classical and contemporary authors. 

According to a recent profile of Collins in The Wall Street Journal, nearly 50,000 fans from around the world have tuned into the broadcast. Real-time comments have been noted from across the U.S. as well as from Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Copenhagen, Italy and Nigeria.

In one of his Whale Day poems, Collins describes Winter Park as “the quiet cardigan harbor of my life.” With all due respect to the esteemed poet laureate, I’m not sure “quiet” is the word I’d use. 

Trovillion during his mayoral years.


Trovillion during his mayoral years.

I first met Allen Trovillion in 2015, when I went to his home in Maitland to borrow the original version of a watercolor map showing Winter Park as it looked in 1908. His father had painted the map in the late 1960s based upon his childhood memories of the small city. 

I wanted to reproduce this important historical relic in a special issue of Winter Park Magazine, which would celebrate the city’s 125th birthday. Much to my surprise, I found Trovillion, then age 89, perched high above in the branches of a large tree, saw firmly in hand, pruning away as though he was impervious to disaster.

“I’ll be down in just a minute,” he shouted as another stubborn branch gave way and tumbled to the ground. He quickly descended, confidently navigating a ladder that seemed far too shaky for my comfort. “Man, it’s hot outside,” he said as he welcomed me with a bone-crunching handshake.

I noted the octogenarian’s powerful chest and sinewy arms, and did some quick math in my head to reconfirm his age. Yep, he was 89 alright. Meantime he went inside and retrieved the map, which was still framed. He was witty and sharp as a tack when describing its origin and quirky points of interest.

“Be sure you bring it back,” he said. “You know, I’m not used to people telling me that they’ll do something and then not doing it.” Of course, there wasn’t a chance in hell that I wasn’t going to return that map — and in pristine condition.

Trovillion and I had a few subsequent telephone conversations about local history, and I enjoyed hearing his stories. I was sorry to learn two years ago that he had developed Alzheimer’s disease, but grateful that he seemed talkative and jovial at the 2018 State of the City address, where he was presented the Founders Award by Mayor Steve Leary.

A consequential mayor of the city and an outspoken member of the Florida House of Representatives, Trovillion died just as this issue of Winter Park Magazine was going to press. He was 94 years old, and I thought he might surpass the century mark — and keep on going.

Trovillion’s Winter Park bona fides were impeccable. Jerry and Mary, his grandparents, first came to the city in 1908 from Harrisburg, Illinois, with their 16-year-old son, Ray. They bought Maxon’s Drug Store — then located in the building that once housed Ergood’s Store and Hall, one of Winter Park’s first businesses — and renamed it Trovillion’s Pharmacy. 

In 1968, Ray (Allen’s father), would paint that priceless watercolor map of a Winter Park that encompassed about 95 homes, 10 commercial buildings, two livery stables, a golf course and the campus of Rollins College. 

The Winter Park Historical Association sold limited-edition prints of the map in 1993, with proceeds dedicated to finding a permanent home for a city museum (now located in the circa-1890 South Florida Railroad depot). I always thought the painting worked equally well as a map and as authentic folk art.

In later years, Ray’s super-achiever son would assume his father’s ceremonial role as a steward of the city’s heritage, and enjoyed describing the changes he had witnessed in his hometown. In fact, Trovillion would be responsible for many of those changes.

A graduate of Winter Park High School, he was a swimmer and played on the basketball and football teams. (The football team went undefeated in 1943 and won the conference championship.) Trovillion joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and later attended the University of Florida, where in 1950 he earned a degree in building construction.

A successful contractor, he was appointed mayor in 1962 after his predecessor in the office, attorney Ed Gurney, resigned to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. (Gurney would later become a U.S. Senator from Florida, and gain a measure of notoriety for his staunch defense of President Nixon as a member of the Senate Watergate Subcommittee.) 

As mayor, Trovillion oversaw construction of the current City Hall. He also spearheaded the building of a swimming pool and a road-paving project on the city’s predominantly African-American west side. He served on (and briefly chaired) the Orange County Biracial Committee as schools were desegregated and was particularly proud of his record on race relations.

Despite his accomplishments in office, Trovillion announced in 1966 that he wouldn’t seek re-election. “I got into politics by accident,” he said. “I’m not a politician.” But elective office beckoned again in 1994, and he won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives from District 36. (By that time, he had switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.) 

The GOP was a comfortable fit, politically. The erstwhile mayor’s brand of fiscal and social conservatism went down well in his heavily red district — although he experienced backlash in 2001 following a meeting in Tallahassee with teenagers taking part in Equality Florida Youth Lobby Day. 

The young people were seeking sponsorship — or at least grudging support — for the Florida Dignity for All Youth Act, which would have broadened the state’s anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although the reaction of most lawmakers ranged from reserved to receptive, the deeply religious Trovillion — as he was wont to do — spoke his mind and delivered a lecture that one student later described not as angry but as “grandfatherly.” Tone notwithstanding, the words shocked and upset the activists.

“You have to suffer the consequences of your actions,” Trovillion told the group that visited his Tallahassee office. He counseled them to change their ways before it was too late. “God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and he’s going to destroy you and a lot of others.”

Letters, emails and phone calls flooded Trovillion’s office demanding his resignation. Radio talk-show hosts and newspaper columnists throughout the state lambasted him. Even some of his Republican colleagues gingerly distanced themselves.

“I am a very low-key person,” said Trovillion, then age 75, who seemed somewhat puzzled by the intensity of the reaction. “I can’t apologize any more than President Bush could apologize to the Chinese. I didn’t do anything wrong.” 

He left office in 2002 — after being reelected four times — due to term limits. But if those unfortunate remarks are all you remember about Allen Trovillion, then you’ve done him a disservice. 

In addition to serving his community in elected office and creating an important local business, he coached baseball in the Babe Ruth League, the Pony League and the Little League. He was affiliated with countless civic and charitable organizations, and served for a time as a scoutmaster. He was a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow and a Winter Park Jaycees Man of the Year.

In 2017, Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary declared March 27 as Allen Trovillion Day, and the porch outside City Hall was formally named “Trovillion Porch,” complete with rocking chairs.

Allen Trovillion was a man of his time and place. If some of his sincerely held political views now seem, shall we say, out of step, then so does his quaint regard for public service, which he considered to be a means of doing good for his community (and later his country) without aggrandizing himself. In that regard, we could use more like him.


The 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center, conceptualized by restaurateur-philanthropist John Rivers, will feature raised beds, row crops and hydroponic growing systems.

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’”  —Genesis 1:29

When people refer to a matter of biblical proportions, it’s usually just figurative language. But when John Rivers quotes his favorite verse from Genesis these days, he makes it sound more like a blueprint, a plan just as real to him as the dirt beneath his feet.

Best known in Winter Park for creating the 4 Rivers Smokehouse chain and for a range of charitable enterprises he calls his “barbecue ministry,” the plainspoken philanthropist-restauranteur is on a crusade to apply nuts and bolts to chapter and verse.

“Growing food is the easy part,” he says.

Rivers’ streamlined, back-to-basics campaign consists of educating young people about nutrition, creating a system to make fresh produce and healthy meals available to the needy, and localizing the food chain — particularly when it comes to produce. 

He finds it untenable, for example, that one in five Orange County schoolchildren are food insecure and 41 million people in the U.S. lack consistent access to food — yet 30 percent of the nation’s food supply goes to waste each year.

The centerpiece of Rivers’ crusade is the 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center, a back-to-basics urban farm, agricultural education and food-distribution center being developed on 38 acres just a few blocks away from Rivers’ first barbecue restaurant, which opened on Fairbanks Avenue in 2009.

Donated by Dr. Phillips Charities to the 4R Foundation, the restaurant chain’s charitable arm, the tract is located in the Packing District development, a nascent, 200-acre community between College Park and Orange Blossom Trail.

The campus will eventually include a YMCA, a park with a network of walking trails, 1 million square feet of office and retail space, and 3,500 residential units.

The farm will feature raised beds, row crops, hydroponic growing systems and a range of regenerative farming practices. Produce will be sold to Orange County Public Schools for its school lunch program, while the education center will serve as a think tank and a resource for high school and college students interested in agricultural careers. 

Eventually a restaurant in the middle of the property will operate, literally, on a farm-to-table basis.

Produce will be sold to Orange County Public Schools for its school lunch program, while the education center will serve as a think tank and a resource for high school and college students interested in careers in agriculture. Eventually a restaurant in the middle of the property will operate, literally, on a farm-to-table basis.

Plans call for the farm campus to be up and running in 2021, but a warehouse on the property already serves as the base of operations for Feed the Need Florida, a 4Roots-led coalition of restaurants, hotels and hospitality organizations.

Feed the Need teamed up with the Florida Department of Agriculture to provide more than 1 million meals to needy Floridians, including many of Orlando’s out-of-work entertainers and laid-off theme-park employees.

Rivers’ reverence for barbeque began when a 20-year career in the healthcare industry took him to Texas, a mecca of the flavorful art form. Soon after resettling in Central Florida, he began refining his own pitmaster skills on smokers he welded himself in his garage. 

Even early on, Rivers’ entrepreneurial spirit and charitable instincts overlapped: The idea for the business evolved after he staged a series of fundraising feasts, the first on behalf of a family at his church that had been struggling with bills for a daughter’s cancer treatments.  

His interest in the educational side of his campaign took shape after Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins enrolled him to help with not only sourcing the school lunch program but educating students and their families about good nutrition. 

Through programs he established at Ocoee and Edgewater high schools, students who’d never seen a fresh vegetable outside of the produce aisle were growing them in gardens and hothouses on school grounds — and not only getting paid for their work, but enjoying the fruits (well, vegetables) of their labor as the produce was served in the cafeteria. 

Soon, 4Roots plans on taking over the space previously operated as a Subway sandwich restaurant on the first floor of the Orlando Science Center and transforming it into The 4Roots Café — which will feature a healthy-foods menu and exhibits, interactive videos with children in mind and activities highlighting global food issues.

Rivers likes to emphasize the need for basic education about nutrition in a fast-food universe by telling the story of an Ocoee High School student who had proudly presented a head of lettuce from the school garden to her mother. Later, discovering that the lettuce had been tossed in the garbage, the astonished teen asked why.

Replied her mother: “You told me it was in the dirt, so I threw it out.”

Meanwhile, at the Cornell Museum of Fine Art at Rollins College, check out the eclectic array of artifacts that were donated to the college in the early 1900s after fire destroyed a previous museum.


Hugh McKean looks out over the ruins of Laurelton Hall, where he and his wife, Jeannette, salvaged truckloads of Tiffany creations before they could be scrapped.

In a year like this, it’s easy to forget that there’s such a thing as a nice surprise. Yet here I am, telling you about two of them. 

The first one materialized over the summer at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which had temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Shuttered away were the museum’s core galleries that celebrate decorative impresario Louis Comfort Tiffany’s personal Xanadu: Laurelton Hall. The early 20th-century Long Island country estate was designed by Tiffany and filled with some of his most dazzling creations — from a Byzantine-inspired chapel to his luminous, oversized stained-glass windows. 

Those now-priceless windows, plus numerous other architectural and decorative treasures from the elaborate home, had been rescued by the museum’s Winter Park founders, Hugh McKean and his wife, Jeannette Genius McKean, after Laurelton Hall had fallen into disrepair and was partially destroyed by fire in 1957. 

It seemed unlikely that any museum-worthy creation the McKeans might have missed would resurface after all these years. But one did. 

It’s a fireplace hood that had been suspended over the hearth in Laurelton Hall’s study to keep embers from escaping into the room — a functional object that would have been an ugly-duckling afterthought in any other home of the period. 

Tiffany, obsessive about turning everything within his line of sight into a thing of beauty, couldn’t leave it at that. He had the cast-iron hood forged in thin layers, as though from interlaced sheets of leather, then decorated it with long rows of translucent mica cutouts and the circular silhouettes of Japanese sword guard symbols collected on his travels. 

It must have been mesmerizing, sitting by a fire on a winter’s night, watching the play of light in that room. In the Art Nouveau extravaganza that was Laurelton Hall, even the shadows on the walls had their role to play. 

Louis Comfort Tiffany applied his aesthetic to even such mundane objects as a fireplace hood. You can see this one at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

The fireplace hood, which had been in the hands of a private collector, was acquired by the museum earlier this year and will be installed in the hallway leading to the Laurelton Hall galleries by mid-October. 

As of this writing, the Morse has reopened — although you need to call ahead to reserve a time slot for your party, in keeping with the museum’s social-distancing measures.

Now to pleasant surprise No. 2, and yet another treasure lost and found. 

This one goes back to 1909, when a fire likely caused by faulty wiring destroyed the original Knowles Hall on the Rollins College campus. The building was home to a natural science museum filled with hundreds of specimens and artifacts assembled by science professor Thomas R. Baker. 

In the aftermath of the disaster, the college sent out a plea to collectors and institutions around the country, requesting donations of “museum quality” specimens for a new repository. 

The turn of the last century was an era when amateur archeologists embarked on freewheeling and often unprincipled expeditions. Several of them responded to the college’s plea, sending thousands of antiquities, fossils and other culturally significant objects. All eventually were incorporated into a new museum, named after Baker. 

When that museum fell into disuse and closed in the 1970s, what was left of the collection, which had dwindled to several hundred objects, wound up mothballed in the vaults of the college’s Cornell Fine Arts Museum. 

There it languished, forgotten until four years ago, when Zachary Gilmore, a newly hired assistant professor of archeology, found a reference to it as he was leafing through departmental files.

Meanwhile, at the Cornell Museum of Fine Art at Rollins College, check out the eclectic array of artifacts that were donated to the college in the early 1900s after fire destroyed a previous museum.

Now, roughly 70 of the long-hidden objects will be featured in an exhibition at the Cornell called Storied Objects: Relics and Tales from the Thomas R. Baker Museum. The exhibit is a collaborative effort between Gilmore, fellow archeology professor Robert Vander Poppen and their students.

The objects themselves are interesting enough, ranging from a Mesoamerican statuette of a soccer-type athlete to a Mesopotamian peace treaty that was etched on a cylinder and driven into a temple wall 5,000 years ago. But the emphasis of the exhibit is on those adventurous collectors of another time and place.

One of them was Edgar Banks, often cited as one of the inspirations for whip-wielding celluloid archeologist Indiana Jones.

Banks joined the U.S. Foreign Service in the early 1900s to get access to ancient ruins in what was then the Ottoman Empire. He collected hundreds of small Sumerian cuneiform tablets, one of the earliest examples of a writing system, and sold them to museums.

His daughter, who studied at Rollins, donated part of her father’s collection to the college. The exhibit runs through January 3. Tell them Indiana Jones sent you. 

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



Many of the same safety protocols used to combat the spread of COVID-19 were in effect during the more deadly Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. In Winter Park, however, disruption of business and daily life has been more severe today than a century ago.

People fall ill and some die of an illness at first presumed to be seasonal influenza, but which later proves to be a mysterious new pathogen that’s highly contagious. There’s no vaccine and no effective treatment. The disease kills the elderly, as influenza sometimes does, but it also impacts children and young adults, and causes a bizarre array of unexpected symptoms.

As scientists scramble to identify the malady and quell its spread, the illness multiplies exponentially around the world. In the U.S., the federal government’s response is one of denial and obfuscation. Individual municipalities are left to implement their own policies with varying degrees of rigor. 

In some places, masks and social distancing are required and large gatherings are banned. In other places, thousands attend parades and rallies that ultimately become superspreaders — even as hospitals are overwhelmed and funeral homes are compelled to stack corpses like cordwood in makeshift structures.

The year is 1918, not 2020, and the illness is the Spanish flu (misnamed, since it likely originated in the U.S.), not COVID-19. Over the course of two years, the Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide. Yet this pandemic — which caused more deaths than any outbreak of disease in human history — was essentially forgotten until recently, when COVID-19 prompted inevitable comparisons.

Given the death toll of the novel coronavirus — which is, at this point, orders of magnitude less than the Spanish flu — it’s difficult to understand why the more lethal scourge from a century ago isn’t seared into our collective consciousness. Part of the reason is because newspapers were, in many cases, complicit in playing it down. 

The U.S. had entered World War I in 1917. President Woodrow Wilson created a Committee on Public Information to flood newspapers with upbeat press releases — which were often published word for word — extolling patriotism and building morale. 

The Sedition Act, adopted just months before the war ended, made it illegal to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the government of the United States.” The government wanted no news disseminated that might damage the war effort — First Amendment be damned.

In fact, no newspaper was ever prosecuted for writing stories about the pandemic — it was impossible to ignore — but coverage was notably subdued. Some newspapers surely self-censored for fear of retribution. After all, reports of an easily transmissible illness that seemed to disproportionally impact young people would hardly have been welcome news to soldiers or their families.

In Winter Park, not much seemed to change. Mayor W.H. Schultz did issue an order prohibiting public meetings and suspending school for 10 days in October 1918. The document also read: “I further request the parents of all children to prohibit promiscuous visiting from house to house and suggest that … each family stay as much as possible in the open air.”

There are few other headlines regarding the pandemic in local newspapers of the era, including the Orlando Morning Sentinel. Only passing mentions of it could be found in The Sandspur, the campus newspaper at Rollins College, or in various Winter Park weeklies. 

However, several ads tout the safety of various businesses, such as drug-store soda fountains, and the efficacy of several patent medicines. There are also admonitions to wash your hands often and refrain from spitting in public.

Even Claire Leavitt Macdowell’s Chronological History of Winter Park, which recounts the city’s history almost day by day from the 1880s through 1950, never mentions the Spanish flu. 

This is truly extraordinary, given the book’s obsessive thoroughness. Macdowell records with equal gravity events that range from a visit by President Chester A. Arthur to a campaign by the Board of Trade to rid the city of flies by offering a bounty to people who turned in the most insect carcasses.

I don’t know how many people who lived in Winter Park died of the Spanish flu. According to Eve Bacon’s history of Orlando, fatalities there amounted to only 10. (It appears that Tampa and Jacksonville fared far more poorly.) Perhaps the dearth of information regarding the impact of the pandemic on Winter Park is because there wasn’t much impact at all.

My guess is — with all due respect to Eve Bacon — far more people in Winter Park died of the Spanish flu than have died (or will die) of COVID-19. But the response in 1918, at least locally, involved no prolonged disruptions. If you didn’t get sick, you likely didn’t alter your life or routine in any appreciable way. Why not? 

Here’s a hypothesis: A century ago, people routinely died of ailments that are easily treatable today. It could be that everyone was simply more nonchalant about the possibility of contracting an illness that had no cure. After all, plenty of illnesses that we no longer worry much about couldn’t be cured — or even effectively treated — back then.

Frankly, I’m glad our expectations of medicine are somewhat higher these days. And I’m looking forward to the day when we can meet for drinks — unmasked — and discuss up close and in person whether the cure was worse than the disease in the case of COVID-19. That day, I’m sure you’ll agree, couldn’t come soon enough. 

— Randy Noles


Welcome Back Winter Park features numerous special reopening offers from local businesses.

Welcome back! After a spring of hunkering down during the worst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many cities — including Winter Park — are gradually resuming commerce. 

Although “the new normal” is a work in progress (and because there’s no cure or vaccine, the coronavirus could still upend recovery plans), we’ve got to get back to work as quickly and safely as possible. Nobody argues with that.

Winter Park, in particular, is renowned for its vibrant retail, dining and cultural offerings. These businesses and institutions give the city its unique ambiance and power its economy. And they’re as eager to see us again as we are to see them.


So, polybagged with this issue of Winter Park Magazine is Welcome Back Winter Park, which I prefer to call the Welcome Back Pack. It’s a 40-page special publication in which the business and arts communities have rolled out their collective red carpet (which has, of course, been deep-cleaned) and invited us to check out what they have to offer.

We’ve taken a hit, too. Advertising is where virtually 100 percent of our revenue is derived. Businesses that are closed obviously don’t need to advertise — so, like our longtime supporters, we’ve struggled to stay afloat during this scary and surreal interlude. 

Still, we offered space in Welcome Back Winter Park free of charge. Printing and mailing 15,000 copies of a 40-page magazine is not inexpensive — but the cost, really, is nothing more than we owe the business owners who make it possible for us to do what we do.

When considering how we could best help our fellow small businesses (and larger ones, too), we identified the one thing we do more effectively than anyone else. That’s getting content into the hands of locals — who trust Winter Park Magazine and appreciate getting it delivered to their mailboxes. (There’s an online version, too, at welcomeback.winterpark.com.)

Thus was born the Welcome Back Winter Park, which offered us an opportunity to support those who have supported us. And it offered participants an opportunity to announce that they’re still here and more than ready to resume being a part of our lives. 

Many Welcome Back Winter Park participants are touting special reopening offers. But whether you take advantage of the deals or not, we hope you’ll take the publication and go through it page by page — then make it a point to visit the stores, restaurants and arts venues between its covers. Better yet, make a purchase whether you need anything or not. (After all this time at home, though, we’re pretty sure you must have a significant shopping list.)


Some of you have heard me tell about the time I was publisher of a different local magazine, which was part of a national chain that also owned other magazines, newspapers and had investments in a variety of businesses unrelated to publishing.

I was in the office on 9/11. The editor had a television set, so we all watched in horror as the jets slammed into the World Trade Center and sent its twin towers tumbling. 

The following day, headquarters scheduled an urgent conference call for the chain’s publishers nationwide — I assumed to brainstorm ways in which we could use our platforms to do something constructive in the aftermath.

Instead, we were ordered to print small American flags on our covers for the remainder of the year. The real purpose of the confab was to roll out a program called Pledge to America, in which we would sell advertising in batches because, well, if you didn’t advertise, then the terrorists would win.

The corporate art department was ready with collateral material drenched in red, white and blue ink and touting special rates for new annual contracts. 

Far from losing business, perhaps we could make money
on this national tragedy. Every publisher got a quota — and we were told to get our salespeople on the streets while the rubble was still smoking.

Tasteless? Disgusting? Of course. But the depth of the scheme’s depravity only sunk in later, after the initial numbness wore off. It was, at least, a learning moment for me. I recalled it vividly recently, when the pandemic (and the response to it) began to wreak havoc.

As businesses went dark, the question we asked ourselves wasn’t, “How can we make money on this?” The question was, “How can we invest to help our community?” If that seems obvious for any decent corporate citizen, then you weren’t working where I was working in 2001.


But I digress. I’m writing this in early June, and you’re likely reading it in early July. We’ve seen how quickly situations can change. But as of now, many Welcome Back Winter Park participants are open limited hours. Some ask that you wear masks, while others don’t. Restaurants, by in large, are adhering to social distancing by offering fewer tables and more outdoor seating. 

Whatever the rules are later in the summer, we know Winter Parkers will follow them with their usual combination of grace and good humor — recognizing that such rules are meant to ensure safety. 

In some less-enlightened parts of the country, we’ve seen reports of customers berating and even assaulting employees who attempt to communicate these policies to angry dullards who are determined to make political statements by flaunting them. During difficult times, people often behave in inspiring ways — but less often, they behave in appalling ways.

Thanks, Winter Park, for always being inspiring. Thanks to the business community for hanging in there (and especially the restaurants, which found new ways to feed us). And, most of all, welcome back. 

— Randy Noles


Billy Collins, a former two-term U.S. poet laureate, reads his work (plus the work of others) and stays connected to his fans worldwide every day at 5:30 p.m. via Facebook.

When classes reconvene at Rollins College in a few weeks, Poetry 101 with Billy Collins won’t be on the schedule. It’s not as though it ever really was, strictly speaking. The relationship between the college and the former two-term U.S. poet laureate was never that cut and dried. 

Dubbed by The New York Times as the most popular poet in the country and inducted four years ago into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters alongside the likes of Joan Didion and Kurt Vonnegut, Collins has probably done more to engage people with poetry than any other American scholar-practitioner in recent memory.  

He’s a 79-year-old native New Yorker with a deadpan delivery, a passion for jazz and a flair for unpacking everyday moments by pairing shrewd humor with habitual wonderment.  

A reviewer once complimented Collins for “putting the fun in profundity,” a turn of phrase that will serve as the blurb on his 13th book of poems, Whale Day, to be published in September.

Collins' new book, Whale Day, is due in September.

Soon after moving to Central Florida 12 years ago, Collins was appointed senior distinguished fellow at the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, which brought luminaries such as Maya Angelou, Ken Burns, Gloria Steinem, Jane Goodall, Garrison Keillor, Itzhak Perlman and Sir Paul McCartney to campus for lectures. 

Having the likeable Collins in residence to recruit fellow creatives and make regular appearances himself was something of a coup for a small liberal arts college.

Yet, however prestigious its speakers or distinguished its fellow, the Institute was a financial drain, even after it began charging admission in 2016. When belt-tightening became a priority — as it did five years ago, when President Lewis Duncan resigned — Collins was told that his contract wouldn’t be renewed.  

After a quiet community protest, he was rehired by incoming President Grant Cornwell, only to be let go again more recently when the Institute itself was disbanded as part of a college-wide response to the financial hit expected from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The same fate befell Winter with the Writers, an annual event that brought nationally recognized authors to campus to tutor students and present readings.  

Administrators also made a sweeping reduction of salaries and benefits and reduced the college workforce by 8 percent, so the programs and the poet aren’t the only budgetary casualties — just the most visible ones outside campus. 

Though he deserves better treatment, Collins, an international figure whose books are always New York Times bestsellers, will survive the financial blow. The loss is all ours.

It’s sad to witness the disappearance of initiatives so intertwined with the heart and soul of Rollins — past, present and future. The lectures echoed the legendary Animated Magazine, which ran from the 1920s through the 1960s and brought the likes of Edward R. Murrow, James Cagney, Mary McLeod Bethune and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to Winter Park.  

Apart from that, such programs served the present by showcasing world-changing role models who underscored the college’s mission: to imbue the students of today with a sense of global citizenship for tomorrow.

Prior to pandemic-related cost cutting, Collins was affiliated with the now-discontinued Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, for which he gave an annual reading and helped secure celebrity speakers.

There are glimmers of hope. Gail Sinclair, the Institute’s outgoing executive director, suggests that the community itself might bring back the lecture series. A Rollins writing class based on a downsized version of Winter with the Writers has been approved. 

And six days a week at 5:30 p.m., Collins sits down at a desk in the office of his home in a lakeside Winter Park neighborhood near the campus, with a shifting sheaf of papers and a pile of weather-beaten poetry books in front of him.

For the next 20 minutes or so, via Facebook, he conducts what feels like a late-night talk show with a literary flair. His wife, Suzannah, suggested the idea of a happy-hour poetry reading for his fans.

There’s always a theme — haiku one day, poetry about travel another. More than one broadcast has been devoted to verse related to jazz, complete with mood music from Collins’ own extensive collection. Sometimes he reads his own works, sometimes those of his contemporaries. Meanwhile comments from his growing band of listeners scroll by, attesting to the poet’s global reach — here a hello from Ida Valley, New Zealand, there a quip from West Cork, Ireland, just beneath a question from Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

Collins sees the virtual appearances as a counterpoint to a politicized, hall-of-mirrors modern-world reality — “this massive grid of interconnected voices and tweets and lies.” By contrast, he says, a poem represents something honest, concrete — “a world sovereign unto itself. It’s just you and me here.”

Just you and Billy and Poetry 101. At least that much hasn’t changed.

Jacob “Jake” Gercak, firefighter and paramedic with the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department.


Jacob “Jake” Gercak, firefighter and paramedic with the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department.

Is there anyone who doesn’t admire firefighters? When the bell rings, these highly trained men and women suit up and head into danger zones with no questions asked. Jacob “Jake” Gercak, a firefighter and paramedic with the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department, insists that he’s unexceptional in that regard.

Probably so, considering the heroism that has become synonymous with firefighting and firefighters. But when Fire Chief Dan Hagedorn recently announced the local department’s Firefighter of the Year, it was Gercak who stepped forward to accept.

The 23-year-old Gercak also earned the local department’s Award of Valor and was named Firefighter of the Year by the Florida State Firefighters Association in Tallahassee, where he met Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Petronis and Governor Ron DeSantis.

“Sure, I know I did the right thing and all that,” says Gercak, who’s in his second year in Winter Park after three years with the Daytona Beach Fire Department. “But I also, without a doubt, did exactly what anybody else here would have done.”

Here, for the record, is what Gercak did. 

He and Dudley Brearly, a fellow local firefighter, were driving home from a day of mountain biking in Mount Dora. Along a rural stretch of State Road 44 in Lake County, they noticed skid marks and spied a partially submerged vehicle that had apparently veered into a telephone poll and rolled into a swampy retention pond, landing with only the driver’s side above the water’s surface.

The pair stopped and rushed to where the vehicle had come to rest. With power lines dangling precariously overhead, Gercak kicked in the passenger-side window and pulled three dazed young children to safety from the back seat, handing them off to Brearly and a pair of elderly bystanders as he extricated them from the wreckage.

“Then we started looking for a parent,” Gercak says. “It was hard to see because it was getting dark. We found the mom, unconscious, in the front seat under the water. We brought her out and started performing CPR.”

Then a doctor happened by and began performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the woman, who expelled a considerable volume of water from her lungs. The Lake County Fire Rescue Department arrived shortly thereafter — and the two friends went along their way. 

Unfortunately, the woman later died — probably of drowning — but the three children were saved. “I was just in the right place,” says Gercak, a friendly and unpretentious young man who lives with his parents in DeLand and loves navigating rugged terrain on his Specialized Stumpjumper trail bike.

Any department would be lucky to have him — but fortunately for Winter Parkers, he’s not going anywhere. “I’m going to stay in Winter Park for the entirety of my career,” he says. “And, at my age, that’s going to be a long, long time. It’s just great here.”

My chat with Gercak was cut short when he and a crew rushed to respond to an emergency call — but I didn’t need to hear any more. I think I’m safe in reporting that taxpayers in 32789 get their money’s worth, and then some, from the everyday heroes just doing their jobs at the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department.


It’s time again to select Winter Park Magazine’s Most Influential People. The program, in its sixth 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, slated this year for July 16. As always, we’re reaching out to our readers for nominees. Here are the people who have already been Influentials:

The Class of 2019: Roy Alan and Heather Alexander, Anna Bond, Charles Clayton III, Deborah Crown, Jere F. Daniels Jr., Robynn Demar, Eric and Diane Holm, Charlene Hotaling, Susan Johnson, John and Rita Lowndes, Paula Madsen, Elizabeth Tiedtke Mukherjee, Stephanie Murphy, Tony and Sonja Nicholson, John Rivers, Bronce Stephenson, Matthew Swope, Dykes Everett and Bill Walker and Todd Weaver. 

The Classes of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018: Richard O. “Rick” Baldwin, Jim Barnes, Dan Bellows, Rita Bornstein, Jill Hamilton Buss, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Daniel Butts, Sid Cash, Billy Collins, Grant Cornwell and Peg Cornwell, Linda Costa, Julian Chambliss, Patrick Chapin, Carolyn Cooper, Mary Daniels, Mary Demetree, Betsy Gardner Eckbert, Jeff Eisenbarth and Andrea Massey-Farrell.

Also: Carolyn Fennell, Meg Fitzgerald, Sue Foreman, Scot French and Christine Madrid French, Shawn Garvey, Hal George, John Gill, Alan Ginsburg, Steve Goldman, Sarah Grafton, Elizabeth “Betsy” Gwinn, Ralph V. “Terry” Hadley III, Jane Hames, Ena Heller, Debra Hendrickson, Catherine Hinman, Herb Holm (deceased), and Jon Hughes and Betsy Hughes.

Also: Gary I. Jones and Isis Jones, Phil Kean, Allan Keen, Linda Keen, Tom Klusman, Randy Knight, Debbie Komanski, Linda Kulmann, Cindy Bowman LaFronz, Jack C. Lane, Steve Leary, Fairolyn Livingston, Lawrence Lyman, Lambrine Macejewski, Jesse Martinez, Brandon McGlammery, Genean Hawkins McKinnon, Joanne McMahon, Micki Meyer, Johnny Miller, Anne Mooney and Ronnie Moore.

Also: Patty Maddox, David Odahowski, Betsy Rogers Owens, James Petrakis and Julie Petrakis, Jana Ricci, John Rife, Randall B. Robertson, Laurence J. “Larry” Ruggiero, Greg Seidel, Peter Schreyer, Polly Seymour, Thaddeus Seymour, Shawn Shaffer, Sarah Sprinkel, Susan Skolfield, Sam Stark, Chuck Steinmetz and Margery Pabst Steinmetz, Dori Stone, John Sinclair and Gail Sinclair, Fr. Richard Walsh, Jennifer Wandersleben, Harold A. Ward III, Debbie Watson, Bill Weir, Chip Weston, Pete Weldon, Cynthia Wood and Becky Wilson.

To nominate someone for the Class of 2020, please email Randy Noles, publisher, suggestions at randyn@winterparkmag.com. It helps to include a brief explanation of why you’re making the nomination. Thanks, as always, for your help in making Most Influential People one of Winter Park’s most-anticipated events.

— Randy Noles

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