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

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

IT’S A WHALE OF A COLLECTION

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.

WHY ALLEN TROVILLION MATTERED

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.

JOHN RIVERS: FEEDING MANY NEEDS

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.”

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