Having spent one’s youth in Winter Park furnishes one an endless supply of memories.
I remember lots of individual people among the snakes, frogs, turtles and alligators that shared the town’s real estate and lakes with me.
Fleet Peeples, my scoutmaster, Rollins’ aquatics professor and motorcycle daredevil, was a prominent actor on the Winter Park stage.
A majority of the local citizenry in those days were well-to-do Northerners — people whom most Florida kids rudely referred to as “Yankees”.
Little did I know then that I would go on to Massachusetts to a Yankee college and see a lot of the wide world as a naval officer, before ending up living in Greenwich Village in Yankee-New York.
My Ohio-bred wife is a born Yankee, as are both my daughters who live in Connecticut.
My own favorite spot on Earth is in the middle of Manhattan, New York City, however, certain circumstances, as well as affections, draw people back to Winter Park, a town well suited for both kids and the elderly. In this town the lakes may not attract many serious fishermen the way they once did. Also, although we all used to swim in Lake Virginia on the Rollins shore, hardly anyone does this swimming these days, except in swimming pools. The once wild parts of the Winter Park landscape, home to the denizens of a tropical forest, are now beautiful lakefront lawns with carefully tended flowering plants.
In the 1930s all of Winter Park’s streets were paved with loose brick, which allowed the torrential summer rainwater to penetrate the street and flow down into the water table. For that reason, as I remember, there were no sewers in Winter Park at that time. Early settlers from New England, we heard, placed the enormous beautiful oaks that lined our downtown streets there.
Rollins College and its colorful President Hamilton Holt were an unusual local phenomenon. Dr. Holt met me at the end of one of the long wooden docks that used to run out into Lake Virginia and chided me by saying, “So you are going to Harvard, eh?”
“Yes sir, ” I replied, “they are awarding me a full scholarship.”
“Shame.” he said, “I could have gotten Yale to do the same for you.”
“But which is the greater university?” I dared to ask this Yale man!
Dr. Holt had a prodigious collection of stamps, a section of which he once lent to President Franklin Roosevelt — and reportedly never got back.
The Rollins campus was replete with shiny new convertibles, which the wealthier students seemed to feel compelled to bring to college with them. Rollins had a large, not quite finished wooden hotel, The Pelican, on the beach in New Smyrna. All Rollins students, faculty and their families were free to use The Pelican, which had fresh water showers outside. Women slept on the second floor while men slept on the first floor — on cots provided by Rollins. (Bring your own bedclothes.)
Almost annually, Sir Malcolm Campbell set world speed records with his racecars on nearby Daytona Beach. Rollins had a football team in those days, a winning outfit coached by former Tennessee star Jack McDowell. State swimming championships were held in Lake Virginia off Rollins’ shore.
With the Animated Magazine to boot, Winter Park was a jumpin’ town!
Harvard’42—Distinguished Prof, Em.—UCF
2004 Fla. Alliance for the Arts award
(Assisted by beautiful wife Joy Roney)