History Makers

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— Ward Britt, John Murphy and Ron Sikes were honored for their commitment to preserve Winter Garden's history.

WINTER GARDEN — Three past presidents of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation who are continuing their work as executive board members were honored in a History Makers program Dec. 3 at Winter Garden City Hall.

Ward Britt, John Murphy and Ron Sikes received proclamations recognizing their commitment to the organization and preserving local history.

Lori Gibson, the foundation’s current president, spoke about the three prior to the presentation of the framed certificates.

Britt served a year on the board before become the group’s leader in 2001.

“In those days, life at WGHF was fairly simple,” Gibson said. “A few board members would meet over lunch, agree upon a few things, submit their ideas to the rest of the board at the next meeting, and it was done.”

In 2003, plans were made to purchase a downtown structure built in 1935 for the Winter Garden Theater — and the board became much busier. Five years later, the renovated Garden Theatre opened.

Sikes and Murphy joined the board of directors in 2006, and, later that year, Murphy became board president.

“The growth and success of the theater operation was what ultimately led to the 2010 board decision, under Ron Sikes’ term as president, to spin off the theater operation as a separate 501(c)(3), leaving WGHF once again with the function of heritage preservation,” Gibson said. “The years between 2001 and 2010 were difficult. Much of the difficulty was the speed in which the organization was growing. When Ward began as board president, WGHF consisted of one small museum with a budget of less than $75,000. By 2010, when Ron was president, the budget was over a half-million, and the organization was managing two museums, a history center and the Garden Theatre.”

Gibson continued: “The leadership team of Ward, John, and Ron provided just the right skills to maneuver us through those tumultuous years. Ward, the hometown boy, provided important friendships and city connections. John brought with him incredible skill in arbitration and reconciliation. And Ron provided the legal background necessary to negotiate the new territory caused by the organization’s rapid growth. Together, the three of them also provided the vision, passion, perseverance, courage and dedication to get the job done.”

Ann Ellis, who served as vice president under the three, praised them for their leadership.

Bob Buchanan, mayor pro tem of Winter Garden, gave each past president a framed proclamation.

Britt thanked the city for its support, notably Hollis Holden and Jack Quesinberry, former city manager and mayor, respectively, who with the City Commission agreed to give the foundation its first $50,000 to get started.

Sikes was equally grateful for the honor.

“I think of A.B. Newton, the first mayor of the town, as being a History Maker,” he said.

In thanking the WGHF, Murphy said, “The best I can really live up to is History Helper.”

Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].


Herbert Pounds

Jack Ross

Albert Gleason, M.D.

Bert and Barbara Roper

Larry and Harriette Grimes

The King family

Jerry and Sue Chicone and Kay Chicone Ustler

Hollis Holden

Ann Ellis


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