A Winter Park board took a step toward honoring a community figure earlier this month, while rejecting a request to rename parks after former mayors.
Members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted on March 18 to name the pavilion in Shady Park after Rev. Mitchell Dawkins, the former pastor of the New Warner Chapel Primitive Baptist Church and Chaplin for the Winter Park Police Department who passed away last February of a heart condition.
The discussion came about after City Commissioners requested a recommendation during a February meeting. Parks and Recreation Director John Holland said city policy requires candidates for naming to be deceased and to have been Winter Park residents, but multiple residents spoke in favor of honoring Dawkins during the board meeting, despite him living outside the city limits.
“While he was not a resident, he lived here,” Police Chief Brett Railey said. “Rev. Dawkins became a Chaplin for the Winter Park Police Department on Sept. 11, 1996 and he was our longest serving Chaplin ever for the police department. He was there whenever we needed him. All it took was a call for Rev. Dawkins.”
Railey added that Dawkins was responsible for leading a prayer effort that spanned across Central Florida back in 1997 when Officer Howard “Marty” Barber was wounded by a gunshot to the head.
“The Winter Park Police Department suffered one of the most traumatic challenges a police department ever faces,” Railey said. “With one phone call Rev. Dawkins not only started a prayer chain within his own church, but across Central Florida – not just for Officer Barber, but for the healing of our department, which needed recovery at that time.”
“[He] brought healing to our agency in a very tough time.”
Dawkins’s wife Melanie added that the late pastor also served the community by leading efforts to provide hot meals to seniors, and serving as chair of the city’s CRA board.
“When Pastor Dawkins came to this community, he came to this community to bring about change, to bring about good change,” Melanie said. “He knew that his work was not just in the four walls of church.”
“No we were not residents in the community, but I can speak to the fact that we lived in this community ... I would ask that you consider naming the pavilion after him, because for us that’s going to be a beacon of light.”
The board unanimously voted to name the Shady Park pavilion after Dawkins, but rejected a suggestion by the City Commissions to rename its parks. City Commissioners had provided a list of notable residents that should be considered for naming, including former Winter Park mayors Allen Trovillion, Joe Terranova and David Strong.
Board member Janet Atkins said she took issue with renaming parks due to the large number of notable residents in the city.
“We have so many prominent people here that I think it starts a precedent,” Atkins said. “You can’t really include everybody, so I’m really not in favor of renaming parks for people in the area.”
“The number of parks are limited,” Board member Julio de Arcos said. “A large number of parks are already named for prominent people … Martin Luther King Park – we’re not going to change that.”
The board’s recommendation in honor of Rev. Dawkins will go before the City Commission at a future meeting.