Ted and Mary Van Deventer devoted decades of service to the Winter Garden and West Orange County community through their participation and leadership in local clubs and organizations. When she passed away in 2005, he continued their legacy for another 15 years.
Theodore H. Van Deventer, a longtime attorney and Rotary Club secretary — and a self-proclaimed “grumpy old man” — died Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, He was 93.
When news of Van Deventer’s death reached the community, residents left comments on Facebook, calling him one of Winter Garden’s best citizens; a great friend who loved his city and cared about his friends; a sweet, grumpy old man; the best attorney ever; and a good neighbor and man.
“He really had a big heart and was always looking for ways to make a difference,” said fellow Rotarian Krista Carter. “He truly loved his community and was driven to serve it in many different ways.
“He never shied away from volunteering,” she said. “And, he was always encouraging others to do the same.”
“Ted gave selflessly to improve the quality of life here,” said former Rotary president Ron Sikes. “He exemplified integrity while maintaining a unique sense of humor. To have known him is truly one of the great privileges of my life.”
Van Deventer was born in Philadelphia March 26, 1927, and moved with his family to Orlando in 1938. After graduating from Orlando High School and the University of Florida, he joined the U.S. Army, finishing his basic training three days before World War II ended. He served in Korea and then became part of the Army Reserves until he aged out in 1982 with the rank of colonel.
Van Deventer met his future bride when he was home on leave; their brothers were friends and made the arrangements. The couple married April 5, 1952, and both were respected pillars of the Winter Garden community until her death 53 years later.
Law was of interest to Van Deventer, so he returned to UF and earned his law degree. He became an attorney and was with the Florida Bar for 50 years, said his daughter, Katrinka Van Deventer. He practiced in Winter Garden and had several office partners through the years before branching out on his own.
From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, he served as the municipal traffic court judge for the West Orange County area.
Winter Garden resident Russell Crouch recalls his teenage years and his relationship with Van Deventer.
“Going before Judge Van Deventer as a teenager in a small town was always an experience, especially when he knew your parents. So many times I went before him for speeding — he would ask if my dad was home. He then would have a talk with my dad, and I would lose my driving privileges for two weeks.
“When I was 18, I totaled my VW Bug,” Crouch said. “My face was all cut up, and I had to go before Judge Van Deventer. I was wrapped up like a mummy; he took one look at me and asked if I had finally learned my lesson. I replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘I should take your license,’ but instead he had me write a 500-word essay on safety. That was my last ticket, and we have been friends ever since. I have always called him Judge; he tries to get me to call him by name, but with the utmost respect he will always be the Judge.”
Van Deventer closed his practice in 2001 and looked forward to retirement, getting involved in the community and volunteering where he could.
“He and Mom loved Winter Garden so much, and they loved the community,” Katrinka said. “And the community has paid it back tenfold. … He was so happy here.”
Van Deventer was a longtime member of the Oakland Presbyterian Church, served on several committees and took seriously his role as head usher.
“He was always willing to get involved,” Katrinka said. “The man did not slow down.”
Van Deventer volunteered to help whenever possible in the community. He assisted with the Rotary club’s annual Evening at the Pops concert and with the Bloom & Grow Garden Society’s annual Spring Fever in the Garden. He was the head volunteer recruiter at the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, where he gave much of his time. He and his wife helped in the early days of the Oakland Nature Preserve. And he was very supportive of the West Orange Healthcare District and the West Orange Chamber of Commerce.
He also served as an officer in the West Orange Kiwanis and Winter Garden Lions clubs.
One role he took great pride in was his position as secretary of the Rotary Club of Winter Garden, one he maintained for about 25 years, his daughter said. He was one of the longest-standing members, having joined in 1984.
The Rotary created the annual Service Above Self — Theodore H. Van Deventer Award, and Carter was the 2003 recipient.
“Dad and Krista were partners in crime in Rotary,” Katrinka said.
“Ted definitely guided me through so much,” Carter said. “If I was ever unsure of how to proceed with something, I would always ask Ted’s opinion. I might not always take his advice, but his input was invaluable.”
Fellow Rotarian Larry Cappleman summed up Van Deventer’s importance in the community: “West Orange will be less one great contributor to that which makes West Orange so special.”
In a 2006 Rotary newsletter spotlight, Van Deventer was asked what he wanted to accomplish.
“Live to 100 and get Rotarians to follow procedures,” he said.
Many of the Rotary leaders attribute their success to Van Deventer and his influence.
“Ted was funny but unwavering in his standards of integrity, respect and ‘Service Above Self’ — part of Rotary’s motto,” Sikes said.
“The memory of Ted that prevails with me is actually an amalgamation of impressions that he made on me over more than 20 years,” Sikes said. “First and foremost were his love for Mary that continued to his death. Next was the love for (his children). Finally, while you always knew where you stood with him, Ted extended to me and to others a high degree of respect, even when we did not necessarily agree with him. He saw great value in diversity in our community and embraced the fact that growth was necessary and beneficial when managed properly. … He will be missed, but his impact will continue here for many more generations.”
Another former Rotary president, Jennifer Talbot, said Van Deventer was all about following the rules, showing up and being on time.
“He guided many decisions and upheld us to many standards,” Talbot said. “He made us … think about personal responsibility to the organization and to the community. I never wanted to let Ted down. “
The current Rotary president, Eric Roukey, said Van Deventer represented consistency in all things Rotary and consistency in integrity, honor and respect.
“Ted was a mentor to all Rotarians, all the time,” he said. “Ted is the most consistent, kind, funny, thoughtful, caring, fair and honorable man, friend, husband, father and mentor anyone could ask for — a community leader.
“If Winter Garden and/or the Rotary were having an event, Ted was 100% involved,” Roukey said. “You always got his very best. … Of the all wonderful memories, and I have so many —we all do — (the greatest is) our weekly luncheon, seeing Ted for 10 years, every week. Ted helped make that hour the best hour of my week.”
Van Deventer’s granddaughter, Katie Bredesen, shared the family’s sentiments: “He accomplished so much in his life and made an impact on so many people. He loved and served his community through so much and growth — almost 100 years of it. He raised a family and studied law and worked for justice and fought for freedom. He will be dearly missed, and his memory will be truly cherished.”
Van Deventer was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Mary, in 2005.
He is survived by his son, Kurt (and Judy), of St. Augustine; his daughter, Katrinka, of Winter Garden; grandchildren, Katie (and Peter) Bredesen, of Louisville, and Ross (fiancée Vanessa Builes) of New York City; great-granddaughter, Calvary Bredesen and Selah Bredesen, both of Louisville; and many extended family members.
The family is planning a memorial service for a later date. Ted will be placed with Mary in the Memorial Garden at Oakland Presbyterian Church.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.