Michael Bollhoefer is leaving the city of Winter Garden in a much different position than when he started 25 years ago.
The longtime city manager has accepted the position of county administrator for Frederick County in Virginia.
“The biggest highlight of my career is the overall transformation of the city,” Bollhoefer said. “I came in when (Jack Quesinberry) was the mayor and Hollis (Holden) was the city manager. They fixed all the utilities and infrastructure, and I was able to come in and — somewhat easier than the other stuff, which was necessary — be involved in the overall transformation.”
Bollhoefer was hired in 1996 to work in the city’s finance department. He became finance director and, ultimately, city manager, in 2005.
“Due to Bollhoefer’s long-term vision and leadership, the area now boasts nearly 50,000 residents, 2,000 businesses and an abundance of community assets that did not exist prior to his leadership,” the city said in a statement.
“Deciding to leave Winter Garden was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but my wife and I decided it was the right time to go,” Bollhoefer said. “As difficult as leaving is, I am confident that Winter Garden is in great shape, good hands, and has a very bright future.”
City of Winter Garden employees and leaders in the community were quick to praise Bollhoefer for his vision and dedication to the city and its people.
Mayor Rees has worked with Bollhoefer since 1995 in both his capacities as finance director and city manager.
“Mike always had the best interest of the citizens of Winter Garden as top priority,” Rees said.
“From City Hall to Fowler Grove to the redevelopment of downtown shows his leadership, knowledge and dedication to our community.”
Frank Gilbert, assistant city manager for administrative services, called working with Bollhoefer “a great adventure.”
The two worked together for more than 17 years.
“From Day 1, I understood that Mike was an intelligent leader with vision and high energy,” Gilbert said. “He coupled those traits with a sense of humor and a wit that created a work environment where you were excited to come to work every day because you knew that you would be going 100 miles per hour and actually accomplishing things to make the city a better place to live while having fun at work. … I felt honored to be asked to join the team that Mike was assembling, as I know he wanted people on that team that he believed understood his vision and sense of urgency.
“The mayors and the commission strongly supported Mike and allowed him the latitude to carry out their vision of becoming that best city and the success speaks for itself,” Gilbert said.
He said he is proud of the work he and Bollhoefer did together to foster a healthy rapport with the police and fire unions.
“Mike’s legacy is what you see in Winter Garden every day,” Gilbert said. “The beauty, feel and vibe of our downtown area reflects Mike’s visualization of what a city should provide to its citizens and visitors. …. He told me that he had faith and confidence that the City Commission, staff and citizens of the eastern section of Winter Garden would continue that work and see that revitalization become a reality.”
Tracy Swanson, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthier West Orange, said she has enjoyed the partnership between the foundation and the city in creating a healthy community.
“So many key projects have benefited from Mike’s vision and passion: Establishing Shepherd’s Hope in its permanent home, place-based work engaging east Winter Garden citizens in preservation of their history while shaping and revitalizing the community for fourth- and fifth-generation residents to continue to grow and flourish, and most recently Tucker Ranch Wellness Park.”
“Mike appreciated the mission of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, and he and the city help support it in many ways,” said Jim Crescitelli, WGHF director. “He and his staff are also generous in keeping our facilities beautifully landscaped, watered, and lit up during the holidays.”
Alauna Friskics, former executive director of the Garden Theatre, said she relied on the city’s partnership and vision in helping to build and fund the theater.
“Mike was always approachable, easy to talk to and made me laugh,” she said. “My favorite Mike times were his requests just to ‘pop over to City Hall’ and chat. We would share vision and talk through challenges to keep the project moving forward. He was an incredible champion for making the Garden Theatre a success.
“He saw the potential in it being an economic catalyst for historic downtown,” she said. “His investment in the dream was a major factor in its success. … Mike led a huge shift in the identity of historic downtown Winter Garden and beyond. He was passionate, not just about growth, but growing it right – by expanding businesses while maintaining the small-town charm. His legacy is his steady vision.”
As eager as he is to begin a new chapter in his career, Bollhoefer said he will miss Winter Garden.
“I’m going to miss the people, the people I’ve met working, the staff, the community, the residents, the business owners — there’s just a lot of great people,” he said.
His advice to the next city manager is to work well with the city commission and to embrace the great City Hall staff.
“The vision is set; just bring all those visions to fruition,” he said.
The commission promoted Jon Williams, assistant city manager of public services, to the manager’s seat. He will remain in that position for six months, until the appointment of a permanent replacement is made.
“I know he believes in the vision and the Winter Garden philosophy,” Bollhoefer said.
Winter Garden’s future is in good hands, he said.
“I think Winter Garden is going to continue to improve, and our goal is to be the best small city in the state and then the best small city in the country,” he said.
“It’s been a pleasure working here for the residents,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”
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.