Too often those who have contributed to the successful destiny of a place are forgotten. To help shine a focus on men and woman who have been instrumental in the development of the Punta Gorda community throughout its history, the Punta Gorda History Center honors 11 new inductees to its History Hall of Honor each year.
This year’s event and “Southern Supper” will be held at 5 p.m. today at Hurricane Charley’s in Punta Gorda.
The Center will also recognize the First Baptist Church of Punta Gorda which will celebrate its 100th anniversary at the beginning of next year, the Charlotte Sun/Punta Gorda Herald which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and Kays Ponger & Uselton, one of the oldest continually operating businesses in Punta Gorda.
The individual honorees include:
Dr. Hugh Adams (1928-2010)
He was the Superintendent of Schools for Charlotte County, who in the 1960s led the integration of county schools — the first voluntary integration of schools in Florida. Adams went on to a distinguished career in education that included Presidency of Broward Community College and many leadership roles.
Dr. Walter B. Clement (1907-1984)
Longtime Punta Gorda physician and Rotarian, Clement spearheaded the building of the local hospital and first hospital in Charlotte County — now Bayfront Health.
Thomas C. Crosland (1877-1960)
Crosland was an early Punta Gorda businessman who owned one of Punta Gorda’s important commercial fishing companies, West Coast Fish Company. Crosland served as a Justice of the Peace, Postmaster, City Councilman and Clerk of the Courts for Charlotte County.
Louis ‘Vic’ Desguin
He was a longtime Punta Gorda business owner (the New Theater and an area drive-in), but was known as Charlotte County’s Tax Collector for much of his career. Dedicated to children, he was an active Kiwanian, football coach, and founder along with his first wife, Peggy, of the “Youth Museum” which eventually became the Charlotte County Historical Center.
James Madison (1853-1927) and Sarah Lanier
They are one of the earliest pioneer families to settle on the south side of Charlotte Harbor on land that is now Punta Gorda. They lived in the early 1880s in a dwelling considered to be Punta Gorda’s first house. They sold their land to Isaac Trabue who founded the city.
John ‘Big John’ Lloyd
One of Punta Gorda’s longest serving employees and first black supervisor, Lloyd is well-known for “Big John’s BBQ.” He has cooked for people in Charlotte County for more than 40 years. He also started For the Love of Kids to help provide meals for children in need.
Nathaniel ‘Doc’ McQueen (1911-1993)
Historically, one of the area’s largest land owners, and as Agricultural Extension Agent, he was instrumental in expanding the area’s cattle business and citrus industry and in bringing the ornamental plant industry to the region. He also served on Punta Gorda’s City Council while donating all his salary to purchase playground equipment for Gilchrist Park.
Martha Susanna Sandlin Morgan (1860-1946)
As an early pioneer cattle rancher and business owner, she took over the reins of her husband’s vast business empire, when he died in 1903. She helped fund the building of the First Baptist Church and was instrumental in securing the land for Indian Springs Cemetery.
Judge John T. Rose (1906-1984)
The native Punta Gordan, Rose became Charlotte County’s first Circuit Court Judge. In addition, he worked as a lawyer and judge. Rose was a prominent mason, who became grand master of the of the Masons of Florida. He was also one of the founders of the local hospital.
Helen Wrobbel (1918-2014)
As a longtime Punta Gorda restaurateur and caterer, she was known for having led the consolidation of the volunteer fire stations to form Charlotte County’s professional fire department in the 1980s. Her extensive service to the community also included leadership roles in the GFWC Punta Gorda Woman’s Club, Punta Gorda Historical Society, local American Cancer Society, and Democratic Club among others.
This year the PGHC is also awarding its first veteran recognition, to a Punta Gordan serving his country with distinction. This year’s award is going to Lt. Robert “Bobby” Gray Burnett.
He was shot down during the Korean War by anti-aircraft fire while attacking a North Korean railroad bridge with his F-84 fighter bomber 65 years ago. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the First Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal and the Purple Heart posthumously. In 1953 he was designated missing in action, and presumed killed.
Organizations being honored are:
The First Baptist Church, which organized as a congregation here in late 1888 — about 130 years ago. The Baptists first celebrated with other religious groups at the community meeting hall Isaac Trabue had built as a school and inter-denominational church. According to lore their own first meeting place was a rolling rink over the town livery stable. Their first sanctuary building was built between 1890 and 1892 and was the oldest church building in the country until its destruction (no longer a church at that time) in Hurricane Charley.
The Punta Gorda Herald/Charlotte Sun. The Punta Gorda Herald, which became part of the Charlotte Sun, was started by Robert Kirby Seward on Feb. 17, 1893, with a masthead that proclaimed “In God We Trust — All Others Cash.” Its first office was said to have been on Marion Avenue, but its first operations were in a building next door to Hart’s ship chandlery on the southeast corner of Cross Street and Retta Esplanade. A.C. Jordan, longtime owner, publisher and editor of the Herald, sold the paper in 1951 to the first of a succession of publishers that included the Fort Myers News-Press, St. Petersburg Times, and Thomson Newspapers chain. A weekly free- circulation Charlotte Sun was established in 1979 by Derek Dunn-Rankin and was shortly thereafter merged with the Herald.
Kays Ponger and Uselton, one of Punta Gorda’s longest running businesses, began as McClelland Funeral Home in 1907 on Ann Street and was later moved to the building on Olympia and Taylor most recently occupied by Carmelo’s restaurant. In 1972, founding directors Edward Ponger and Ronald Kays, both long-time Charlotte County residents, merged the Kays Funeral Home and Ponger Funeral Home into a partnership that together serviced all of Charlotte County.
For more information on the event or to obtain tickets, call 941-258-2080.