Winter Haven Chamber building

As the decade of the 1980s drew to a close, efforts were underway to revitalize the downtown area and the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce would dedicate a new $500,000 three-story facility designed by Gene Leedy.

Last week, we noted the 1980s were a mixed blessing for Winter Haven, as the city marked its founding some 100 years earlier.

This week we note a few more of the ups — and the downs.

Political transition

The decade of the 1980s began with registered Democrats holding a 2-1 margin over Republicans. By decade’s end, the Republicans held the majority on the Polk County Commission and the Democrats’ lead had slipped to a three to two lead.

Andy Ireland, who switched from Democrat to Republican, saw his stature grow and he was re-elected to a seventh term in Congress in 1968.

Sheriff gets the boot!

Following a grand jury investigation, Polk Sheriff Dan Daniels submitted his resignation. He was forced to resign due to his department’s questionable record keeping. The grand jury report sealed his fate when they labeled him “incompetent.”

He was replaced by Lakeland Police Chief Lawrence Crow, who was later elected Polk’s first Republican sheriff since Reconstruction.

Church bus crash

The First Baptist Church and the Winter Haven community reeled in the aftermath when a bus crashed filled with young summer campers. The accident occurred in the mountains of north Georgia.

The church bus was traveling down a steep grade when it lost its brakes and plunged down a fifty-foot ravine. Fourteen-year-old Angela Jones was killed. Twenty-nine others were injured.

What’s in a name?

Florida financial institutions had a tumultuous decade.

First, Federal Savings and Loan became Meritor when it purchased by Philadelphia Savings Fund Society in June of 1985 (Now Wells Fargo). The merger faced an uphill battle due to undercapitalization. NCNB bought popular Exchange

National Bank (now part of Bank of America). Exchange Bank had grown from the Snell National Bank — Winter Haven’s first.

Any assets remaining from the Snell Bank are now held by Bank of America. The downtown BOA sits on the site of Henry Snell’s original store. A new locally focused Commerce Bank opened its doors. President Ed Stephens noted the bank’s philosophy, “banking with neighbors you know” (now at home at BB& T).

Like a good neighbor

State Farm Insurance, an economic mainstay since 1962, announced plans to relocate its regional offices from U.S. 17, north of Winter Haven, to a 96-acre site on Cypress Gardens Boulevard.

New chamber

Efforts to revitalize downtown were underway with Meritora key advocate. The Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce set an example by moving into a new, three-story Gene Leedy-designed building on Avenue B at Fifth Street, NW.

Expanding retail

The Winter Haven Mall (demolished for Citi-Centre in the late 90s) underwent renovation to an English Garden theme and Spring Lake Shopping Center opened its doors.

The 80s were a busy decade for Winter Haven — and it wasn’t always a picnic.

This weeks column is based on personal recollection and a review of the decade by the News Chief.

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