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Bob E. Gernert, Jr.

May 1998 Distinguished Alumnus

Bob Gernert

Bob E. Gernert, Jr. graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1967. He completed his Associate of Arts degree at Polk Community College in 1973 and continued his studies at Florida Southern College.

Gernert served for 18 years as the Executive Director of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce. As both a long-time resident of Winter Haven and passionate about the community, Bob played a significant role in helping to preserve the botanical gardens at Cypress Gardens, bringing the hugely successful LEGOLAND® Florida Resort to Winter Haven, as well as the CSX facility that opened in 2014.

In 1970, Bob took a position at Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC) as a ward clerk. With an interest in cartooning, Bob regularly submitted cartoons to be published in the LRMC employee newsletter. A promotion into the Management Engineering department placed him in an office next to the Community Relations department, and he was frequently recruited for his artistic skills and helped to create promotional materials.

Bob eventually became a floor unit manager, a leadership position that directs handling of non-medical duties on a floor in order to allow nurses more time with patients. It was during this time that the hospital’s Director of Community Relations position opened up, and Bob applied.

With no formal training in public relations, Bob joined the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) and worked to get the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification. In 1985, he served as president of both the Florida Public Relations Association and the Florida Society of Healthcare Public Relations. After eleven years working in public relations at the hospital, Bob became a partner at a Winter Haven public relations firm. One year later, he and wife Melea formed Gernert & Goddard, and eventually became the management company for the state-wide FPRA organization.

While working in Winter Haven, Bob joined the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce. He became a board member in 1991. In addition to his involvement with the chamber, Bob and Melea also started a grassroots effort to preserve the history of Winter Haven, forming Historic Winter Haven in 1991. He became Executive Director of the Winter Haven Area Chamber of Commerce in 1996.

Bob’s other community involvement has included assisted with the founding of Main Street Winter Haven and the Ritz 100. He helped to transform the Winter Haven Woman’s Club into a museum of Winter Haven’s history. He also co-founded the Harris Corners Festival, served as Chairman of the Santa Fe Catholic High School Board of Trustees, and the Theatre Winter Haven Board of Trustees. For his role in assisting with the coordination of a county-wide 911 campaign, he received the Florida Public Relations Association Golden Image Award of Distinction for Polk County 911 Information Campaign.

Rather than having a traditional retirement party, close friends organized a special gathering that filled the Student Center at Polk State College. Funds raised that evening were donated to the Polk State College Foundation to endow the Bob and Melea Gernert/Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Scholarship.

Also that night, Gernert walked away with some of the biggest honors Winter Haven can bestow. Mayor Nat Birdsong gave him the key to the city and proclaimed January 16, 2014 as “Bob Gernert Jr.” day.

The Winter Haven Historical Museum that Gernert founded was renamed the Bob Gernert Jr. Winter Haven Historical Museum.

And two Lego models of his prized Ford Thunderbird were given to him by LEGOLAND® Florida Resort General Manager Adrian Jones — one for his collection, and another that Gernert was allowed to place in the park’s Lego brick cities, Miniland USA.

In 2015, the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce presented Gernert with the Banker’s Cup Award. This award is given annually to one man and one woman in recognition of significant contributions to the Winter Haven community.