2022 - Current
Growing up in the Midwest, Cindy Baker has resided in Polk County for many years and is a 1990 graduate of Polk State College. After attending Polk State, Cindy went on to further her education at Florida Southern College where she studied Accounting.
After graduating from Florida Southern College, she went on to become a Certified Public Accountant and worked as a Public Accountant for more than 20 years.
Baker served as an audit partner at multiple CPA firms throughout her years in accounting. In 2017, she became the Chief Financial Officer for Central Florida Health Care, Inc., and in 2018 she joined the CliftonLarsenAllen, LLP as Chief Financial Officer and Director of Business Operations.
In 2019, Baker joined the Polk State College Foundation. She has served as both Chief Financial Officer for the Foundation as well as its Interim Executive Director. She is now Vice President for Finance for the College, where she continues to serve students and the Polk State community.
Prior to working for Polk State, she served on the Polk State Alumni Association Board of Directors. She is very passionate about the students and alumni of Polk State and enjoyed her time serving on the board. She has also served as a member for the Board of Directors for Girls Inc. and Habitat for Humanity of East Polk County.
She currently resides in Winter Haven with her husband, Harold. Cindy has one son and two dogs. She enjoys spending time with her dogs, going out on the boat, and traveling.
Marc Macaulay is a 1975 graduate of Auburndale High School and a 1977 graduate of Polk State College. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida Atlantic University and studied with Burt Reynolds at his theatre in Jupiter Florida. His successful acting career spans over 30 years and 125 titles.in both film & television.
Macaulay, who resides in Hollywood, Fla., originally set out to become a commercial illustrator, but on a dare, joined a friend to audition for an upcoming performance for the late Polk State Professor of Theatre George Randolph. He landed a lead role, and over the course of his time at Polk State, he performed in several school productions.
After spending time in South Florida on a theatre scholarship at FAU and at Burt Reynolds Theatre, Macaulay headed to New York City to study and find work as an actor. After six years, he returned Florida as the filming boom began in Orlando and Miami. Marc found acting work consistently.
Later that year, Macaulay was cast in the television show “Miami Vice. Marc worked in 4 seasons of the series. Additional notable roles include roles in “Monster” (with Charlize Theron), “Premonition” (with Sandra Bullock), “Bad Boys” (with Will Smith & Martin Lawrence), “Passenger 57” (with Wesley Snipes), and “Dolphin Tale” (with Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick, Jr.). He also had a small role in 2014 Best Picture “12 Years a Slave” and had recurring roles on television in “Burn Notice,” “Prison Break,” and “Matlock”
In 2018, Macaulay returned to Polk State to honor his mentor and friend, Randolph. He shared his experience at the College with those in attendance and attributed his career to the opportunities provided to him when he attended Polk State. Were it not for Randolph and his encouragement over the years as a student and later in life, Macaulay said his career would have had a different path.
Macaulay’s commitment to Polk State and his mentor continues to this day and he wears his Polk State Alumni pin proudly.
2010 - 2021
Education has always been a driving force for our distinguished alumnus, Mark Miller. Overcoming adversity, giving back to community, and celebrating his roots are what make him so worthy of this distinction.
Days after Mark was born, all strength left his body and his motor skills ceased to function. During his early life, Mark showed symptoms of amino acid deficiency syndrome, mild cerebral palsy and hypotonia or muscle weakness. Due to the severity of his health issues, some doctors recommended institutionalization for Mark. His pediatrician and a nurse from United Cerebral Palsy Center advised Mark’s parents to enroll him at the Center. At that time and prior to his second birthday, he became the youngest child to attend the Center in its history. The Center, now known as Achievement Academy, Inc., is where Mark reached milestones thought unattainable and grew in his abilities. This experience laid the foundation for his eventual and continued success.
Mark graduated from Lakeland High School in 1991. He earned his Polk State College Associate in Arts degree in 1994. Mark received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary English Education in 1997 from Southeastern University.
Mark has had a long-standing career in law and public finance. He currently serves as the Public Finance Paralegal for Harris Beach PLLC. Prior to this, he served for more than 21 years with Holland and Knight LLP.
What sets Mark apart is his passion for the Polk County community. For more than two decades, Mark has served in a variety of leadership capacities on non-profit boards and community groups focused on education, community engagement, and philanthropy. He has elevated conversations on education opportunities for children with intellectual and development disabilities, encouraged leadership roles for young Polk County professionals, and championed non-profit and philanthropic organizations. Representative examples of his commitment to leadership and community service throughout Polk County include Leadership Bartow (Class XIX Member), Leadership Polk (Class XI Graduate), Leadership Lakeland (Class XXXI Graduate), Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association (Board of Directors, Advisory Board), United Way of Central Florida (Démocratie Society, Community Investment Team, Board of Directors), Polk County Sheriff’s Office (Advisory Council), Engage Serves (Keynote Graduation Speaker), Emerge Serves (Class VII Graduate), Crystal Lake Elementary Community Partnership School (Community Action Team, Advisory Council), and Achievement Academy, Inc. (Board of Directors, Advisory Council).
Recognition of his service includes receiving the Spirit of Philanthropy Award (Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Polk County Chapter), Public and Charitable Service All-Star and Community Service All-Star (Holland & Knight LLP), Outstanding Employee Coordinator of the Year – Small Companies Award (United Way of Central Florida), John F. Schneider Volunteer Award (Achievement Academy, Inc.), and Community Champion (Lakeland Magic).
Throughout his life, Mark has triumphed through adversity to focus his life on serving others. Many have been recipients of his good will, philanthropy, and most importantly, presence. He is most grateful for the amazing people met and dear relationships formed along his journey.
His greatest accomplishments may well be being the favorite uncle to Blaine, Bailey and Maddison; and as a devoted son, brother, brother-in-law, nephew and cousin to his family.
May and December 2020
T. Michael Stavres
T. Michael Stavres
T. Michael Stavres, a graduate of Winter Haven High School, earned his Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1990. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Leisure Services and Studies in 1992 and his Master of Science in Recreation and Leisure Services Administration in 1997 from Florida State University. He is a Certified Public Manager (CPM) and Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP).
Stavres was hired as the Director of Leisure Services for the City of Winter Haven in 2001. He was promoted to Director of Community service in 2006 and appointed Assistant City Manager in 2016, with short stints as acting city manager in 2016 and 2017. As Assistant City Manager, he oversaw the construction of the new AdventHealth Fieldhouse and Southwest Complex renovations. These opened in 2020, and shortly after completion, he was recognized as Project Leader of the Year by Winter Haven City Manager Mike Herr.
Stavres has been on the Polk State College Alumni Association Board for many years, including serving as its President and representing the association as a member of the Polk State College Foundation Board. His interest in the community has also led to service and leadership roles with the boards of Girls Inc. of Winter Haven and the Florida Recreation Park Association. He was a founding member of the Cypress Junction Montessori Charter School Board of Directors, and he is currently a Trustee for All Saints Academy. He is a graduate of Leadership Winter Haven and Leadership Polk.
Stavres was named Leadership Winter Haven’s Distinguished Alumnus of the Year (2016), and has earned a Florida Recreation Park Association Achievement Award (2013), as well as the Florida City and County Managers Association’s “If You Care, You Do” Award (2015) and Excellence in Leadership Award (2020). In 2020, he was recognized as Board Member Emeritus by the Public Education Partnership of Winter Haven.
In addition to formal service, Stavres and friend Duke Burr perform locally as the Coastal Acoustic Barefoot Music group, collecting donations to fund music education projects and other causes. To date, they have raised more than $45,000 for regional non-profits.
Through their 2019 “Strike A Chord For Change” initiative, the duo helped fund the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team’s adaptive skiing program. With the purchase of special equipment, the team can further their efforts to introduce persons with physical barriers to an otherwise inaccessible recreational activity.
Susan Copeland roamed the halls of the Polk State Science building as a child while her father, Professor Joel Sloan, graded papers and prepared for his Anatomy and Physiology labs. Her mother taught at Auburndale High School, so she knew from an early age that education was important.
Graduating from Auburndale High in 1984, she continued her education at Polk State and received her Associate in Arts degree in 1986. She received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Warner University in 1991 and a master’s in Business Administration from Southeastern University in 2008.
Copeland worked for five years in the classroom before joining the Polk Education Foundation (PEF) as the Program Coordinator for Grants. In 2005, she was named Executive Director. She has worked for Polk County Schools for 27 years.
During Copeland’s tenure, the PEF has ranked in the top 10 and top 25 education foundations nationwide. Copeland and the Polk Education Board created Stepping Out for Education, which celebrated its tenth year in 2019. This successful fundraising event brings local celebrities to the dance floor in support of scholarships. She also started the Free Teacher Market, where teachers can “shop” for free classroom items.
Through her work, Copeland has maintained a strong relationship with Polk State. The PEF’s scholarship programs award approximately $50,000 annually to high school students who continue their academic journeys at Polk State.
Additionally, during her 10 years of service to the Polk State College Alumni Association, Copeland served a term as president and took an active role in many initiatives. She has served on the boards of many community organizations, including the Polk State College Foundation Board of Directors. She is a graduate of Leadership Winter Haven Class XXVIII and Leadership Polk Class IV, and is currently in
Leadership Florida’s Education Class V. Copeland has also lent her talents to the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations for which she received the Jim McKenzie Consortium Champion Award in 2019.
Susan and her husband, Todd, reside in Auburndale.
Nikki Smith moved to Winter Haven at the age of five and has truly made this community her home. A Winter Haven High School graduate, she earned her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1991. Smith’s skills in technology, her passion for innovation, and her desire for excellence in customer service served as motivators to start her own printing company.
In 2001 she founded ASAP Prints in her home. Today, ASAP occupies a 7500-square-foot building and is a full-service commercial print shop specializing in large-format graphics and promotional products. ASAP Prints works with clients at all stages in the advertising process, from designing and conceptualizing marketing materials to print fulfillment. In addition to local businesses, Smith’s company boasts a national clientele list including Chick-Fil-A, Integrated Supply Network, Safety Products, Google, and numerous other national and local businesses.
Smith and ASAP Prints have received several awards and recognitions. The company has earned the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award and has been a Bright House Regional Business Awards Finalist. Additionally, ASAP was named to the List of Top 50 Women-Owned Businesses by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, and it ranked 23 in the nation for Reader’s Choice Best-of-the-Best Wide-Format and Signage Shops.
Smith is committed to life-long learning and has attended Dartmouth University’s Leadership and Strategic Impact Program, Google’s Digital Excellence Program, and Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence at the Disney Institute.
From her adoption at nine months old, Nikki feels fortunate and grateful to be living the American Dream. She is passionate about giving back to the community, investing in education, and serving the greater good. As of 2019, ASAP has awarded more than $22,000 in Polk State College scholarships. Nikki is married to Ed Smith, who is also a Polk State alumnus, and they have two sons: Stephen and Daniel. She is dedicated to living life with purpose.
Paul L. Hughes*
Paul Lewis Hughes
Paul Lewis Hughes started Polk State on a vocal scholarship. After trying out for a part in the College’s Theatre Program, he ended up performing six different roles in his first play. This led to an unexpected change in majors and a 43-year career as both a performer and director.
Upon graduating Polk State in 1976, Hughes continued his studies. During his junior year, he joined a Shakespearian repertory group, serving as both musical director and cast member. He graduated cum laude from St. Leo University’s Theatre Program and began working with Polk County Public Schools, also serving as Artistic Director with the Lakeland Pied Piper Players. He co-founded the Harrison School for the Arts Theatre Program and a theatre program at All Saints Academy, writing the curriculum, as well as acting and directing. In both 2001 and 2012, he and his students were selected to represent the U.S. at the American High School Theatre Festival at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Many of his former students have performed lead roles on Broadway and within touring companies, and Hughes has lent his directorial and performance skills to productions in the Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Scotland, and Sweden.
In addition to his work in education, Hughes has directed over 400 productions, developed workshops, and served as the Programming Director for Polk Theatre’s renowned Fine Arts Series. For a decade, he served as a grant panelist for the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
Hughes has received numerous recognitions, including Harrison School for the Arts Teacher of the Year, and a Disney Community Service Award. He has been inducted into the Polk County Public Schools Hall of Fame, and received a Distinguished Career Award in Secondary Theatre Education for the State of Florida by the Florida Theatre Conference. In 2013, Hughes was awarded The Ledger’s Golden Garland for his lifetime contributions to The Arts in Polk County. In 2016, Harrison School for the Arts inducted Hughes as a member of its Hall of Fame for the legacy built during his 16 years of service.
Sadly, Paul Hughes passed away in 2019.
Steve Lester received a Polk State Associate in Science in Criminology in 1982, and a Polk State Associate in Arts in 1983. After graduating, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminology from the University of Florida in 1999, and a Master of Public Administration from Troy State University in 2007.
Today, Lester serves as Chief of Staff for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) and is second-in-command of the agency. He acts as Sheriff in all regards during the Sheriff’s absence. Lester has served as Chief of Staff for seven years, overseeing 1,700 employees in daily operations.
He has served in various positions over his 31 years at the Sheriff’s Office, during which he has worked closely with his longtime mentor and friend, Sherriff Grady Judd. Born in West Virginia as the third of four children, Lester’s parents met in a coal-mining town, with his father working in the coal plant and his mother working in the coal company’s store. Seeking a better life, Steve’s father left the company and first moved the family to Georgia, and then eventually settled in Winter Haven.
Lester joined the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in 1986 as a detention deputy sheriff. He rose through the ranks from Corporal to Chief Commander for the Department of Detention before his appointment as Chief of Staff in 2010. A career highlight came in being selected to attend the FBI National Academy in Virginia. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, Session 240.
Among his many professional and community affiliations, Lester is a member of the Polk County Police Chiefs Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Polk State College Training Advisory Committee, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Rotary Club of Winter Haven. He is also a graduate of Leadership Polk: Class II. Steve is married to wife Alisha and they have two children, Hannah and Jenna.
Cindy Hartley Ross
Service to the Community
Cindy Hartley Ross
Cindy Hartley Ross is a Lakeland native and a graduate of Lakeland High School. She received her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1979 and studied Special Education at Troy State University.
Community service has been ubiquitous in Ross’s life since serving as a hospital volunteer in middle school. In college, she was active in her Alpha Delta Pi sorority. While her children were young, she volunteered in a number of leadership roles in the Polk County School District. For her efforts, she was named Volunteer of the Year at two different schools, and received the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the Making Kids Count Award.
Ross was appointed to serve on the Florida Commission on the Status of Women in 2010. She currently serves on its Executive Committee and Foundation Board. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Florida House in Washington, DC. The only state embassy in the capital, the Florida House showcases Florida’s culture and attributes, bringing national attention to the state’s assets. Ross also acts as Program Chairperson for the Republican Congressional Spouses in Washington, DC and is a member of The Congressional Club, a bipartisan spouse’s group.
Locally, Ross is a member of the Polk Arts Alliance (PAA) Resource Council, having served the organization as president twice. She also is a member of the Board of Governors for the Polk Museum of Art. Formerly, she has served on the Advisory Board of Habitat for Humanity; the Lakeland Board of Directors for Girls, Inc.; and the Junior League of Greater Lakeland.
In 2015, Ross was reappointed by Governor Scott to serve on the Polk State District Board of Trustees, having previously served for 12 consecutive years (1999-2011). During this time, she held the positions of Vice Chair and Chair. Additionally, she has served on the Polk State College Foundation Board of Directors, was President of the Polk State Alumni Association, and represented Polk State at the state and national level in trustee-related organizations.
Ross’s involvement with the Polk State College Foundation began in 1999 while she was a member of the Republican Women’s Club. She saw the benefit of student scholarships and encouraged the group to endow a scholarship for Polk’s students. She has since been instrumental in the creation of additional scholarships, including memorial scholarships to honor two George Jenkins High School students, and two more scholarships in her family’s name.
Cindy Ross has been married to Dennis since 1983. Their two adult children are both Polk State graduates: Shane graduated in 2012 and Travis in 2014. Additionally, more than fifteen members of Ross’s extended family have graduated from Polk State.
In December 2017, Governor Rick Scott appointed Ross to another term as trustee. Her term will end May 31, 2021. Ross is the longest-serving trustee in the College’s history.
Kelly P. Butz
Kelly P. Butz
Kelly P. Butz graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1984. She received an Associate in Arts degree from Polk State in 1985, a bachelor’s from the University of Florida in 1987, and a Juris Doctor degree from Florida State University in 1990. She was admitted to the Florida bar in 1991 and currently serves as a judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court. She was appointed to this position by Governor Scott in 2015.
As a respected local option for education, Kelly’s decision to enroll at Polk State after high school was easily made. She still remembers her time at the College fondly. After graduating, Kelly transferred to the University of Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in three years; she later also earned her law degree in less than three years, graduating with honors.
While in law school, Kelly interned at the Polk County State Attorney’s Office in Bartow. After passing the bar exam, she joined the State Attorney’s office as a prosecutor. Her first assignment was in the domestic violence division. While she worked in many areas, the time she spent within this division was particularly personal, as it provided a tangible opportunity to make a difference in the community.
Kelly left the state attorney’s office in 1998 to join Sharit, Bunn and Chilton Law Firm in Winter Haven, where she handled family law cases. She was named a partner, and was practicing in a variety of legal areas, when the opportunity to apply for a judgeship arose.
Kelly submitted an application for Polk County judge in 2014, and while it was under review by the commission, a circuit judge position also became available; she submitted her application for that position as well. Governor Scott appointed her to the county judge position in late 2014. She had been a county judge for a couple of days when Governor Scott called with the news of her appointment to the Circuit Court bench. She spent her first two years covering criminal cases, and recently moved to hearing cases regarding felony violation of probation.
It is Kelly’s passion for serving the community that prompted a desire to pursue a judgeship. She loves the law, believing there is no better way to serve the people of the State of Florida. Her role is to take each case as it is, to hear the facts of the case, and to follow the law.
Kelly has been involved in many community organizations, including the Junior League of Greater Winter Haven, Girl Scouts, First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, Winter Haven Youth Soccer, and Grace Lutheran School. She served on the Board of Directors for Girls Inc. of Winter Haven, Florida Dance Theatre, and Habitat for Humanity. She was also a member of the 10th Judicial Circuit Domestic Violence taskforce and City of Winter Haven Efficiency Review Committee. In 2005, she received the “She Knows Where She’s Going” Award from Girls Inc. of Winter Haven.
Kelly and her husband, George, live in Winter Haven and have two grown children, Will and Paige.
Twanna "T-Fay" Dewdney
Business and Community Service
Twanna "T-Fay" Dewdney
Twanna “T-Fay” Dewdney is a local business owner and community activist. She earned her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 2011, and a Bachelor of Applied Science in 2013. She is the first baccalaureate program graduate to be recognized as a Polk State Distinguished Alumna.
Dewdney graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1986. She started at Polk on a volleyball and basketball scholarship, but eventually dropped out. Due to blemishes on her record, her work options were limited. She had always had an interest in working with hair, so she went to beauty school and became a licensed cosmetologist.
Dewdney, a single parent, developed a rare condition at the end of her pregnancy where she lost her sight. Only eight known cases have been reported in the United States, and she is one of only two survivors. Miraculously, her sight was regained four days after her daughter was born.
After working at several salons, Dewdney’s brothers built her a salon of her own. She named the salon after her daughter, Ashanti, who had become a catalyst of change in her life. In 2016, Salon Ashanti celebrated twelve years in business.
After the miracles surrounding the birth of her daughter, Dewdney recognized that God had a purpose for her. She returned to Polk State to finish her education, and even appeared in the College’s “We Are Polk” ad campaign.
With a renewed focus on serving others, Dewdney has used her salon as a community resource in the Florence Villa neighborhood. She began Project Park Bench as a drive where items could be brought to the salon for donation to the homeless, eventually filling a park bench. She set the bench in her salon and discreetly told her co-workers and customers about it. By the end of the first week, the bench was covered with blankets, scarves, and caps. Items were donated to the Mission of Winter Haven. The project is now in its fourth year and continues to grow.
Dewdney is a passionate advocate for individuals who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. She had a cousin who died alone of AIDS, having moved away after the diagnosis so as not to hurt his family. Recognizing that lack of education about this disease can separate families, Dewdney became licensed to administer HIV/AIDS counseling and testing. She now provides testing and educational resources in her salon.
Dewdney is also active in her community. She received the Girls Inc. of Winter Haven “She Knows Where She’s Going” Award in 2014, and now sits on its board of directors. She was instrumental in bringing “Tallahassee Nights Live” to Winter Haven, where musicians perform a variety of genres to large community audiences.
Dewdney is a dedicated member of Hurst Chapel AME Church, serving as an usher and a licensed minister, and is involved with the women’s prison ministry and Willing Workers Committee. She has received numerous awards for her service to the community and her success as a small business owner.
Christine Stephens Samuel
Service to the Community
Christine Stephens Samuel
Christine Stephens Samuel is the Director of Human Resources for the Agricultural and Labor Program, Inc. (ALPI). She has been associated with this organization as volunteer, board member, or employee since 1979. The ALPI program began in 1968 as a project of the Coca-Cola Corporation to help improve life for migrant workers. Today, it is a $16 million dollar entity funded through federal and community block grants. The program provides emergency assistance and school training, operates the Head Start Program in St. Lucie County, and manages a Polk County Early Start Program that serves 781 children.
Samuel’s association with Polk State began long before she started taking classes here. As a single mom, she worked a full-time job during the day, and then worked from 9:00pm to 5:30am as a night custodian at Polk. She would take a short nap, get her kids off to school, and start the routine over again.
After being encouraged by an employer to go back to school, Samuel enrolled at Polk State. She graduated with her Associate in Arts degree in 1980 and received her Bachelor of Arts in Human Resources from Eckerd College in 1987. As a non-traditional student who was working and parenting full time, Eckerd’s program enabled her to earn her degree by attending classes on a flexible schedule. She also received college credit for her life experiences.
Samuel’s association with Agricultural and Labor Program, Inc. began with the CETA Program, where she worked as an assistant area manager in a temporary position. The organization was so pleased with her work that they created a full-time permanent position.
In 1991, while working for ALPI, Samuel was recruited to work with the Youth and Family Alternatives Program, started by Jack Eckerd, philanthropist and founder of the Eckerd Drug Store chain. Though a graduate of Eckerd, Samuel was unfamiliar with the connection between Jack Eckerd, the college renamed in his honor, and this youth organization. She spent time as the Human Resources Director, and was then promoted to the Center Director of the Eckerd Youth Challenge Program.
After working in this capacity, Samuel moved to G4S Youth Services as a facility director for troubled youth. During this time, she created her own consulting company, DES Consulting. Between 1992 and 2013, Samuel continued to be involved with the ALPI, serving on the Regional Advisory Council and Board of Directors. In 2013, she became the Director of Human Resources, and in that capacity also serves as the liaison for the Eastern Region Advisory Council.
Samuel has always felt she was born to serve, and loves working with young people; she hopes to help them know that they can have a better life. In addition to her public service, Samuel has served as the National Youth Coordinator for her church, House of God Saints in Christ, Inc. (based in Jacksonville) since 2007. She is also the president of her church’s board of directors.
Samuel’s commitment to the community has also led her to serve on the board of Girls, Inc. (Winter Haven), where she has held the positions of treasurer and vice president; in July 2016 she will ascend to the role of president. In 2011, the organization recognized her with the She Knows Where She’s Going Award. She has also participated as second vice president on the executive board for the local chapter of the NAACP.
Chris Nelson currently serves as the Chief of Police for the City of Auburndale, a position he has held since 2012. After attending Bartow High School, he started work for the Polk County School Board in the vocational department immediately following graduation. He later took a position as a police officer with the Bartow Police Department after attending the Police Academy at Polk State College. Nelson had always wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement, and it was during this time that a mentor encouraged him to go back to school to get his degree.
Nelson was able to work full time while attending Polk State on a part-time basis. He worked as a patrolman and traffic homicide investigator with the Bartow Police Department before he moved to Live Oak, Florida, where he eventually became Assistant Chief. Nelson received his Associate in Arts degree from Polk State in 1998, his Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from St. Leo University in 2001, and a Master of Science in Criminology from Florida State University in 2010.
In addition to working for the Live Oak Police Department, Nelson also worked as an investigator at the State Attorney’s Office in the Third Judicial Circuit. The Chief of Police in Live Oak, Nolan McLeod, had been a mentor and colleague to Nelson. When McLeod was appointed Chief of Police in Auburndale in 2007, he hired Nelson for the position of Deputy Chief. When McLeod passed away, Nelson was appointed the Chief of Police for the City of Auburndale in July 2012.
As a board member of both the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Polk County Police Chiefs Association, and a member of the Polk State College Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, Chief Nelson’s leadership and experience have helped to advance the profession. He has been a strong advocate for the Polk State Center for Public Safety that is set to open in January 2016.
Chief Nelson remains highly involved in the community though his membership in the Auburndale Rotary Club and his participation as a board member for the Polk County Youth Fair. He participated in the Youth Fair in high school, and credits this activity for teaching him about being responsible for others and the importance of fiscal accountability —skills he has used throughout his career. Nelson is also a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy Class 209 and Leadership Polk Class VIII.
Thomas Brooks was born and raised in Lakeland, graduating from Lakeland High School in 1969. After spending one year at a private engineering school, he went to work for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). He was later drafted into the Air Force, where he spent nearly four years before returning to Polk County and to his job.
As a child, Brooks enjoyed painting and drawing, realizing early on that he wanted to focus on art. He originally planned to be an engineer, but instead used his art talents as a draftsman. Upon return to the Florida Department of Transportation, Brooks attended Polk State on the GI Bill and took night classes to finish his degree. During this time, a friend introduced him to the wildlife and environmental art movement. Brooks found that he could freely express himself and his feelings about nature through his paintings of wildlife and the landscape. He received his Associate of Arts degree from Polk State College in 1982, and took with him a newfound love for capturing the beauty of nature.
Brooks continued at the FDOT, ultimately rising to an administrative position while also fielding opportunities to exhibit his artwork at shows throughout the Southeast. After 28 years with the state, Brooks decided to pursue his dream of focusing full time on his art. He resigned his position on September 11, 2001—a date that would signify change on so many levels.
Today, Thomas Brooks is an award-winning wildlife artist whose work has been recognized at both the state and national level. His work appears in many corporate, public, and private collections. Just a few of his many honors include Artist of the Year for the Florida National Wild Turkey Federation, Featured Artist for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo, and Featured Artist for the Plantation Wildlife Art Festival. Additionally, his art was selected for the 1995 and 1996 Florida Wild Turkey Conservation stamps, and in 2011 he was selected by the National Wild Turkey Federation to create its national stamp. The State of Arkansas also commissioned him to create its State Wildlife Conservation stamp prints.
In 2008, Florida Congressman Adam Putnam asked Brooks to paint the Christmas ornament representing the State of Florida for the White House. The ornament depicted the citrus and cattle history of Polk County and Central Florida. Brooks was invited to the White House for the unveiling, and his ornament remains in the permanent collection in Washington, DC.
Along with his many awards and accomplishments, Brooks also donates his time and art in support of charitable youth, wildlife preservation, conservation, and environmental organizations that operate both locally and internationally. He hopes to share his passion for art and wildlife on canvas so that current and future generations can enjoy and appreciate nature.
Fred J. Bohde
Fred J. Bohde is a citriculturist, consulting with citrus growers and grove caretakers in Central Florida. A Bartow native, he also has the distinction of being the very first graduate of Polk State College.
After graduating from the Summerlin Institute in 1959, Fred attended St. Petersburg Junior College before eventually transferring to Polk State to be closer to family. Although he was awarded his Associate in Arts degree on June 7, 1965, the first graduation ceremony was held on June 1, 1966.
After graduating from Polk, Fred served nine years with the United States Army Reserve. He achieved the rank of Captain and received an Honorable Discharge in 1972.
Fred worked as a Fire Insurance Underwriter for State Farm for several years. With a family history in the citrus industry, Fred left State Farm to work for a local citrus consultant. With his employer’s encouragement, Fred started taking classes at Florida Southern College, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Citrus in 1974.
After graduation, Fred took a position as a fertilizer sales representative for International Minerals and Chemical Corporation (IMC Fertilizer, Inc.). He spent the next 22 years working at IMC, rising to management. Though he loved his managerial work, he always missed the freedom and opportunity he felt when working outdoors as a sales representative. After retiring from IMC in 1996, Fred started his own citrus consulting firm.
As a citriculturist, Fred advises growers and grove caretakers on various methods to manage groves across a wide expanse of Central Florida. For the past eight years, the biggest challenge in his industry has been battling citrus greening, a bacterial disease spread through insects that affects the quality of fruit and eventually kills the tree.
Fred is active in professional societies, including the American Society of Agronomy. He holds designations as a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) and Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg). Within the Bartow community, Fred has been a member of the Bartow Kiwanis Club since 1966, serving as past president and past District Lieutenant Governor. He has also served as president of the Greater Bartow Chamber of Commerce.
Fred lives in Bartow with his wife of 47 years, Sylvia. Their three sons – Bill, Greg, and John— are all graduates of Polk State. Fred’s grandson, Houston, is a freshman at Polk, marking the third generation of the Bohde family to attend the College.
Catherine L. Combee
Business and Law
Catherine L. Combee grew up in Winter Haven, the oldest of four and the only daughter. She graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1971, and received her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1973. Afterwards, she attended the University of South Florida, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology, a Master of Arts in Microbiology, a Doctoral degree in Medical Sciences, and a Master of Business Administration degree. She also earned her Juris Doctorate from the Stetson University College of Law.
Since 2013, Combee has served as Circuit Court Judge for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, which covers Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties.
Combee began her career in the healthcare field, starting as a technical director at Laboratory Corporation of America, Inc., working her way up to Associate Vice President. She also served as Vice President of Customer Services at American Medical Laboratories, Inc. She ended her career in healthcare as chief operating officer of Columbia Central Florida Laboratory Services, Inc. in 1997.
Through these career experiences, Combee’s interest in law emerged, as she often worked with company attorneys. She enjoyed the challenge of finding solutions to achieve goals while adhering to the prescribed rules, and the creativity and freedom of being a problem solver. She worked in California and Virginia, and pondered the possibility of a second career. She eventually relocated back to Polk County to be closer to her aging parents, and embarked on her quest to become an attorney.
After graduating from law school in 2000 at the age of 45, Combee worked for the Office of the State Attorney as a prosecutor before deciding to open her own private law practice. She focused primarily on family law, with some criminal and dependency cases.
A love of the courtroom prompted her desire to run for office, and in August 2012 she was elected to a six-year term as a Circuit Court judge. She was sworn in on January 15, 2013 and is currently hearing criminal cases.
Judge Combee loves the law and finds her career as a judge to be both challenging and rewarding. She enjoys working with the public and views her work as a way of giving back to her community.
Robert R. "Bobby" Green
Robert R. "Bobby" Green
Robert R. “Bobby” Green is the City Manager for the City of Auburndale, a position he has held since 1991. Out of seventeen municipalities in Polk County, he is the longest tenured city manager. Bobby provides leadership to a staff of 168 employees, reports to five elected officials, and oversees a $31 million municipal budget.
Bobby received his Associate in Arts degree from Polk State College in 1985. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Central Florida in 1987, and his Master’s in Public Administration from the University of South Florida in 1988.
An Auburndale native, Bobby was elected to the Auburndale City Commission in 1980 at the age of 21. In 1982 he was elected mayor, becoming the youngest elected mayor in Florida’s history. He was attending Polk State while serving on the City Commission, and thought that his future would be in politics, but chose instead to pursue public administration in order to serve his community.
While at Polk State, Bobby was selected as the College’s nominee for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Scholarship. He was ultimately named the winner for the State of Florida in 1986.
As one of only four city managers in the City of Auburndale since 1949, Bobby has devoted his career to improving the facilities and services to the people in the community. He has also mentored five assistant city managers who have now become city managers in Central Florida municipalities.
In 2013, Bobby was named Citizen of the Year by the Auburndale Chamber of Commerce. In October 2013, the International City/County Management Association student chapter at the University of South Florida was renamed in his honor.
Other career accomplishments include Ridge League of Cities Municipal Official of the Year in 1994 and 2003; Florida City/County Manager’s Association Award for Career Excellence in 2007 and Career Development Award in 2010, and induction into the Auburndale High School Hall of Fame in 2000.
Bobby lives in Auburndale with his wife, Leanne. They have a grown son and daughter who live out of state.
Steve is the Chief Executive Officer of Florida Citrus Sports, a non-profit event management company that produces the Capital One Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl, Florida Blue Florida Classic, Orlando Citrus Parade, and other Florida-based events that impact the economy and benefit at-risk children and educational initiatives in Central Florida.
Steve received his Associate of Arts degree in Communications from Polk State College in 1989. He received his bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida in 1991.
After working for McCaw Communications and The New York Times, Steve started his employment at Florida Citrus Sports in 1995 in the events department. He worked his way up to become the Events Manager, Assistant Executive Director (COO), and interim Executive Director (CEO). After a nationwide search, Steve was named CEO in 2006.
During his tenure, Steve has worked on a variety of major sporting events. In 1999, he created a college football all-star game from scratch that lasted seven years on ESPN and boasted over 100 NFL draft picks. Over the years, he has managed several NFL pre-season, college football regular-season, and international soccer neutral-site games. Additionally, he has negotiated television, title sponsorship, and conference agreements that have elevated the organization into one of only three communities that stage multiple bowl games.
Steve has worked tirelessly for the last decade with community leaders to dedicate funding for the reconstruction of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. Overcoming significant challenges and the recent recession, the near $200 million project received approval in 2012 to move forward immediately following the 2013 bowl season.
Steve serves nationally as Chairman of the Football Bowl Association and locally as the current Chair of Leadership Orlando. Other board service includes Orlando Inc., the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, and the Community Health Impact Council.
Steve and his wife, Angie, live in Orlando with their two sons, Davis Brownlee and Anderson Hogan.
Greg Littleton was born in Winter Haven and raised in Auburndale, where he graduated from Auburndale High School in 1985. He received his Polk State College Associate of Arts degree in 1987 and his bachelor’s degree from Freed-Hardeman University in 1989, and later graduated from the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University. Currently he is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens Bank & Trust.
As the youngest in his family, he followed in the footsteps of his older sister and brother after high school and enrolled at Polk State College. His sister was the first in the family to obtain a college degree. Greg received a full-tuition scholarship to attend Polk State. He spent much of his time attending classes and working part time. After graduating from Polk State, and later Freed-Hardeman University, he returned to Polk County. America’s economy was struggling at the time, and the first job offer he received was from Barnett Bank as a collector. Greg worked for Barnett for eight years before moving to Citizens Bank in 1997. He originally was hired to open a new branch of the bank in Lake Wales in 1998, and in 1999 he was promoted to Executive Vice President. He became President of the bank in 2001 at the age of 34.
Citizens Bank acquired American Bank & Trust in 2004, and changed the company name to Citizens Bank & Trust. Citizens Bank had doubled in size over the mere seven years that Greg had worked with the company, and the new acquisition doubled the size once again (from $50 million in assets to roughly $450 million today).
Citizens Bank & Trust was established in 1920 by Latt Maxcy. The bank was family-run for many years; even today members of the Maxcy family are involved through the Board. When Greg joined the bank in 1997, it had 20 employees and he was one of six officers. Today, the bank has twelve branches, 150 employees, and 50 officers.
Through Greg’s leadership, Citizens Bank & Trust has been able to stay competitive with the products and services offered by larger national banks. For example, in 1997 the bank did not make home equity loans, offer debit cards, or provide e-mail and Internet banking services. Today, every product offered by national banks can be found at Citizens Bank & Trust.
As President, Greg holds quarterly breakfast meetings with newly-hired employees. The bank also holds events throughout the year, such as cookouts and trips to spring training games to encourage a close relationship among employees.
Since Citizens Bank & Trust is a community bank built on relationships with people, Greg has a strong desire to give back to the community, both through the Bank and through time given to local organizations. He has served as a member of the Polk State College District Board of Trustees since 2007, including a term as both Vice Chair and Chair. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Central Florida Development Council (for which he also served a previous term as Chairman in 2004). He is a board member of the United Way of Central Florida, Treasurer of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and Treasurer of the Polk Museum of Art Board. He is also on the Lake Wales Arts Center Advisory Board and is the Immediate Past Chair of Polk Vision. He recently concluded his term on the Florida Bankers Association Board and is a past chair of the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce.
Greg, his wife Julie, and their two daughters Currie Ann and Anna Beth, live in Winter Haven. Currie Ann is a student at the Polk State College Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School.
Athletics and Education
LeDawn Gibson, a 1986 graduate of Winter Haven High School, attended Polk State College from 1986 to 1988, and later returned to finish her Associate in Arts in Elementary Education in 1995. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Warner University in 1999, and a Master’s in Educational Leadership in 2006 from Argosy University.
In high school, LeDawn played basketball and earned “Most Athletic Player” for rebounding and scoring. Her commitment and devotion earned her a basketball scholarship to Polk State College, where she helped the team to the 1987 state playoffs and was the top free-throw shooter for junior colleges in 1988.
LeDawn worked for the Polk County School Board for a total of 19 years. She began as a paraprofessional and then secretary, returning to school to become a certified teacher. She served as a teacher and then Dean of Discipline at Winter Haven High School.
As coach of the WHHS girl’s basketball program for 12 seasons, the team was ranked number one in Florida for nine straight seasons (2000-2008) and listed in the Top 25 high school teams by USA Today. LeDawn compiled a 331-48 record including two state championships, seven finals appearances, and nine District Eight Regional titles. Her accolades include 2006-2007 Class 5A Coach of the Year and six-time Ledger Coach of the Year, among others. Additionally, LeDawn was honored with the 2002 WHHS Teacher of the Year, Polk State College Athletic Hall of Fame induction, and the 2008 Girls, Inc. of Winter Haven “She Knows Where She’s Going” Award.
In 2008, LeDawn was tapped to be the women’s basketball coach for Florida A&M University. As a first-year coach, LeDawn led the Lady Rattlers to a 14-17 season. In 2012, her team achieved an impressive 14-game winning streak; it was the first time the team had over 20 wins in a season since 1997. The remarkable season ended with Gibson being named Mid Eastern Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year.
Through her work on the court, LeDawn also helped over 30 young women attain basketball scholarships at some of the top women’s basketball programs. She has a 100% graduation rate among her players.
Rita S. Smith
Service to the Community
Rita S. Smith
Rita S. Smith graduated from Polk State College in 1974 with an AA degree in Psychology. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Michigan State in 1976. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a position she has held since 1993.
Rita’s first job was working in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children. With some counseling experience under her belt in that position, she went to a job interview and found out that the position was at a battered women’s shelter — an issue that she had never heard of before that time.
Battered women and domestic violence were issues that had never been covered in any of her classes, so she had to learn her role “on the job.” She learned that problems are created when individuals do not feel safe at home, and how important it was to make homes a safe place for kids. Suddenly, her career path became clear – she could change the world by ending violence in the family.
Rita was hired as the conference coordinator for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in September 1992. The organization was without leadership, so she offered to stay, rebuilding the entire organization. Today, NCADV is a national non-profit that works at the grassroots level to end violence in the home.
As executive director, Rita builds corporate partnerships and secures donations for the organization. She is often called on to comment on domestic violence, and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and national news broadcasts. Her responsibilities also include working on legislation pertaining to domestic violence at the federal level. She has been to the White House during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, and in 2010 was present in the Oval Office when President Obama signed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. Domestic violence is an issue that can face any person at any time, and Rita knows that the work she is doing has indeed changed the world and made it a better place. Rita hopes that one day she can be a part of creating a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Winter Haven.
Earning an AA in 1966, Ron Garl is a member of the first graduating class of Polk State College. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in
turf grass science from the University of Florida in 1967.
He is a golf course architect and owner of Ron Garl Golf Design, in operation since 1973 in Lakeland. An avid golfer at an early age, at sixteen Ron also earned a pilot’s license. He earned the first full-ride collegiate scholarship from the Florida State Golf Association, later serving as the association’s youngest president in 1979.
After graduation, Ron worked as an apprentice with national golf design firms, including three years in the Bahamas. Five years later, he opened his own firm. One of his first course designs was Cypresswood Golf Course in Winter Haven. Ron has designed more than 250 courses worldwide,
including more than 100 in Florida. He has also directed remodels of numerous courses.
Ron owns golf courses in several countries, and is currently building golf courses in fifteen countries, including course designs for the kings of Thailand and Morocco. While most firms never have the opportunity to design an oceanfront golf course, Ron is currently designing five oceanfront courses. Many of his designs have been selected as sites for the PGA, Senior PGA, and Canadian and European tours.
Golf course design is the focal point of Garl’s life. He is extremely active in the golf community as the president of the Florida Golf Alliance and as one of the founding board members of the International Network of Golf. Garl also co-authored the Urban Land Institute’s book Golf Course Development in Residential Communities.
Garl gained acclaim for his environmental work at the Indian River Club in Vero Beach, Florida, the first course to be awarded Audubon International’s highest award: the Audubon Signature Cooperative Sanctuary Status.
In 2003, Ron received the University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, and in 2009, Ron was inducted into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame.
George A. Kalogridis
George A. Kalogridis
George A. Kalogridis is a 1971 graduate of Winter Haven High School who received his Associate in Arts degree in 1973 from what was then Polk Junior College. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of Central Florida in 1976. Since October 2009, George has served as President of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. George oversees a workforce of 20,000 cast members at Disneyland Resort, the largest employer in Orange County, California.
George’s grandfather came to Winter Haven from Greece in the 1930s. His father, Tony, ran Tony’s Pharmacy for many years. George has two brothers, one sister, and several nieces and nephews who currently live in the Winter Haven area. While George worked and paid his own way through Polk Junior College, he considered an out-of-state move to continue his studies. At that same time, something was happening that would change life in Central Florida forever. Walt Disney World was preparing to open in Orlando. George was hired as a busboy for the Contemporary Resort, and he was part of the original team that opened the park on October 1, 1971.
Just a few of the many positions George has held in his career with the company are: General Manager of the Grand Floridian Beach Resort, Vice President of EPCOT, Senior Vice President of Operations at the Disneyland Resort, Vice President of Travel Operations, and most recently he served for three years as the Chief Operating Officer of the Disneyland Resort Paris. While serving as the Vice President of Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, he led the Millennium Celebration for the Walt Disney Company. During this company-wide celebration, George was responsible for creating relationships with key community and business leaders from the 50 countries that were represented at Epcot during the Millennium Celebration.
George serves on the board of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California and recently served as the Honorary Chair of the 2010 Gala for Orange County’s Pacific Symphony. He is also on the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage School of Business Dean’s Advisory Board.
In January 2013, Kalogridis was named president of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
In 2019, Kalogridis was recognized as one of three Outstanding Alumni by the American Association of Community Colleges. This was the first time a graduate of Polk State received this honor.
Marc Durso is an acting coach who teaches the Hagen Process to clients all over the world. As the owner of ActTrue, an acting school in South Florida, Marc has instructed students who have starred on Broadway and prime time TV and in Teen sitcoms, American and Latin soap operas, independent films, and national commercials.
Marc graduated from Polk State College (then known as Polk Community College) in 1980 with an Associate of Arts degree. He participated heavily in the Theater Arts program at the College and attributes his success to Polk State’s former Theater Arts professor George Randolph. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Art from the University of South Florida in 1983. As a student of Master Teacher/Tony Award winner Uta Hagen, and then as her associate director of a NY premiere, he gained specific professional experience applying the Ten Object Exercises to the professional work environment. As a result of his study with Hagen and his associate directing experience with her protégé Tony Award winner/Director Charles Nelson Reilly, he passes on her teachings to new generations of actors. He has taught acting classes across the country and in Belgium, Germany, and Italy for the United States Armed Forces European Command.
Marc is an associate of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and a member of the Actors’ Equity Association. He has assisted Broadway directors Alan Arkin, Tony Stevens, Tony Award winner Ann Reinking, and Tony Award winner Charles Nelson Reilly. Marc is also a graduate of the Burt Reynolds Institute, where he studied with Tony Award winners and Broadway stars Julie Harris, Leonard Frye, Tom Troupe, and Jerry Herman.
Additionally, Marc has directed/associate directed for legendary Master Teacher Sanford Meisner, and NY and LA premieres starring Tony Award winners Uta Hagen and Fritz Weaver. He has written for a CBS animated series Cadillacs and Dinosaurs with head writer Steven de Souza, writer of the blockbuster films Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop. Marc also assisted impresario James A. Doolittle in presenting the Baryshnikov, Kirov, Joffrey American Ballet Theatre and the Radio City Rockettes at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and he has assisted in developing budgets for multi-million dollar productions. Marc connects artists from the film, TV, live theatre, and dance worlds on behalf of Florida’s entertainment industry by networking events, modern dance company performances, and charities in support of women’s organizations.
2000 - 2009
Elizabeth A. Stewart
Author and Attorney
Elizabeth A. Stewart
Elizabeth Stewart graduated from Polk State College (known then as Polk Community College) in 1974 with an AA degree in Psychology. She received both her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Louisiana State University in 1975 and her Juris Doctorate in 1979.
After several years of practicing law in Louisiana and then in Polk County, Elizabeth moved to Washington DC where she spent 20 years as the Deputy General Counsel for the US Access Board. An independent Federal agency, the Access Board drafts accessibility guidelines and standards for people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act. In 2006, she received a presidential appointment from President George W. Bush to serve as a member of the Access Board for a four year term.
Elizabeth’s parents met at the Bartow Air Base where her father – a pilot – was stationed in 1944. She spent her childhood years moving to various Air Force bases across the USA and in Japan. On March 15, 1966, Elizabeth’s father, Col. Peter J. Stewart, was shot down over Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam. Still missing in action to this day, his name appears on panel 6E line 12 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Elizabeth spent more than two decades researching intelligence relating to American prisoners of war and those missing in action. Her efforts have taken her from Capitol Hill to Cambodia, from the South China Sea to the presidential palace in Hanoi and to the most remote regions of northern Vietnam. In 2007, she co-authored An Enormous Crime with former Congressman Bill Hendon. The book documents their research to find answers about her father and the American prisoners of war who were left behind in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia at the end of the war. The book quickly became a New York Times bestseller.
Today, Elizabeth is a sole practitioner in Lake Wales, FL focusing on family law.
Ellen Sly Masters
Ellen Sly Masters
Ellen Sly Masters is a Circuit Judge in the Tenth Judicial Circuit and is serving as the Administrative Judge in the Family Division. This division handles domestic violence, custody, some adoptions, paternity, and divorce.
Judge Masters received her Associate of Arts degree from Polk State College (known then as Polk Community College) in 1983. She was the first recipient of the Board of Trustees Academic Achievement Award for achieving a 4.0 grade point average. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1985 and her Juris Doctorate from Stetson University in 1989.
Ellen worked for Richard D. Mars for five years, and then shared his practice for a year before opening her own practice in 1994. In December of 1999, Governor Jeb Bush appointed her to serve as a Judge for Polk County, and she then closed her private practice. In 2001, Ellen ran unopposed and retained her seat, but a short time later Jeb Bush appointed her to the 10th Judicial Circuit. Her initial term was two years, and she ran unopposed in 2004. Her second term expired in 2010.
Most of her free time is spent participating in legal-oriented organizations, playing tennis, and spending time with her husband of 30 years, Buddy, who works for the Lakeland Police Department, and her son Brant, 24 (a Polk State alum) and her son Mac, 21 (a Polk State student).
Nursing and Public Service
Denise Grimsley currently serves as Florida State Representative for District 77, which covers Glades and Hendry County and parts of Collier and Highlands. She was elected to office in 2004. She is currently Chair of the House Agribusiness Committee, as well as a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Council and Health Care Council.
A fifth generation Floridian, Denise was born in Lakeland and grew up in Hardee County. She graduated from Polk State College (then known as Polk Community College) with her A.S. in Nursing in 1983. She also has a Bachelor’s degree from Warner Southern College (now Warner University) and her Master’s degree from the University of Miami.
Denise chose Polk State and the drive from Wauchula because the College’s Nursing program was known as the best in the area. After graduation, she worked at Bartow Memorial Hospital in the Operating Room, and eventually became manager of the OR at Florida Hospital. In 1996 having spent many years as a Certified Operating Nurse in Highlands, Hardee and Polk Counties Denise hung up her scrubs and took over the family convenience store business following her father’s serious illness.
In 2004 the business was sold and Denise returned to nursing profession doing what she does best, caring for people. She also enjoys helping her parents with the family citrus grove.
Denise has received numerous awards on the state and local level in appreciation of her public service, including recognition from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Nursery and Landscape Association, Federation of Manufactured Homeowners, Florida Association of Area on Aging, Florida Association of Counties, Military Order of the Purple Heart – Highlands Chapter 601 (Certificate of Appreciation and Proclamation as Purple Heart Sweetheart), Moore Haven High School Scholarship Foundation, Peace River Center, American Lung Association, and Associated Home Health Industry.
David Cash is a life-long resident of Polk County and is currently serving as the Chief of the Polk County Fire Department, a position he has held since July 2005.
David is a graduate of Lake Wales High School, class of 1972. He received his Associate of Arts degree in Education in 1976 and his Associate of Science degree in Fire Science in 1979. David obtained his Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida in 1992.
David worked as a volunteer firefighter in Lake Wales from 1973 until 1980. In 1976 he became the 10th firefighter hired by the Polk County Fire Department and moved up the ranks to Lieutenant (1979), Captain (1984), and Deputy Chief (1987). From 1988 to 1991, he served as Polk County Public Safety Coordinator, where he helped guide the operation of the County Fire Service, Emergency Medical Service, Civil Defense Division, Animal Control Division, and Communications Division. From 1991 to 2005, he served as the Emergency Management Director, where he directed the activities of five emergency-related divisions including 911 Call Centers, Emergency Management (which handled the 2004 hurricanes under David’s watch), Dispatch, and Communications.
As Polk County Fire Chief, David oversees a paid staff of 240, approximately 100 volunteer firefighters, 30 fire stations, and a $30 million dollar budget. Polk County is the 65th largest department in the United States, according to Firehouse Magazine.
David is a graduate of the Leadership Lake Wales program, a board member at the Lake Wales Care Center, and a member of Lake Wales First Baptist Church.
David has been married to his wife Kim for 30 years, and they have two children, Amanda and Connor.
Wayne M. Durden
Service to the Community
Wayne M. Durden
Wayne M. Durden is the Felony Director for the Polk County State Attorney’s Office, a position he has held since 1992, and has been a prosecutor for 23 years. As Felony Director, he currently oversees thirty Assistant State Attorneys who prosecute felony crimes in six felony divisions, including child abuse, economic crime, drug trafficking, manslaughter, and certain murder cases.
Wayne graduated from Auburndale High School in 1976, and then graduated from Polk State College (then known as Polk Community College) with an A.A. degree in 1977, after receiving CLEP credit for his freshman year courses. Wayne went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1979, and his Juris Doctorate from Stetson University College of Law in 1982.
Prior to becoming Felony Director in 1992, Wayne was the Chief of the Child Abuse Division and prosecuted child abuse cases exclusively for four years. During that time he developed a strong concern for children’s issues. He was a member of the local advisory group that started the Children’s Advocacy Center in Bartow, wrote protocols for the Center, and serves as its chair today. The Children’s Advocacy Center provides a single location for alleged victims of child abuse to be interviewed, examined, and receive psychological assistance. Wayne also serves as a member of the Board of Directors and is on the Executive Board of the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers.
In addition, Wayne was part of a team that won the Davis Productivity Award from Florida Tax Watch in 2004 for their work in the creation of the Rape Recovery and Resource Center in Lakeland. The center provides a compassionate and time sensitive alternative for adult sexual assault victims to be interviewed and examined and to begin psychological treatment. Together, the team created a better way to help rape victims and reduce the load on local emergency rooms and law enforcement, while saving time and taxpayer dollars.
Over the years, Wayne has also prosecuted major economic crimes in Polk County, including multi-million dollar investment scams and school voucher fraud. Wayne resides in Lakeland with his wife Tammy, a Registered Nurse, and his three children, Jennifer 22, Courtney 17, and Matthew 12. Wayne has volunteered as a Youth Motivator and coach for his son’s soccer teams and is a member of the Lakeland Rotary Club. He is also a member of the Florida Bar Association, Lakeland Bar Association, Polk County Trial Lawyers Association, and is President-Elect of the Willson American Inn of Court.
W.R. "Sandy" Fortin
W.R. "Sandy" Fortin
W. R. “Sandy” Fortin is the Chief Executive Officer of S&J Sports. He is a 1966 graduate of Polk State College, known then as Polk Junior College.
His company is the largest franchise holder in the Minneapolis-based Play It Again Sports chain, and has the exclusive license to open all new stores in the state of Florida. To date, the company has over 31 stores throughout Florida and generates over $24 million in annual revenue. Future plans call for a total of 60 stores with $50 million in revenue. Sandy was awarded the High Chairman’s award from Play It Again Sports and the Fast Start Award for the most sales in the first month opened and most sales in first year opened. Several of S&J Sports have received the “Million Dollar Award” every year.
Prior to opening his first Play It Again Sports store in Lakeland, Sandy worked for Belk-Lindsey for 30 years.
Sandy is past president of the Lakeland YMCA, LRMC Foundation, Lakeland Downtown Kiwanis, and the Learning Resource Center, along with service to numerous Lakeland-area organizations. He is also on the Executive Board for the Florida Retail Federation, and was recognized as the 2005 Outstanding Retail Leader by the organization.
Sandy is part of a group of businessmen from Lakeland who founded Community Southern Bank. The bank is modeled after the old People’s Bank, which was known for personal service and local decision-making. He serves on the Board of Directors.
Service to the Community
Teresa Martinez is president and CEO of the Institute of Spanish Communication, Inc. She is a 1975 graduate of Polk State College, known then as Polk Community College.
Her company provides businesses and individuals with accurate and professional language and cultural instruction, document translation and oral interpretation, thus insuring success in dealing with the growing Hispanic market and the global economy. Teresa’s clients include Avon, Marriott, Florida Machinery Corporation, Christian Dior, Estee Lauder, and the Miss Universe pageant.
In addition, Teresa is the producer and host of Communidad Viva, a daily Spanish talk show on PGTV. She also hosts and produces a Spanish radio talk show and is a columnist for Vision Latina.
Teresa is on the board of directors of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce and Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center. She is a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and recently received the Woman of Distinction Award from the organization. She was featured as one of “6 Who Make Things Happen” in the first issue of Lakeland Magazine, and was selected as the International Individual of the Year in 1997 by the Central Florida Development Council. She received the Governor’s Point of Light Award this year, and June 7, 2006 was proclaimed Teresa Martinez Day by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners.
Thomas D. Jordan
Cancer Drug Development
Thomas D. Jordan
Thomas D. “Tom” Jordan is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Tom Jordan Consulting. He is a 1970 graduate of Polk State College, known then as Polk Junior College.
Tom graduated from Lakeland High School in 1964 and then started at Polk in 1965 at the Bartow Air Base. He served as student body president and was working full-time to pay for school. In his words, he came from “nothing”, so as a way to escape the pressures of work/school/home, he joined the Army. He later returned to Polk and graduated in 1970 with an AA degree. Later, Tom graduated from the University of Florida with an advertising degree in 1972, and received his MBA from Xavier University in 1981.
He joined Pfizer, as a sales representative, in 1974 and moved to Adria Laboratories (the first cancer drug company in the US) in 1976. He ultimately became the National Sales Manager at Adria. After seven years with them, he joined Bristol-Myers Squibb as a product manager. Following numerous promotions, he became the Vice President of their Worldwide Oncology Business. His responsibility led to his global travels to more than 50 countries.
Tom retired from Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2001, founding his own oncology consulting company, Tom Jordan Consulting. His company provides consulting services in sales, marketing, legal, regulatory, licensing and business development, and cancer drug development, to companies in the US and Japan. His client list has included the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO, the global organization for oncologists), the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) and the International Society of Gynecologic Oncology. His business client list has included such companies as, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble.
Tom was an honor graduate at the University of Florida in 1972. During his military service Tom was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and in 1972, served in the Pentagon, as Aide-de-Campe to the Chief, US Army Reserve. During his career in cancer drug development, he was recognized by ASCO with its Appreciation Award in 2001, and again in 2007. He was a member of the Board of Trustees for the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Foundation for six years, and the organization created the “Thomas D. Jordan Doctoral Scholarship” in his honor. This is awarded annually by ONS. He was awarded the Oncology Nursing Society “Friend of the Foundation” in 1998. The IASLC awarded Tom its Award of Appreciation in 1997, and in 2000 recognized him with its Distinguished Service Award. IASLC also created two travel fellowships in his name. He was recognized as the Cancer Care Honoree in 2004. Tom is an active member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, as served as the treasurer of the Manila Lodge 761 in 2012 to 2013.
Tom continues his consulting business and lives outside Manila, Philippines with his wife, Jing, and their son. He feels the greatest success of his career was the introduction of the anti-cancer drug, Taxol (paclitaxel). He named it, priced it, marketed it, and launched the drug worldwide. Taxol has benefited thousands of cancer patients who have received it.
Myrtice P. Young
Business and Community Service
Myrtice Young graduated from Polk State College with an AS degree in 1970, later earning an AA degree from the College in 1982. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida in 1985.
Today, Myrtice is the Historical Preservation Manager for Polk County and is positioned in the Parks and Natural Resources Division of Polk County. Her responsibilities include the planning, development, implementation and coordination of the objectives of the Polk County Historic Commission.
Prior to joining the Polk County Board of County Commission, Myrtice served as Director of Development in the Institutional Development division for Florida Southern College from 2008 until 2010, Marketing Director for Citrus and Chemical Bank from 1997 until 2007 and Director of Practice Development for Carter, Belcourt & Atkinson, PA, CPAs from 1986 to 1995.
An active volunteer, Myrtice presently serves as a board member of the Bartow Chamber of Commerce. She recently served as a member and past chairman of Bartow Regional Medical Center Community Advisory Board, a member of the board of directors of the Bartow Community Healthcare Foundation, VISTE Advisory Board, and the Polk State College Alumni Association Board of Directors.
Myrtice was awarded the 2006 USF Distinguished Service Award. She received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Polk State in 2005 and was honored as a Woman of Distinction by The National Association of Women Business owners Lakeland Metro Chapter. In 2007 she received the George W. Harris Leadership Award and in 2006 was awarded the Spirit of Bartow Award from the Bartow Chamber.
Derek F. Menchan
Arts and Music
Business and Community Service
Service to the Community
Service to the Community
Grady Judd began his career at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in 1972 as a dispatcher. After transferring to the Patrol Division in 1974, he quickly progressed through the ranks – holding every rank from Sergeant to Colonel. In 2004, Polk County overwhelmingly elected Grady to serve as Sheriff by a 64% majority vote against two opponents. In November 2008, he was re-elected, with 99% of the vote.
Sheriff Judd has earned higher education degrees through the Masters level – having obtained both a Masters and Bachelor degree from Rollins College. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the Senior Management Institute for Police, the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar, and the FBI National Executive Institute.
Sheriff Judd has taught as an adjunct professor at both the University of South Florida and Florida Southern College. He is a past recipient of Polk State College’s (known then as Polk Community College) prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award and the 2008 Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award. He continues to serve the community on several boards and committees, including the Drug Prevention Resource Center and VISTE. In 2005, Governor Bush appointed him to the State of Florida Medical Examiners Commission, where he continues to serve. In 2008, Governor Crist appointed Sheriff Judd to serve on the Florida Parole Commission’s Parole Qualifications Committee. He also currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Florida Sheriffs Association Board of Directors and as the Florida Sheriffs Task Force Chairman.
Grady is married to Marisa, his wife of 36 years. He has two grown sons and one grandson.
Anthony R. James
Anthony R. James
Anthony R. James is a 1968 graduate of Winter Haven High School who received his Associate in Arts degree from Polk State College in 1970. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of South Florida in 1973.
Prior to his retirement in 2008, Mr. James served as Executive Vice President of Southern Company and President of the Shared Services Organization which provided support services to Southern Company, one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States.
He also served as President and CEO of Savannah Electric Company in Savannah, GA from 2001 to 2005. Mr. James joined Savannah Electric in 2000 as Vice President of Power Generation and Senior Production Officer. Concurrently with this role, he held a dual appointment as Generation Manager for Georgia Power Company, a sister subsidiary of Southern Company, where he managed five major power generation facilities.
Before joining Southern Company, he was an electrical and instrumentation manager, a production department manager, and a resident engineer for Procter and Gamble. As a college co-op student, he worked as an engineering assistant at NASA Kennedy Space Center.
In 2004, Mr. James was selected as “Black Engineer of the Year” by U.S. Black Engineer magazine and Career Communications group. He was recognized by the same organization as one of the “100 Most Important Blacks in Technology” in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
He is co-author of the 2005 book, The Shoulders of Giants, with Ken Chapman and Founder of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, Savannah Chapter in 2002.
Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. James has displayed broad experience in the areas of engineering, construction, power plant management, safety and health, corporate office administration, employee benefits, and wholesale power marketing.
He has served as Chairman of the Southeastern Electric Exchange (SEE) and the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies (AEIC). AEIC is one of the oldest organizations in the electric energy industry founded in 1885. He is currently a board member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the Georgia Tech Professional Education Advisory Board.
Mr. James has received numerous civic and professional awards and commendations. He was recognized in 2011 during the Centennial Celebration of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity with the “Century Award of Excellence”. Other awards include the Outstanding Career Accomplishments Award in the Field of Business by the Savannah MLK Jr. Observance Day Committee in 2002 and the Polk Community College Black Alumni Exemplar Award in 1985.
Now retired, Anthony and his wife, Sheila, reside in Atlanta, Georgia.
J. David Langford
Mark R. Irby
Robert E. Dodd
Frank R. Satchel, Jr.
1990 - 1999
Stephen C Saterbo
Bob E. Gernert, Jr.
Service to the Community
Bob E. Gernert, Jr.
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.
Don E. Ingram
Service to the Community
Service to the Community
Shirley Rosalis Barfield graduated Salutatorian from Carrabelle High School in 1959. In 1981, she completed the Associate of Science degree at Polk State College in Banking and Finance, graduating with honors. In 1990, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Nova Southeastern University, also graduating with honors. She also received her Master’s in Business Administration with honors in 1998 from Nova Southeastern University.
Shirley began her banking career in 1970 at Barnett Banks of Florida. She worked for the bank for 27 years in the area of loan servicing, and ultimately rose to the position of Vice President, Credit Administration and Loan Closing Officer. She represented the Bank for all commercial, commercial real estate and construction loans, a total portfolio of $225,000,000.
For two years, Shirley held the position of Vice President and Loan Review Manager at SunTrust Bank, before joining Citrus and Chemical Bank in 2000. She held the position of First Vice President and Loan Administration Manager until 2007.
From 2008 to 2009, Shirley worked as a consultant for Citizens Bank and Trust. She retired from banking in 2009 and returned back to her childhood community.
Shirley obtained professional designations in the banking field, including Leadership Training Certified Trainer and Certified Corporate Trainer. She attended Compliance School and Graduate Compliance School at the University of Oklahoma.
She parlayed her broad knowledge of banking and accounting practices, along with her extensive experience in leadership and corporate training, to teach banking and finance courses at local colleges and universities for more than 30 years, including Polk State.
Barfield has had many accomplishments in her community, and in recognition of those many achievements, she received the Girls Inc. of Lakeland “She Knows Where She’s Going” award in 1993. This award recognizes business and professional accomplishments of women who serve as models and mentors to youth.
Other special recognitions include Who’s Who in American Colleges & Universities (1982); Who’s Who in American Women (1988); American Institute of Banking Instructor of the Year (1996); National Association of Bank Women State Achievement Award (1988); and Who’s Who in Finance & Industry (1995).
Dr. Kevin Henne
Cathy Durrance Blair
Michael E. Raiden
H. A. "Skip" Church
Gow B. Fields
Bernie L. Little, Jr.
Ernest S. Pinner
Judge Ronald Herring
Kenneth P. Baker
Rep. Tom Mims
1980 - 1989
Dr. Roderick L. Hall
R. Carl Cheatham
Dr. Gary B. Schemmer
Robert S. Smith*
Charles E. Brown
Jeanne Dillard Kalogridis
Ernest “Ernie” Wayne Caldwell graduated from Haines City High School in 1967. He earned his AA in Social Science from Polk State in 1969. He continued his education at the University of Central Florida, receiving his BA in Political Science and Pre-Law in 1971.
Ernie loved Polk County, and was known as a fighter in protecting its agricultural and environmental land. He worked for the county as a planner in the early 1970s and was instrumental in creating the county’s first wetlands ordinance limiting the amount of development that could occur on wetlands-designated areas. He was then employed at GAC Properties, original developers of Poinciana, for five years as an assistant housing project manager.
In 1978, at age 29, Ernie became one of the youngest county commissioners in Polk County history. Representing District 4, he served as commissioner until 1990, including two terms as chairman.
His experience with the Board included chairing the Agriculture and Parks and Recreation Committees, as well as the Mined Lands Agricultural Demonstration Center Oversight Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Crime Commission and the Development Coordination Committee and as liaison for Polk General Hospital and the Polk County Health Department.
After leaving the Board of County Commissioners, Caldwell served as Executive Director of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council. He then worked for the citrus division of Jack M. Berry, Inc. Caldwell later switched to the development side of the company with Berry Development, Inc. before taking a consulting job in later years with Berry USA.
Ernie’s leadership was recognized well beyond Polk County. He was appointed by Governors Graham, Martinez, and Chiles to the Non-Mandatory Reclamation Commission, including service as chair. He also served on the Governor’s Commission for Everglades Restoration, and was on the board of directors for Audubon Florida and the Future Farmers of America Foundation.
Ernie spent the majority of his career devoted to issues of Environmental Permitting and Land Development throughout the State of Florida. He received National Recognition in 1996 when he achieved “First in the Nation” status from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in 1999 he received the Environmental Champion Award, presented by Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of the EPA, Carol Browner.
On December 15, 2004, Polk County commissioners voted unanimously to name a new road, an east-west connector, Ernie Caldwell Boulevard in honor of the dedicated Commissioner. Caldwell was present at the June 2009 groundbreaking for the road. Sadly, Caldwell passed away on November 1, 2009 at the age of 60, after a two and a half year battle with cancer. Even while battling the disease, he was an advocate for the American Cancer Society and Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.
Ernie Caldwell Boulevard was dedicated on January 7, 2012.
Lt. Col. Jesse L. Brokenburr
Mary L. Baxter*
Lawrence W. Crow, Jr.
Jerry Hill, State Attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, retired in 2017 after holding the position for 32 years. He has the distinction of being Polk State’s first Distinguished Alumnus, receiving the award in 1983.
Jerry Hill graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1965 and then enrolled at Polk State (known then as Polk Junior College). During this time, Jerry was a member of the Student Government Association, serving terms as both vice president and president. Recalls Hill, “Going to Polk helped me to figure out the direction I was headed with my education, and in turn, my future life’s work. I was able to approach my professors, who knew me by name, and we could discuss the issues of the day and any concerns that I had with my classes. I felt very fortunate to be able to experience that kind of closeness, because I did not have that same experience in my upper-level programs of study.”
Hill received a Polk State Associate of Arts degree in 1968, a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in 1969, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Stetson University in 1972.
Hill started his law career as a full-time Assistant Public Defender. After working in private practice for several years, he was elected in 1981 as the Public Defender for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, serving Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. As a public defender, Hill oversaw the state-paid attorneys defending cases where the client could not afford legal representation.
After one term in this position, Hill made a successful run for State Attorney, taking the oath of office in 1984. As State Attorney, Hill prosecuted cases; it is rare for a public defender to switch to prosecuting cases. He was re-elected unopposed in the subsequent seven elections.
When asked about the legacy he created in the State Attorney’s Office, Hill noted that he was proud of the growth of the department, as well as the specialized units that were created during his tenure. “When I first became State Attorney, we had around 100 total personnel. Today there are over 220.” Additionally, when Hill first came into office, all of the attorneys were assigned cases as they came up. During his tenure, the office created specialized units, such as Homicide and Economic Crimes. This arrangement allows attorneys to try cases and build knowledge in one particular area of legal infractions.
Hill is also proud to have served as mentor to many attorneys over the years. The State Attorney’s Office offers internships each year, and former intern and Assistant State Attorney Brian Haas successfully ran for office in 2016 after Hill announced that he would not seek re-election. In addition, roughly half of the forty judges that cover the Tenth Judicial Circuit once worked in the State Attorney’s Office under Hill’s leadership.