Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vernon Peeples Recognized for Lifetime of Achievement

Vernon Peeples with Cathy Graham and Serena Wyckoff of Copperfish Books.  
Vernon Peeples  became the first recipient of the Charlotte County Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award this past week.  At a banquet honoring Mr. Peeples, Master of Ceremonies Jimmy Dean, publisher of Harbor Style Magazine, noted that "it would be impossible to capture Peeples’ life in so short a time because of all his accomplishments."

Mr. Peeples’ ancestors arrived in the Punta Gorda area in the 1830s.  The fourth generation member of  his family to serve  as a Florida State legislator, Mr. Peeples began his political career as a page in the Florida Legislature when he was only 11.  He served in the Florida House for 14 years.  His many accomplishments included initiating  important transportation legislation and extending the community college system in Florida including bringing Edison College to Charlotte County (now Florida Southwestern State College).

Vernon Peeples with Mary Figg, former state legislator and Tom Gustafson, former Speaker of the Florida House
Former state legislator Mary Figg, a colleague of Mr. Peeples in the legislature, talked about  the “Vernon Effect” noting that when  she "met this modest man, who was very soft-spoken and shy, I  said to myself, ‘Oh, this poor fellow, he doesn’t have the right stuff to get it done."  "Well, I'd been just been hit by the ‘Vernon Effect. He had leadership, tenacity, integrity, and was a man who could deliver on his promises."

Ed Wotitzky noted that Mr. Peeples’ greatest contributions were in education, where he almost singlehandedly spearheaded the funding to have Florida SouthWestern State College, the former Edison State College, build a campus in Charlotte County.  He also pointed to Mr. Peeples role as historian for Punta Gorda and lauded the collection he has maintained on area history.

Gene Murtha, President of the Punta Gorda History Center, thanked Mr. Peeples for the contribution of his massive local history collection to the Center and noted that progress was being made to establishing a permanent location for the collection at County building on Grace street.

Mr. Peeples talked about the importance of education, stressing "Democracy can’t survive without educated people.” During his remarks he also spoke fondly of his wife, Edna Jane, who recently passed away.   He called marrying her the greatest accomplishment of his life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dear Vernon: Letters Capturing a Punta Gorda Love Story

It was almost 70 years ago when a chance encounter between two teenagers sparked an enduring love between two Punta Gordans -- Vernon and Edna Jane Peeples.  After she passed away recently, Vernon Peeples started rediscovering  the letters that they had exchanged over the course of four years while they were separated when Edna Jane went with her family to Miami and Vernon went off to school in Tallahassee.

Vernon recalled the story of their courtship to a reporter and his beautiful account appears in this week's  Florida Weekly.  And when we visited Vernon this week the hundreds of letters were still strewn across his cocktail table.  Vernon, being the storyteller he is,  couldn't resist telling us more about his meeting with Edna Jane in November of 1945.  "She was the daughter of the new  Presbyterian minister" he began.  And when he first saw her as he was walking down Marion Ave. to catch a school bus, as he recalled, he was immediately smitten.  Edna Jane and he were in the same homeroom at Charlotte High School and fast established a chaste old-fashioned relationship. It took over three months before they shared a kiss.  "Our parents wanted to split it up," Vernon told us, "they were concerned we were too serious."   But there was no splitting up these two, not then and not for decades later.

Vernon has found comfort in rereading the love letters they wrote to each other, noting that Edna Jane's  were  more frequent while his were much longer often going on for several pages.  He would drive periodically to Miami where Edna Jane was studying Nursing from Tallahassee where  he was completing  his degree at Florida State. He would drive all Friday night to reach Miami Saturday morning to spend time with Edna Jane, but it was the letters that kept them connected over the distance.

At one point Edna Jane did try to break off the relationship in a letter, but Vernon wrote her back outlining logically why she shouldn't do that.  She wrote back days later inviting him to join her family for a visit in New York.  Needless-to-say, there was no breakup.  They became engaged, but honoring their respective parents they made a commitment not to marry until they competed their schooling.  At that time Nursing students could not get married.

They married in August of 1951, had three children, and as Edna Jane promised "loved forever."

The  letters not only contain the romantic love story of a Punta Gorda couple, as Vernon notes "they relate the history of the time", how teenagers thought, what they did, the social mores of the time. They are an important part of  history which Vernon indicates should be part of the Punta Gorda History Center.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Out of the Archive - Remington in Punta Gorda among the "Cracker Cowboys"

When Frederic Remington, the well-known illustrator of the western Frontier, encountered the Florida cracker cowboys, they did not meet the romantic view that the artist held based on his travels west. Unfortunately, he thought that the Florida version of his idealized cowboys “lacked dash.” Nonetheless, he took the time while in the Punta Gorda and Arcadia area to capture in words and drawings  these “picturesque” wranglers in their “unearthly wildness.”

It’s viewed that Remington gave Harper’s Magazine readers for whom he wrote and illustrated a piece about the Florida Cracker Cowboys in August of 1895 a biased picture "wild-looking individuals, whose hanging hair and drooping hats and generally bedraggled appearance would remind you at once of the Spanish-moss which hangs so quietly and helplessly to the limbs of the oaks out in the swamps". It’s been noted that what Remington encountered in Florida had already been civilized out of the West. The Old West by the time he had traveled there was no longer part of the frontier and that visiting Arcadia and Punta Gorda in 1895 must have been been like visiting Lincoln County, Nevada in the 1870s , when the west was the Wild West.

When Remington took the train to Punta Gorda, he stayed at the Hotel Punta Gorda, and enthused in a letter to a friend about the tarpon, the hunting, the birds of paradise. He sketched a tarpon fishing scene and panels of hunting adventures.

The Punta Gorda History Center will contain some of the Remington prints and documents from his visit to Punta Gorda.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Punta Gorda History Center Receives Donation from Punta Gorda "Old Timers"

The Punta Gorda History Center received a major donation from the Punta Gorda "Old Timers" organization in support of the reconstruction project to turn the old health and human services building into a History Center and Museum for Punta Gorda.