My name is Jerry Chicone and actually I’ve carried a junior on my name because my dad had the same name and I was born here in Orlando in the only hospital that was in Orange County and it was called Orange General Hospital. And it wasn’t until the second World War that it was changed to Orange Memorial Hospital to honor the veterans. And in those days it was not on Orange Avenue. The road that was in front of it was called Kuhl Avenue and when you went down Orange Avenue you ran into Lake Lucerne. There wasn’t any causeway there. You had to go around the lake and the name changed when you got there.
Then, J. Rolfe Davis was mayor. He built the causeway across Lake Lucerne and they made it easy for everyone and changed the name. So since I’m in the orange growing business, I used to always joke with people: “I’m from Orange County born on Orange Avenue in the Orange General Hospital.” It always made people think I was somebody.
What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?
Growing up as a kid, Sundays my dad was a golfer so he played golf. When I was very young my mother and her next door neighbor would get in their 1939 Ford Coupe and I would get in and sit on the back level by the back window. There was only one seat so I would crawl back in the back. And they would ride over here to Orlando to ride around and either go to the Beacham Theater to a movie or they would ride around and see the houses. Orlando had some nice beautiful houses. And then another thing, they used to come occasionally to the Civic Music Association. They would have concerts in what we now call the Bob Carr Performing Arts Theater.
The Municipal Auditorium
But in the old days it was just called the Municipal Auditorium… and we’re trying to save that old building now. The Creative Village is going in there and we think we’ve got it saved through UCF. They’re going to use it not as a public theater as much as for a teaching facility. And that building, the reason it ought to be saved is that is, one of the things that made Orlando a big city. Because I remember as a kid the school buses would bring you in from all over the county to a function such as the Ice Capades that was going on at that building. So primarily, that’s when I was very young.
Jerry Chicone is pictured center and Larry Grimes is third from the left in this photo of Mrs. Bigger’s kindergarten class in Winter Garden, 1951.
And then a little bit later I joined the scouts out in Winter Garden and I worked hard. I was the youngest Eagle Scout in Orange County. And now, I’m the oldest Eagle Scout in the troop in Winter Garden. And that was very important to me being a scout.
Lake Orange League Baseball Team
And then another thing that was a highlight, when I was 12 years old I was the bat boy of the Lake Orange League Baseball team. So I was 12 years old, and all the members of the team were about 28 years old. And I did that for two or three seasons. And we had ten teams all around Central Florida, semi pro. We always hired a pitcher out of the Orlando Air Force Base stationed here. He was paid 500 dollars and he was very good. Winter Garden won almost every year.
A young networker
And the ironic thing about that is that I made a lot of friends. I’m twelve years old as a kid. They’re 28, 30 years old having come out of WWII. And later those are the same people that I did business with. For example, in the citrus business, I did business with Pounds Motor Company and Herbert Pounds, a son of the owner, and he was the catcher on the baseball team. So he and I had a relationship. After college we had another relationship.
Winter Garden Theater
And the reason that’s important, the old theater in Winter Garden, Pounds Motor Company had purchased it and they had tractors stored in there. And so, after we had the museum in Winter Garden, we decided we needed to have the theater and restore it. So the city, the Pounds wouldn’t do business with the city. And so, the manager, Hollace Holden, called me and he says, “You’re friends with Herbert. Can you buy the theater?” So, I had it appraised. I went to see Herbert. He says, “Jerry, we just don’t want to move all the tractors out, but when I get ready to sell it, I’ll call you.” A year later he calls me. He says, “You come see me.” So I called Larry. We went down to see Herbert and we were able to come to contract. And then I sent the contract over to the city. They picked it up. That’s how we got the theater.
What is your earliest memory of a citrus grove?
Oh, when I was very young I used to ride with my dad in the grove. And I would stand on the seat next to him. He’d be driving and I’d be going through an orange grove. Going through an orange grove is not smooth. It’s bumpy. And I used to bump my head on the top of the car and they called me “Bumpy” when I was a kid. But I spent a lot of time with my dad riding through the groves and that was a good activity.
Your dad, your family was in citrus?
My dad started in business in Winter Garden in 1920. And he was both in the real estate business and he had an insurance agency, and then little by little he started in groves.
I read that your dad served as Director and State Treasurer of the Florida Association of Realtors, the Insurance Agents Association and he was a member of the Florida Tax Commission. And he worked to get the Homestead Exemption. Is that right?
True. He was very active in his community as a young man. He had a computer brain before they had computers. When he came to Winter Garden he got active in many of these associations. Primarily with Senator Walter Rose, who was a state senator from Florida, and he lived in Orlando. And that’s who he worked with on Homestead Exemption which has been very important.
Orange County School Board
He used to read the school budget every year and he would appear at the annual school board meeting. And at one time he appeared and he said, “You’re not quite high enough.” He had it all analyzed. “You need to be a little bit higher.” But most of the time, he was very conservative. You need to cut this and do this. Those were the days when the Orange County School Board was composed of all men. All prominent men. All successful men at no pay. And they were very good.
You know the teachers worked for the school board and it was a little bit different situation. You know, now you’ve got the foxes guarding the hen house. And they’re doing pretty good. I know Bill Sublette, the chairman well. And the school board does pretty well. But, we had excellent public schools when I was in school. Excellent. After my folks moved to Orlando and I went to – we called it OHS – but it was Orlando High School which is on Robinson, East Robinson where Howard Middle School is now.
Orlando Senior High School
But Mr. Boone was our principal. And he was very tough and very good, very innovative. For example, the boys in school every morning from 10:00 to 10:30 we drilled, that was a class. There was no grade. But, drill. He came out and drilled with us. And so then, after college when we all had to go into the service, we knew all that. I mean it was really good. And we changed classes.
Another rule he had, all the boys had to take typing. And that was very unusual in the fifties. But it was good for us because wherever we went we were able to use that and it made up a little more in demand. And Mr. Boone died the last day of school and that’s why they named it Boone High School. They built Edgewater and Boone. And ironically, he was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. And every year in the old days they had a Christmas dance. And he would wait at the door to welcome all his students in. And there were 17 of us in our high school graduating class which was the last class to graduate from that school. That school was closed after we left. We all wound up, 17 of us, as members of Sigma Chi. So it was kind of interesting that he had such an influence on us.
Did you go into the service?
Oh, yes. Larry [Grimes] and I both are at the age that number one, the draft was still in, so we could have been drafted had we not. I finished college and I took two years of ROTC. I didn’t go four years. But what it meant was when I did join I was able to move up and do my thing. I would not want to do it again, but it was a good experience. I wish that every young man had to do it today. Because it was, you learned a little discipline, you learned a little teamwork, it wasn’t all bad. And the other unique thing to my age group, is that I graduated from high school in ’52, from college in ’56. I never attended an integrated school because the years, it hadn’t worked, in other words, it didn’t really start until about 1960. I was out. I’m not suggesting that’s good or bad. I’m just suggesting that made us a little different in our thinking. Because certainly when I was in the Army, after college, it was definitely probably 50/50. So it was a different world in a sense.
What did you do in the service?
I worked in the adjutant general’s office which was good for me, for them. I have a philosophy, whatever you do, you put your best into it. And while I was not happy to be in the Army, I just took it for granted that it was something, a part of growing up. You go in and you do your thing and it wasn’t all bad. I was happy to be out I can tell you that. But, it was good to do. Did you get the GI Bill to go to college? No. Fortunately, I did not need that. My parents educated my sister and I both in college.
University of Florida
In my years, all the girls went to FSU, and all the boys went to the University of Florida. And we didn’t have SAT scores in those days. If you wanted to go to college in those days, that would have been the summer of 1952, if you wanted to go, you just found out what date they were starting. You drove to Gainesville. You got a place to live and you went to the meeting in the auditorium and you sat there and someone came up front and they said, “Look to the right, look to the left, those two people will not be here at the end of the year.” Scared us to death. But really you didn’t have to – everybody was admitted. There were 10,000 students at Florida. Now there are over 50,000.
Dr. J. Wayne Reitz
And the new president of the University of Florida when we were there was J. Wayne Reitz, Dr. Reitz. And ironically, he had lived in Orlando prior to him going to Gainesville. He had worked for the Department of Agriculture here. So all the people who were in the citrus business like my dad knew him and worked with him. So when we got to Gainesville he was the new president and I knew him on a, I’m not going to say first name basis because I didn’t call him J. Wayne, I called him Dr. Reitz, but he was very helpful to us.
I majored in Business Administration because my dad said, “Look, I can teach you agriculture. We can learn that. But business you really need.” And that was a good plan. I got a good well rounded education. And then when I got out of the service and got back home he took me down to the county agent’s office here, the agriculture agent Henry Swanson, who was a great guy. And he said, “Henry, Jerry has a college education, but he doesn’t know anything about agriculture. Any meeting you go to anywhere in the state, he’s going with you.” And, for a year, I went all around with him and it was very helpful. I got to learn the people and what to do. And as far as growing citrus, I’m still learning. I mean, it changes every year. The first year I was in the field I had a notebook and I wrote down everything I did every day thinking that next year all I had to do is open my notebook and it’s clear. Well, I learned very quickly that every day is different. And all the weather conditions are different. But I was naive and it took me that long to do that.
Did you learn a lot from Mr. Swanson?
Oh, yeah. In fact, we became very close friends and he later wound up at the Winter Park Towers. His wife passed away and I used to go about once a month and sit down and visit with him and he gave me a lot of his materials and things. He even gave me his fat cap from the University of Florida about ten years earlier then mine or twenty years earlier. We were very good friends. In fact, I was chairman of the Citrus Hall of Fame committee for 12 years for selecting people. And I got him into the hall of Fame. He always appreciated that. And then, really on his last year, he helped to get me in the Hall of Fame. I mean, it wasn’t something that we agreed on doing. It’s just, it worked out that way. But I think an awful lot of him. He was extremely sharp in this community. He had a newsletter and he could turn out 200 people. He was very different. They called him Jeremiah of the citrus industry. He was good.
Christian Science Monitor article on Henry Swanson: “‘Our Jeremiah’ sees water going down the tubes,” March 31, 1986, p. 1.
Would you tell us about Chicone Groves?
It was a family operation. In fact, we still have two groves left together there in Lake County right at the Orange County border. The grove business has not been the business to be in the last couple of years with what we call “greening” that’s affected all the trees. And the cost of production is more than the income we receive from the sale of oranges. So there’s a billion dollars of federal, state, and industry money right now with researchers. They’re trying to find not really a cure; they’re trying to find a control of the greening. And, if they don’t find it soon, in the next few years, we’re in trouble.
Full Ahead Brand Citrus Label from the Jerry Chicone, Jr. Collection.
60,000 acres of Citrus in Orange County
Usually, there’s a 170 million boxes of citrus grown in the state of Florida. This year we’re down to 70 million. So there is not enough supply to furnish the twelve processing plants that are here, and probably a couple of plants will close this year. So, if we don’t watch out we’re going to come up with a control, but it’s almost going to be too late because the processing plants will be closed. We don’t know. I’m not so optimistic as some of the other men are in citrus. I’m worried. One fact that might be interesting, when I was a kid, there were 60,000 acres of citrus in Orange County. Today, there are 2500 acres in Orange County. And, of course, that’s why we’re named Orange because we had more oranges than anybody. But that’s different now.
Florida Cowboy Brand Citrus Label from the Jerry Chicone, Jr. Collection.
I read that you actually walked the land. Well, my philosophy has always been that the best orange growers put their footprints in the sand every day. And so, in fact, Henry Swanson taught me one thing. He used to talk about star boarders. He said, “Do you have any star boarders in your grove?” Well, I didn’t know what he was talking about. So then he showed a great big chart on the screen and he had X’s. And I said, “What are the X’s?” He said, “That’s a missing spot. That’s a dead tree that you’ve removed. You have a grove here. You have all these X’s. Those are the star boarders. They’re not paying rent.” So the only way you can find that out is you get, in the old days, you get a piece of graph paper and a clip board and a pencil and you start walking. You walk every row. And you mark it down whether it is a mature tree, a young tree, a dead tree, or an empty space.
So I had all these charts. At one time we had close to a thousand acres of groves, and that’s a lot of walking. But that’s the only way I could learn it. Because my dad who had assembled all this, he knew it. He hadn’t even been out there lately, but he could tell you where everything was. So, I had to learn. And it was very helpful to learn that. Because then, in my mind, I’d know what to do.
Pruning orange trees
In fact, one of the first things I did when I went out in the grove is my dad gave me a pruning saw and I said, “What’s this for?” He says, “You’re to go out there and do some pruning.” Well, I didn’t understand why, I had a college education, I had to prune. But the point was, later when we had our own crew, and it was their prune, then I knew what they were doing, how long it should take. You know, it takes a little while to understand why you’re doing these things. But, I was glad I did. I never asked anybody in our crew to do anything that I wouldn’t do. And that’s helpful….
Blue Tip Brand Citrus Label from the Jerry Chicone, Jr. Collection, circa 1940’s.
When did you first start collecting orange crate labels?
1976. The bicentennial year. They had on PBS, they kept having spots and they said,”Save some history, especially paper history.” So I knew most of the packing house owners. And so, I went around to the front door and spoke to the owner who I usually knew. Told him I was starting to collect citrus labels and I’d like to get a few of theirs. They thought they had something valuable and they weren’t really too helpful in sharing those.
So then I started going around to the back door and seeing the maintenance man. And I said, “How about some labels?” He said, “Follow me.” And so they’d take me up in the attic. I’d walk out with a great big box of labels. And then, a friend from California invited me to come out there and speak to their club on citrus labels.
So I went out and I met a young fellow out there that was also starting to collect California labels. And he, Schmidt engraving was a huge engraver in the country in those days, and they had a big plant in San Francisco. So he knew that and he knew the widow of one of the owners. He knew where she lived. And he became friendly with her. And when she passed away, her caretaker called my friend and took a truck and went in there and got all kinds of labels including Florida labels.
Justice Brand Citrus Crate Label from the Jerry Chicone, Jr. Collection.
So I invited him to Florida and we had a big label show. We did trading of labels more than anything then. Now they sell them. It’s kind of a different world. I’ve just given – last year – all my labels to the University of Florida Special Collections which is the best thing I ever did because they digitized them all and they’ve had classes come in…. But I met a lot of people all over the state who collect labels. It was a great hobby and I was happy to be involved with it. I wrote a couple of books about that also.
One thing I didn’t realize, the first book we printed – once something is printed, it has greater value. So what we did in printing the book, we didn’t think about that. We put the labels that we liked in the book, the most colorful ones. And some of them, we did not have any other, just one copy. It was tougher. They wanted you to put in the book those that you had thousands of so everybody could buy them. But right now, they have them here at the Orange County History Center and they have them out in Winter Garden at the Heritage Museum for sale. And some of them are very reasonable. Some go into the thousand dollar mark. It’s unbelievable. [Well, they’re art pieces.] Yeah, they are art pieces. But no artist signed them because it was considered to be commercial art and they didn’t want to put their name on them. And some of the labels are very, very well done.
Book cover for Florida’s First Billboards: Florida Citrus Crate Labels by Jerry Chicone, Jr. and Brenda Eubanks Burnette featuring the Florida Cowboy,
Some are what they call cut and paste. It’s where the salesmen came by the packing house and he and the owner of the packing house sat down and they clipped out things and they pasted them together. And they look like it too. They’re not real artistic. You know, some are pictures of a dog. And when we researched it, it was the packing house owner’s dog. Or, there’s a group of ladies in the different towns that were Miss Fort Meade or something like that. And when we were writing the book, we did a lot of research on trying to find the names and all that to put together. Because most of the people when we started were still living. Now, they’re pretty much, are passed on. In fact, Larry and I, we feel very fortunate at our age to still remember things. Because most people our age, they’re kind of lost. There are several people older than us that would be great subjects, but they can’t remember…
What were some of your first impressions working in the downtown business community because you’ve done both.
Right. And they’re tied together in this way. I was working against urban sprawl. I was working for a compact downtown Orlando area and land out in West Orange County that we could keep as orange groves. So, it really, I was serving both parties. I’ve been very fortunate, when it came to Orlando I have two or three things that I think are more important than others.
Mayor Bill Frederick
I was the one that went to see Bill Frederick’s mother, his secretary, and his wife to ask them what they thought about him running for mayor. They all told me to get out of the picture. They didn’t want him to be mayor. That would be terrible. He’s a lawyer and that he shouldn’t be mayor. But anyway, we ran Bill. I was the first one to get him to go and I set up the organization and everything for him to be mayor. And he was one of the best mayors we’ve ever had so that was very important.
President of Orlando Utilities Commission
He then appointed me President of Orlando Utilities Commission. And I was there for about five years and that was a volunteer organization, but we ran the policy. And the company had a president and they had an attorney. They had a big staff. And I got a call one day from New York saying that the staff was in New York for a new bond issue and they were requiring the company to buy them limousines and Broadway show tickets and everything else. And I said, “I know nothing about this. It’s not our policy.” So I called the manager and went down and sat in his office and said, “Here’s my call. That’s not acceptable. What is your side of the story?” And he tried to indicate they were not doing that. He was lying to me. So I went to Bill and I said, “We got a problem.” He says, “Jerry, I’m only going to be in office six more months. You be careful. They’ve got the lawyer. They’ve got the staff. Even though we know it shouldn’t be done, they’re going to eat you alive if you’re not careful.”
So I moved very fast. I appointed Mel Martinez who was on my commission. I appointed him as chairman of the audit committee and he did an audit. That’s how Mel Martinez got to be United States Senator because the newspaper ate it up. There were headlines in the paper. It was all done in one week. Wednesday of that week I met with the manager and I said, “I’m sorry, but this is unacceptable and you’re going to have to be removed.” And he at first thought he could beat it. But he says, “Okay, I’m going to take 30,000 dollars and have myself a retirement party and I’m taking my car.” I said, “No. You’re not doing either one.” So he left. That was on Wednesday he left.
Friday morning, I called a preconference. My closest friend from the University of Florida days is Pete Barr who’s been on the library board before in years past. And he told me about Troy Todd just retiring as the United Telephone CEO. And so I went out to meet him on Thursday night. I met him at a 7/11 in Maitland and I had a legal pad and I handed it to him. And I said, “Troy write down on this pad what you were making when you retired from the phone company. So he handed it back to me and I said, “Boy, have I got a deal for you.” I says, “Divide that in half.” And he divided it in half. He says, “You want me to work for this?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’ll do it.” And so, he came in and it all worked….
Chairman of the Downtown Development Board – “Good Things Happen Downtown.”
So that was, getting Bill Frederick mayor was positive. Getting the OUC straightened out. Also, I was chairman of the Downtown Development Board and I created the slogan: “Good Things Happen Downtown.” Put those signs around. And Jim Squires who was the editor of “The Sentinel” he was my backyard neighbor. So I talked to him and, I mean, downtown was in terrible shape in those days. Vacancies, and so, we had a campaign to build the high rise residentials by the churches in town. Those were the first things we did. And then we had the sorority girls from FTU, which was the name of UCF when it first opened, and the Fire Department, and our volunteers, and we started at City Hall and we washed all the windows and we scrubbed the sidewalks. There were hundreds of us. And so, Jim Squires had a full page in the paper of pictures of us working with an editorial. And that’s what got people thinking well, we need to do something.
Carl Langford was mayor then and I said, “You know out at Disney they have a man in white coveralls and he goes around picking up trash and sweeping up.” I said, “I want the same thing downtown.” So we got it. And it made a difference. And, you know, he was a happy guy talking to everybody. You know it was really nice. We had what they call a charrette at the San Juan Hotel. I got Nils Schweizer who is an architect and very well known in town. And he and I sponsored this charrette. And that really helped us too because we had so many volunteers come in. We divided into all these areas of what we could have and everything,
One thing I remember, on the west side of I-4 we decided that should be government buildings. So we got the state office building, the federal office building, the police department. It really helped by doing that. We also went to a meeting in Atlanta on downtown and they said, “Get educational facilities involved in downtown.” So we came back. We got Valencia to come down in a shoe store on Central Avenue for $50 a month. And that was the first educational deal and it worked pretty well.
In addition, we had a building, our company had a building, downtown. The old SunTrust building right next door and we put Valencia in there and we also put, that’s where UCF, FTU started. Charlie Millican who was the first president, he was my economics instructor at Gainesville. So, the legislature funded the college to buy property and Tom Brownlee who was then the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce he called me and he says, “Jerry, they’ve got the land. They don’t have any money to pay for rent or to get furniture.” So the Bishop Furniture Company gave all the furniture and I gave the building for free and that’s how they started.
When you donated the building you didn’t actually get a big right off of anything did you?
I learned that early on. When you give any 501c(3) unit like the Cancer Society, Heart Association – give them a space – that the tax revenues don’t give you credit for that space. It’s just one of those things. No, it was done really because I was working for downtown. You know, it was a positive thing that way. And fortunately those were the good years of citrus so we really didn’t – I was really fortunate we didn’t have to do that. We didn’t need it.
But I have a little philosophy on that. It’s a Winston Churchill saying: “What you gain is a living. What you give is a gift.” I started about 20 years ago with Sue. I said, “You know, by the time I die I want to be empty.” I don’t want to have a separate grave site to put your money. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. And I have a couple of friends who are wealthy. I cannot get them to give anything. They’re so tight. I don’t understand it. But, for example, in Winter Garden, the Depot, The Atlantic Coastline Depot which was built in 1918. We had a real good city manager in those days, Hollace Holden. He had been born in Winter Garden and worked that out for the city museum. Then, the clock tower which is the image for Winter Garden. He told me that they were out of money and they wouldn’t be able to put the clock tower in the landscaping. So we bought that… and Larry [Larry Grimes] has worked with me on that. He’s been the real estate agent that did all that. Never charged any commission or anything. And you both have gotten a lot done haven’t you? Well, it’s amazing what you can do with a team. I mean, you know, we all work together and that’s what counts.
As we speak, there’s change coming into our community. The University Club across the street under construction…
Oh, I was a member. In fact, in the old days, every man that had a position in the community was a member there. Every judge, every officeholder. I mean, it was a big deal.
When we moved out in the country, twenty years ago, I had done what I needed to do here and I was still seven miles out of Winter Garden. But I took what I learned here and took it to Winter Garden and it worked there. So, for example, we built Gertrude’s Walkway in Orlando along the railroad tracks. And I had to go to Jacksonville to the president of the railroad to get permission to do that. And the city attorney in Vandeberg, he was scared to death of me going up there. So he sent an assistant city attorney. I drove him up with me and when we got to Jacksonville at this tall building we walked in and the president was at this big table and had all his engineers and everything there. And I had some slides to show him what we wanted to do. Because we were encroaching on the railroad, the safety area. And he agreed to do it. And I said, “Okay” and we went and we built it.
So then, Winter Garden wanted to do something like that and they couldn’t get permission. So I took my letter that I had saved and a copy of it, and I wrote him a letter. And I said, “Look, you need to do for Winter Garden what you did for Orlando.” And they did. So, you know, little things. Because I don’t have a big office deal. We had an office building in College Park for years. But I don’t have a secretary now. I just do what I think can be done.
A passion to have a better place to live…
There’s a whole network of us that, you know, started very young without much to do other than a passion to have a better place to live. In fact, after high school graduation or just before, we had what, I think, they called a baccalaureate service and they had it at the Bob Carr Auditorium before it was called that. And, all of the boys are outside talking and we said, “You know, too bad we can’t come back here, but there are no jobs. There’s no entertainment, and not much good medical care around here.” And that’s the way it was in 1952.
And now we have all that. The problem is we didn’t have crime and traffic, but that came with it. You know, you have a choice: either you decline or you grow. You don’t stay the same. And while some people say, “Oh, well, you’ve developed too big.” I say, “It’s either develop or die.”
Orlando Public Library 1984 Expansion.
And, of course, I remember the battle that took place when this extension was put on. You know, originally the library was called The Albertson Library and it faced Rosalind over here. Then they built the first unit of this library. Took down Albertson and built it. Then this was, where we’re sitting, was a very beautiful Spanish architecture, the Chamber of Commerce building. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the pictures, but the interior, there was a fountain and everything, murals. And after the chamber built their new office down by Lake Ivanhoe, then as a Jaycee, we got permission to have that building. The city gave us that building. Every week we had a meeting up on the third floor; turned out 150-200 people.
The old Orlando Tradition
In fact, every day of the week in the old days in Orlando a civic club met downtown with over a 100 members and they each had projects. They each did something. That’s the one thing we’ve lost in our growth. We don’t have that as much. Orlando had the largest Jaycee Club in America.
Jaycees collecting canned food for the starving citzens of Volos, the Greek city that Orlando adopted on April 22, 1946.
Over 500 members and we were always the largest. If you were male, you belonged. And it was a great experience. That really is the basis of getting involved and doing things for me.
You see the difference between today and before, every year in my thirties, “The Sentinel” would have a story about the top ten most powerful people. And, it was always those of us who weren’t doing something for our pocket. It was something for the community…. In my year, we all worked for the good of the community. That way it was open to everybody. Everybody could do something.
Fostering Friendships across racial divides…
One thing the Jaycees helped me on, we had a black president of the bank here. He was a good person, and his job, he took about a dozen young black men and mentored them. He made sure they all went to college and they came back. Now they’re the judges and the lawyers and we became friends with them which was a switch for us. We became friends really through the Jaycees because we knew, we learned that they wanted the same thing for this community that we wanted. And see, you got to remember, our group that didn’t come through as an integrated group, this was a new challenge for us.
First Integrated Lake Eola Fish-a-thon
In fact, one of my mentors, Reggie Moffat, he was the chairman of the annual Lake Eola tradition. Used to have 1,000 kids circle the lake and they’d fish. Well, he was president of the Jaycees and it was time for him to do it again. And he announced that he was going to have the first integrated Fish-a-thon. And everybody was really concerned. Well, it turned out great. There were no problems and it worked. So, those are the things we learn through the time.
Belvin Perry, Jr.
And, one of the judges, who’s just retired is Belvin Perry. And Belvin was one of the young men. He went to Tuskegee University and it’s interesting how we’ve been friends through the years. Not particularly social friends, but business friends, acquaintances and things. But, that’s one of the advantages, I think. Because, you know, we went through the time when just prior to St. Augustine having their problems with the riots and things on the soda fountains. The blacks eating at the soda fountains and things. That was in the sixties.
The Greyhound bus, the Freedom Riders came here to Orlando and the Greyhound bus station was at Court Street and Wall Street. The president of the bank [Charlie Hawkins] was the President of the NAACP and he met the bus. Got on the bus, it was full of the black riders coming down. He says, “You don’t have to get off the bus. We’re taking care of our situation locally here.” Well, they called him a white nigger and everything else. They were tough on him. But he got off the bus and they didn’t stop here. They went to St. Augustine and they had a lot of riots and problems there.
Charlie Hawkins, that’s his name. So Charlie who was the President had a meeting. He says, “What do we want here?” He says one of the requests that the group made, they wanted African Americans to come out of the warehouse to be behind the cash register. They wanted some black faces to be up. So George Stuart, Sr. that owned the big office supply company, Walter McJordan who was the Sears Roebuck manager, let’s see, well, I can’t remember the others right now. But there were a couple of others. They all, Monday morning, they opened up with an African American behind the cash register. So a minor thing, but a big thing.
Belvin Perry, Sr.
And in the old days, Morrison’s Cafeteria was where everybody ate in Orlando on Central Avenue. And the blacks were the waiters. They carried your tray from the serving line to your table. And they were tipped a dime. That’s the way it was. Well, when Orlando got ready to hire it’s first African American policeman, Rick Fletcher’s father was chairman of the human relations committee of the city as a volunteer. And he says, “My waiter at Morrison’s is a good man let’s hire him.” He was Belvin Perry’s daddy, our black judge. True story. They hired him. They put him on Church Street without a gun. And he was to talk to his folks down there.
Arthur Pappy Kennedy
And then the next one, he wasn’t a policeman, but he was the first African American city councilman was: Arthur Pappy Kennedy. And he was also a Morrison’s Cafeteria waiter. See in the old days there was not that much interchange. But when you came in contact with them, when they were gentleman, when they were dressed appropriately, you then picked out some for helping. I know my dad, he had broken his hip when he was in his nineties. And after the stay in the hospital they put him temporarily in a rehab. And I can’t remember exactly where it was, but Belvin Perry’s dad was in the same rehab down the hall. So I could see Belvin the judge there which I thought was kind of interesting.
Counter Stool Removal and Racial Integration
And there’s a great story on why Orlando was spared. You know, we didn’t have the big problems here. You know, even though we had some interesting things happen. One of the reasons we didn’t have a lot of problems and I don’t really endorse this; it’s just the way it did. Many of the dime stores and drug stores, they removed their counter stools. In other words, there would be counter stools in a drug store and the problem was integration. So they just took the stools out. That way people came up standing; they ordered. It was okay. It wasn’t perfect, but it was okay.
One of our campaigns here was the first election we had for the convention center. Everybody was behind it. “The Sentinel” was behind it. Everybody was behind it. Charlie Millican was the chairman. Bob Heintzleman the old Ford dealer was in on it. They had everything going. And George Stuart, Jr. and I were buddies and he was on the City Council and I was chairman of the Downtown Development Board. And we had no assurance that the arena would be downtown. So, we held a press conference. I still have the script. We did it like Tom & Jerry. If George would say something I would say something. And we led the opposition for the first election and we won. They lost.
So Jim Squires, who was editor of “The Sentinel”, he called us down to “The Sentinel”. He says, “Okay, you guys. You showed us. We had all the paper. We had all the old guys. But you stopped it. Now you don’t want to be known as somebody that stops something. How do we put this together so we can make something?” So we said, “Well, we need assurance that the arena will be built downtown. If you assure us that then we’ll let you put the convention center out there and we’ll vote for the resort tax.”
So, I actually led a Chamber of Commerce flying mission to Tallahassee in favor of the resort tax. And we had the next election, and George and I came out for it, and we won. And people thought we were something special. We weren’t. We were just passionate about our city and, you know, nothing fancy, and we got nothing out of it. I mean, it was just good for the city. So, to me, I feel very fortunate to have been able to be involved in little things that turned out to be big things.
I haven’t always been on the winning side. In fact, sitting here in this spot, when they wanted to tear down this authentic historic building for the library. Your director in those days was Glenn Miller and he beat us on that. Because we were against tearing down that building. We thought we ought to save that building and the architect ought to work in something else. But he beat us. You can’t win everything. You can’t win everything.
Winter Garden Branch Library
One thing I didn’t mention, after we established the Heritage Museum in Winter Garden and after we had the theater. We, a couple of us were together, and we says, “well, we need a library now.” We had a little old dinky library and we need it right on the main street. So we put together, with the city manager, a charter bus. We brought the mayor and the complete city council. Franklin Kapman and a few others who had been on the library board. I talked to Tom Kohler and to Pete Barr and to Corb Sarchett who’s my good friend. And we came over and the library board was in a meeting and we weren’t on the agenda. And we said, “We’re here to request a community library.”
And everybody spoke who had been on the board and everything. And I remember the director in those days was an elderly lady. She was about to retire and she made the comment, “We’ve never had this happen before like this.” And, of course, I already had the votes because we already talked about it. And so they voted to do that.
But then I called Mr. Battaglia from Winter Park… and he gave us the land. And the land’s worth probably a half million dollars. And from that, they built the building there. And I remember, I sat in the car at the dedication of the library and Mr. B. was sitting behind me and all the women that used to work in the packing house that was on the site they came up to him and congratulated him. They thought it was a great thing.
Winter Garden Branch Library
That library after school when you go in most every chair and table is taken with a Hispanic or an African American child trying to learn. It’s a great feeling when you see it….
Downtown Orlando Today
Well, we don’t have a perfect city. But we have an active city. And one of the great people that was a part of this city that we haven’t mentioned is Bob Snow. And when Bob Snow came to town I met him the first day he came to town and I tried to get him to come up on Orange Avenue to do his building. But, he said, “No. I want the historic building.” So we worked together for years. And I got him friends with Bill Frederick. And in those days Bill’s policy was: there could only be one bar per block and that bar had to sell food. That was a good situation because that meant that Church Street handled most of the bar patrons. And they were a clean operation. No problems. They never had any shootings down there or any problems.
Too many bars
When Glenda Hood came in as mayor, for some reason, she got lobbied hard and she opened it up. My one criticism of downtown Orlando now is there are too many bars around and it’s unnecessary and they could still be shaped up by rulings. When you come through town at ten o’clock at night it looks like a war zone. So I’m not happy with that situation.
Good Events in the Park
The secret that we always were working toward was the more people you could get to live downtown the better it would be. When Bill was elected mayor, the homeless had taken over Eola Park. You couldn’t go into the park. It was terrible. So we had all these meetings. What do we do? So we had a string of good events in the park and we publicized them. And all the hundreds of good people we put in, suddenly the bad people disappeared.
So that was a good thing for people that live here. How all these high rises, the condos, that’s very positive. It cuts out a lot of traffic because people are here. It gives us good people for everybody. I still object to some of the churches that feed people around, right here at the old Greek Church. That’s really not necessary. You’ve got some good agencies around that I support: Salvation Army, Homeless Shelter, Orlando Rescue Mission. I never give anybody any money when they ask for something. I say, “Here’s where you need to walk and you’ll be taken care of.”
I was on the Homeless Committee probably 30 years ago now. And they put out a report. And I issued a minority report. A one man minority report. And I said, “Don’t make it so nice that everybody in the rest of the country comes here. Be careful.” And, I think, that’s still a work in progress. There are other cities that handle this a little better than we do.
Chairman of the Downtown Development Board
But when I was chairman of the Downtown Development Board I had them clean the sidewalks with pressure cleaners more often. I had them stripe the streets and the parking areas. [Tom] Kohler, I hired Kohler. He was our Downtown Development Executive Director and it was amazing. One time the traffic engineer came around downtown and had all these new parking spaces that cut out a lot of places that we used to park the cars. I told Bill, I said, “I don’t agree with this.” He says, “Well, go mark where we could have more parking places.” So George Stuart and I went downtown. We created 35 or 40 parking spaces that they could get away with….
West Orange County
Well, many of the things I learned in Orlando, after we moved out to West Orange County I was able to reattach to my childhood home, and I did some of the same things we were trying to do here. And the Heritage Museum, everybody in town said, “Oh, it’d be a great place, but it’s not available for sale.” You know, nobody took the effort to call the owners and see if it was. Ironically, one of the four owners of the depot was the mayor of the city. So that shows you how backward it was. Because he had the real opportunity to do something with it. It had a beauty shop in it. And it was a terrible looking building when they had it. And the intersection was not safe because they had traffic all around the depot.
Ann Ellis was the lady in charge of getting a museum. And, we met for five years trying to get it. And all of a sudden I said, “Look, Ann,” I said, “I’m tired of going to these meetings, but I believe in getting something done.” She said, “Well, there’s no place available for us.” I said, “Well, what about the depot? Everybody talks about it.” She says, “Oh, it’s not available.” Well, I called Larry and I said, “Larry, I don’t want to call them because they’ll raise the price.” I said, “Why don’t you just see what they’ll sell it for.” So he came back the next day and we offered them, I think, $125,000. I think, they might have gone up $25,000 but we bought it.
And so then I invited all the directors of the museums in a four county area to come meet with us on Saturday morning. So they all came. They looked through the building. They said, “Well, how long do you think it will take for us to get it ready?” And they talked about it and talked about it. Well, it will take about a year if you do it right. I said, “Well, that’s not in our plan. They’re having a Henry Plant impersonator come here in three weeks and we plan to open in three weeks.” They couldn’t believe it. But we did. We got open in three weeks. We put Velcro on the walls. I had a collection of postcards, we took them to Kinkos and got them enlarged about this big and put them all around. And people, the generation above me came. That was 1998 when we opened and they came and they were amazed. And they were so happy that somebody had taken the time to make their community something. And that’s what made us feel good when we heard that.
A Caboose for Winter Garden
And then after we were open about a year, I said, “Well, we ought to have a locomotive because the railway was very important.” So we went all over the state looking for a locomotive. We couldn’t find one that was reasonable. Plus we found that it took a lot of maintenance and everything. So I said, “Okay. Let’s get a railroad car. Let’s get a caboose.” So the man that helped Church Street Station with his train called me and he says, “I’ve found a caboose.” I said, “Where is it?” “In Daytona Beach in the estate of a man named Mr. Root who developed the Coca Cola bottle.”
And so. I went over there and here was this beautiful caboose, yellow, metal, built in 1948. It says “Chessie System” on it, but that was a part of the Atlantic Coastline. I sent Larry and Phil Cross over there to look at it. I said, “Well, y’all go look and see.” See I was not trying to make all the decisions. I wanted them to be involved. So they said, “Yeah.” So we brought it and it was a big deal to move it. I didn’t realize. They picked it up with a crane and the wheels under it which they called trucks that took a separate semi to carry those wheels… So they left Daytona and they got to Winter Garden about five o’clock in the afternoon. We had all the scout troops, girls and boys, and everything, hundreds of people. And it was filmed, them coming in and setting it in place and everything… It’s open when the museum is open and kids run in there and play. And that’s the way we want it. We want it to be hands on… We got the clock tower open. We got the theater. And we never intended to operate the theater. We acquired it and then Becky Roper has done a good job running that. It’s been really good.
And then we, there’s a railroad museum out there, too. And they didn’t have much money to keep going. So we worked a deal with them. They gave the property to the city. The city put a new roof on the railroad museum. Much of their contents came from the same place we got the caboose. When they closed their museum there they gave it.
Central Florida Showcase
Reggie Moffat was one of my mentors. In fact, Reggie would have been 100 years old Sunday. But he was one of my mentors. In fact, we haven’t even talked about it, but one thing, the Jaycees, the Soroptomist Club, and the Kiwanis Club sponsored a television show called Central Florida Showcase. It was on every Saturday night at 7 o’clock. There were no commercials. We had complete control of it. The station had no control. We did our own outlines. We got our own shows. And I did, Reggie picked me to go on that, and I did it for five years. And at the end of five years I finished a show and I walked home and I remember telling Sue, “Well, that was my last show.” She said, “Nobody ever walks away from that.” I said, “I just did. Because I’ve done it for five years and I feel like I’m getting stale.”
But it was a great activity and Bill Gunter had done it before I did it as a Jaycee. And Bill ran for state senate after that and he won. It was amazing. I went to New Smyrna on Sunday and went in this grocery store and a man says, “Hello, Central Florida Showcase.” I mean, it was amazing people that watched it. But I became a friend of John Young’s because of that. And it was good. It was a very interesting deal.
You talked about what was happening in the community… you had important guests?
Right. Well, we had Bobby Kennedy. We had the Vietnamese ambassador. We had Maurice Chevalier. And then locally we had Ross Allen from Silver Springs. The Snake Man, he’d bring his snakes with him. We had some interesting authors. One from Miami that had written all about the crime syndicate in Miami. And they really were afraid when we had that show because he was exposing two or three people, you know. And it was tough. We had a script. But we didn’t follow the script. That was an outline. And we had three people. The mediator and then two panel members one on each side. And no one copied any of the shows. We had no audiotape, no movie or videotape. None. But we were all amateurs and it worked. It had a very high rating. Everybody, it’s kind of like “60 Minutes” they all tuned in and that was an interesting experience….
Citrus Industry Publicity
From that, and from being in the citrus industry- we used to have a lot of freezes- and so, every time it would freeze, I’d get a call from either Washington or New York wanting to set up a bit out in the grove. And so, I would do like a 30 seconds with them about the weather or something. And I’d hear from friends all over the country that had seen it which was kind of interesting. But, that was very much a lot of pressure. Because you had to be sure you said the right thing. Because the natural deal when you’d say something, “Oh, it’s hurt some of our fruit.” The reporter would come back, “Well, that means the price is going to go up.” So you had to be very careful to say the right thing so they wouldn’t come back with a price thing. Because the industry’s very tough. If you say the wrong thing, They’re not too good with you.
You were chosen as a nationwide spokesman of the year for Ortho Chevron Farm Chemicals…
Henry Swanson did that for me. He may have done that for you, but you had to have skill or they wouldn’t have you in that position, right? Well, it’s nice of you to say that. I believe in short sayings; in something that will sell. In other words, when Bill Frederick came in to run for mayor, he’s Phi Beta Kappa from Duke. He has a great vocabulary. We didn’t let him use any of his vocabulary because his words were too big. We would have a meeting. We’d say, “Okay, this week you need to talk about cutting the costs.” “Cut the costs.” That’s your key. And so, he’d go on and he’d say, “Well, we need to cut the costs.” That is exactly the sound bites that they’d cover….
Lockheed Martin and a new Orlando
Well, we’ve always said that Orlando was going to be the next Atlanta. And if you look at the map of Georgia, Atlanta’s right in the center. If you look at the map of Florida, Orlando’s right in the center. Everybody thinks that Disney made a new Orlando. It actually helped. But the firm that made a new Orlando was the Glenn L. Martin Company, they now call Lockheed Martin. Because they brought in 10,000 engineers that were high paid and they insisted that the schools be better. And they really were what got us into the big city mode.
Meeting with Mr. Walt Disney at Cherry Plaza
I was at the, what they called the Cherry Plaza in those days when Walt Disney came to tell us what he was going to do. And there were about a thousand people there and he was very clear on what he was going to do. And EPCOT, of course, stood for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. And he envisioned homes there and people living there. And when he died, I mean, they didn’t do anything like it. I mean, they turned it into a World’s Fair.
But Disney’s been, they’ve been good. They asked me to- there were five of us that met for a year at the top of a building in celebration. Tom Lewis, who I knew from the University of Florida, he had been Bob Graham’s growth management chairman. They hired him to come back to Orlando and he had George Bailey the owner of the “Winter Garden Times”, Bob Freeman, who was then county commissioner, and I met once a month for a year to plan and build 429. And it shows you how strong Disney continues to be. It was a road that was needed, everybody uses, but it was an interesting deal.
I remember I had differences with Dick Nunis, who was the leader of Walt Disney World. He wanted no interchanges between Highway 50 and Walt Disney World and I wanted one in the middle. And I won and he lost and we’re still buddies. But it was good for all of us….
Interview: Jerry Chicone, Jr.
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: February 20, 2017
Place: Orlando Public Library
Oral history interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr. at the Orlando Public Library, February 20, 2017.
Oral History Interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr., Part II
Oral history interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr. at the Orlando Public Library, February 20, 2017.
Oral History Interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr., Part III
Oral history interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr. at the Orlando Public Library, February 20, 2017.
Oral History Interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr., Part IV
Oral history interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr. at the Orlando Public Library, February 20, 2017.
Oral History Interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr. Part V
Oral history interview with Jerry Chicone, Jr. at the Orlando Public Library, February 20, 2017.