Polk Praises Pioneers at Event

Honorees must be 79 or older and must have lived in the county for 50 years.

Special to The Ledger

BARTOW – Dorothy “Dot” Beasley Taylor remembers what it was like growing up in her hometown of Bartow.

She smiles every time she thinks about being able to buy a loaf of bread for 9 cents or an ice cream cone for 5 cents. Though things have changed she said Bartow “still has that small town flavor.”

This is just one of the memories shared Thursday at the Polk County Historical Association’s (PCHA) 33rd annual Birthday Luncheon. It was at the Bartow Civic Center.

Taylor, who has been a Bartow resident since 1927, was honored at the event for being a Polk County pioneer along with four others: Phyllis Walters, also of Bartow; Phyllis Reese Gilbert and Beulah Thomas Lewis, both of Winter Haven; and Elsie Parker Cook of Fort Meade.

To become a pioneer there are only two requirements, both of which take years to achieve. Those interested have to be 79 or older and must have lived in Polk County for at least 50 years. Pioneers are chosen from applicants.

Since the PCHA began holding the Pioneer Luncheon in 1975, more than 275 people have been honored, according to the organization’s Web site.

The purpose of the organization is to collect and preserve Polk County’s history, said Hazel Bowman, charter member of the PCHA, and James Denham, PCHA president, director of the Center for Florida History and history professor at Florida Southern College.

“This organization has really been the backbone of this whole historical movement,” Bowman said.

What better way to learn about Polk County than by talking to those who have been here the longest? To keep track of all the memories, each pioneer is interviewed and videotaped. This year PGTV taped the interviews, which are archived and preserved.

Tom Muir, curator of the Polk County Historical Museum, showed a presentation with segments from past pioneer interviews. There was laughter as those in attendance recognized people they knew.

Lloyd Harris had the opportunity to interview the candidates this year. Harris is on the board of directors of the PCHA and is a past president. He is also the Polk County historical commissioner.

“I enjoyed interviewing people and hearing old stories,” he said. “They are some great people.”

Cook, 87, has been in Polk County since 1920. She said she used to go to church by horse and buggy. Cook participated in the turpentine industry by collecting sap from the pine trees in the area.

Gilbert, a Polk County resident since 1928, was a ninth-grade English teacher for 31 years. In her interview she talked about how her brother used to catch alligators and bring them to their home.

A World War II veteran, Walters was a member of the Massachusetts National Guard Medical Corp. She moved to Polk County in 1957. Walters is responsible for organizing the Bartow High School Band Boosters and Bartow Performing Arts Council.

Lewis, 91, came to Polk in 1929. During WWII she supervised a crew that made uniforms for the soldiers. She’s helped with the Girls Club of Winter Haven and has been the pianist at Bethel AME Church in Winter Haven.

In Bartow, Taylor managed the Selective Service Draft Board in Bartow and has had perfect attendance for 25 years as a member in the Lioness Club.

“We get a lot of memories that bring history alive,” Harris said.