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Oral History Interview with Bill Jennings, President of the College Park Historical Society

Bill Jennings, President of the College Park Historical Society at the Orlando Public Library, October 25, 2023. Photo by Orange County Library System Staff Photographer Amanda Murphy.

College Park has produced a lot of great people. I was in a meeting the other day and we were talking about Walter Rose. You know, Rosemont, Rosemere, and all the rest of the stuff. Walter Rose back in the twenties was a farmer. His farm was out in Fairvilla. But he was also a community leader. And I was at a meeting and his nephew was at the meeting. And his nephew said, “When you went to my uncle’s house and you stayed for dinner you never knew who you were going to be eating dinner with.” He says, “I ate dinner with the governor and senators and everything…” Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Bill Jennings, President of the College Park Historical Society.

Community leader Bill Jennings is the current President of the College Park Historical Society and the School Crossing Guard at Princeton Elementary School. His many years of service to his neighbors in Orlando include leadership positions in the College Park Neighborhood Association Historical Committee, the College Park Historical Society,  the College Park Neighborhood Association, the Community Emergency Response Teams, the I-4 Committee, and more. 

We welcome you to listen to this neighborly oral history interview with Bill Jennings.

The name is Bill Jennings and I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

And is that where you grew up?

Yeah, I grew up there until I was 18 when I went off to college, and the only time I’ve been back was to visit. I’ve been around a little bit. But yeah, I left when I was 18.

What was your neighborhood like where you grew up?

I lived in a very interesting neighborhood. It was called The Hills Section and it is, what the name implied it was on a hill or everything was on a hill. When I go back now, the last time I went back I saw a sign that said, Historic Hill Section and I thought, mmm, that’s where I lived. And it was a lot of big homes, a lot of wealthy people. And I just say this for information purposes, it was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Eighty percent of my elementary school were Jewish. So I grew up in that environment for which I am grateful and I still have some of those Jewish friends.

What did your parents do for a living?

My father was a truck driver and my mother was a homemaker. I was one of five children, so needless to say, there was a lot of things going on. My father died when I was 16 and my mother was home for a while. And then, she went to work in the Children’s Department in one of the department stores in Scranton until that ended. My mom actually did housekeeping for a few of the neighbors in the neighborhood. But like I said, I grew up one of five children and there were some interesting times.

Did you know your grandparents or did you have relatives in the area?

I did not know my grandparents. I knew one grandmother and I only remember her because I was five years old when she died. So I just have a vague recollection of her. My mother had family living in the area, so I did get to know some aunts and uncles. But as far as my father was concerned he was an only child. And so, there really wasn’t any of his family in the area. But like I said, on my mother’s side I got to know some aunts and uncles.

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up? What would you do?

I was raised in a very conservative Sunday house. We got up and went to church. Well, we went to Sunday School first, went to church, and then we came home and we were allowed to change into our school clothes and that was it. We did not go outside and play games, we stayed in the house because it was Sunday. I remember growing up, my Dad on Saturday night would go out and make sure the car had gas in it because he wouldn’t buy gas on Sunday. So I was raised in that kind of environment that Sunday was a day of rest. And my parents enforced it.

So would you read or what kind of things would you do at home? Was it relaxing?

Read and board games, read and board games is what we did a lot of. I guess I was six or seven when we got our first black and white TV. And we were allowed to watch TV, but that was controlled. Well, I used to like to watch the sports, so my mom would let me watch the baseball games and stuff like that. But it was just stay in the house, there’s enough for you to do.

Did you have a Sunday dinner with your family?

Yes, every Sunday there was a big dinner. And that big dinner was always after church. When we came in from church, the dinner was a cooking and everything like that. So I would also mention that my parents, the house they lived in was rented from a local church. And it was right behind the church. And my Mom and Dad were custodians of the church. Now the big thing was on Saturday we made sure the pews were all dusted and we went in and did that and ran the vacuum.

Coal Fire Furnace

But the biggest issue was making sure that the coal fired furnace went to work on Saturday night so that when people came in the winter on Sunday morning the church would be warm. When I got to be about 14, 15 years old it was my turn and my brother and I used to take turns firing up the furnace. And, you know, two o’clock in the morning is when you would actually take and open it up. And then every hour after that you’d have to go over and poke a hole in it. So we did that and got the fire going. And we said, “My father thought he ran the furnace, but my mother did a much better job than he ever did.”

Snow Shoveling

And so, we did that and that was part of it. We actually shoveled snow because we had to shovel snow to the church. And back in those days we did a lot of snow shoveling. My father always thought the janitor should sit in the back row in case there was an issue. So we sat in the back row. And I remember one Sunday morning my Dad tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come here.” And we went out. And while we were in church it had started to snow. So we got out of our robes and stuff just to clean the sidewalk. But, you know, we did that kind of maintenance for the church.

I am sure it was very much appreciated.

Yeah, I guess, I really didn’t think much of it. This is what we did. This is the house we lived in. This what our parents did. This is what we all did. So, it was just part of our lives, to take care of that church.

May I ask if the church is still there?

The church is still there, but where I lived in Scranton was on the very edge of the University of Scranton. Today, that whole area pretty much belongs to the university. And the University of Scranton is a Jesuit school. And after I left, many years after I left Scranton, they sold the building to the university and it is now used by the university for worship services. And I couldn’t tell you when, but I know a couple times during the week at noon they have a worship service. So it was sold to the University of Scranton.

University of Scranton

And that congregation moved basically to the other side of town which was a better location for them because they were basically being hemmed in by the university and it was just basically university. When I go there now, I am just overwhelmed by how much land the university has. But then almost everything else in the area is university housing not necessary owned by the university, but somebody owns the house and they rent it out to students. So it is predominately, that whole section where I lived, down at the bottom of the hill is all University of Scranton.

Do you remember the name of the church?

Oh, yeah. It was called Grace Reformed Episcopal Church.

What did it look like? Was it traditional?

Yes, very, very, very traditional church. I mean, you know, with the pews, when you were a teenager they were hard wooden pews. But, you know, they were very straight back pews. There was nothing designed to be comfortable about them. And it was a split pulpit. And it had a great old Austin organ and that used to be a lot of fun when we were children because we would turn the organ on and go into the backroom where the bellows were and watch everything work. And so, it was really cool. But it had a magnificent stained glass window in the front with Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. It was a gorgeous church. The university has reconfigured it a little bit. But that’s fine. It’s still there.

And the stain glass windows are still there?

The stain glass windows are still there. And the last time I was there, the stained glass windows they had actually put protection on them from the outside. They had put some plexiglass over the front of them, some clear plexiglass to keep them, so they wouldn’t get damaged. But I have some very fond memories of that church growing up there and being involved in Sunday School, Youth Programs, and doing all that. And when I was 16, I was licensed as a lay reader so that I would actually be able to take part in the worship services and read parts of the service which is a special memory for me.

Would you tell us about your education? Did you go to an Episcopal private school or did you go to public school?

I did all public schools. I did James Madison P.S. 33 for elementary. Then I went to Scranton Technical in which I majored in electronics. And then I went from there, and I went to Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia and I did three years there. I did two years at Penn State and that’s how I ended up getting my degree by putting those two groups together. And I got my degree. But like I said, I went to seminary in Philadelphia. And I didn’t go to the main campus at Penn State, I went to one of their branch campuses. And it was called Ogontz, Chief Ogontz Campus, so that’s where I went for my postsecondary education.

Did you have mentors or was it your heritage that decided your path as far as your degree?

That’s an interesting word ‘heritage’ because I think that might fit part of it. Because it was like, this was from the time I was 14, 15 I knew I wanted to go to seminary. So it was just there. Of course, the church I was in was very, very proactive with their young people. And they made sure that young people were involved. So we got to do a lot of things and even when they had midweek prayer services, you know they would have the young people do some of the leading and the scripture reading, stuff like that. So that’s just the way I grew up. I’ve thought of this a couple of times, I never had a Damascus Road experience where all of a sudden I said, oh this is what I want to do. It was just kind of like this is what I wanted to do. And I just kept going and I did it.

Do you have any wisdom to share about your experience? Because you worked in ministry and then you changed careers and we’re going to talk about your career at Disney. But do you have any thoughts to share about your experience, because it was six years in ministry?

Yeah, I was ordained and I spent six years in full time ministry. I pastored a church for three years. I like to tell people they tore the church down after I left, but it was purchased by the school board for a school. So the church was torn down and the congregation dispersed. And I left. I did a year as an assistant in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania for a year and then I came down to Orlando and worked with some churches here. And after about six years, give or take six months, I kind of felt that being a full-time pastor wasn’t my calling. I mean this is something that I was doing, but I just didn’t feel like I was really enjoying it. And, you know, if you don’t enjoy it you’re not successful. So I decided that, okay, let’s retire from full-time ministry.

Supply Preaching

For a number of years after that, I did supply preaching to various churches that needed it. Pastor went on vacation, call Mr. Bill. And so I did a lot of supply preaching. There was a church up in Zellwood that I worked at for like six months as, I don’t know if I was the interim pastor or what. But the pastor wasn’t there, so I was kind of doing it. But that was fine because I knew it was just a matter of time before someone came in and took over so I did that. So I enjoyed that. But there comes a time when you look around and say, maybe this isn’t for me.

And so, you transitioned to Walt Disney or was there something that took place in between?

Going to Walt Disney World was an accident. I have to be honest with you. My wife and I were getting ready to go on vacation and we kind of had this conversation that our funds were a little bit on the low side. And so I said, “Well, there is an opportunity maybe I could do some contract labor where they hire people for a couple of days.” And so, there was a place over on Mills and I went over there. And for a couple of weeks, I think I did other work. But then they said, “They need some people out at Disney.” So I went out to Disney and I was there maybe three weeks. And I was actually working with the landscape crew for about three weeks. But I was making money so we could go on vacation and I told them. They said, “Well, come on we want to hire you.” I said, “No, I don’t want to work out here.”

“They want me to come back to Disney…”

And so, we went on vacation and when we got back, my wife went back to her job and we found out when she got there they told her that her job had been eliminated. So what are we going to do? And I said, “Well, you know, they want me to come back to Disney.” So I actually went back to the labor pool and I went out there and I said, “I’m available if you want me.” So they said, “Yeah, we want you.” So, that’s how I got hired at Disney World. And as they say, the rest is history. But that’s how I got hired, it was just kind of an accident.

Would you tell us more, becauses you were an engineer at Disney?

I was an engineer and to define that means that when you were at a hotel as a maintenance person, you were classified as an engineer. And not that I had an engineering degree and designed buildings. But at hotels, you’re classified as an engineer. So I became a maintenance engineer / painter / carpenter. So I got hired basically as a painter at Walt Disney World. And then I ended up working there for 38 years as a painter.

Can you remember some of the buildings that you may have painted or do you have fond memories of a special event that took place?

Well, I went there, I started out in what was called The Townhouses on the opposite side of what you would know as Disney Springs. There were townhouses and buildings they rented out. And that’s where I started. Matter of fact, one of the first things I did was this boss said, “C’mon you’re going with me.” And we went up and they had just put new roofs on some of the buildings and I walked the roofs with him. He pointed out things that were wrong. I wrote them down and went back and typed them up and they sent them. But that’s how I got started was down there in those townhouses.

The Village

While I was there, they actually built what we used to know as The Village when it was first open. So I was there when The Village was open. And I was moved down from working in the resorts down to working in The Village. And I worked there for twenty some years. And then I went over to work at the Yacht and Beach Club. And I retired out of the Yacht and Beach Club. I think Yacht and Beach Club, was the most interesting place because I was working third shift. I worked third shift for 32 years. I’m a night person. And, when you work nights in a hotel there are always stories of you name it. I’ll share one with you.

Third Shift

We got a phone call one day that there was a water leak in one of the rooms and this lady was calling. And she said, “But i don’t want a man in my room. Send a female.” There wasn’t a female engineer at 2 o’clock in the morning. And when we finally got in, there was water on the floor and she was standing on the bed as the water is coming down from the ceiling. “M’am, we’ll get this.” “I told them to send a female.” “We don’t have a female. If you want this taken care of, it will be taken care from a male.” And a lot of stuff like that I did as part of my third shift routine. I was still a painter.

Painting for Disney

I originally started out there in the convention center and that’s where I started out painting. I knew the manager of the convention center from the Empress Lily. When she found that I was there, she got me over there and I spent lots of time over there. I did the convention center and that time, the hotels along hotel boulevard, I don’t know what it is like now, the hotels and shops that were all along there were all owned and operated by Disney. So therefore, I was also responsible, if a counter looked like it needed to be painted, you know, I’d go paint the counter at the Hilton. So that’s what I did. If you want stories, it was while I was at the Yacht and Beach where the real stories were.

Opportunity to Meet Great People

But I did like working in The Village, that to me was one of the neatest places. I got to meet some great people when I worked there. I was just at a conference the other day and this guy was pulling out these names and, yeah, I know a lot of them. I know Ed. I know Jack. Did you them? I said, “Yeah.” So, I got a chance to meet some of those people. I’ll just tell you one person.

Mark Heidelberger

I ran into this guy named Mark Heidelberger. And I looked at this guy and I said, “You look familiar but I can’t put you anywhere.” And he said, “Well, you may have seen me at the Neighborhood Association.” And he was the secretary for a number of years at the College Park Neighborhood Association. And, if you go to The Village, there was a Heidelberger Deli named after Mark Heidelberger. So then in the course of the conversation I said to Mark, “There was a Heidelberger Candy Company in Philadelphia.” He says, “Yeah, that was my parents.” And it was right, I’ll say a mile down the street from where I lived. The candy company has since been closed. But he says, “Yeah, that was my parents.” So, I got to meet Mark and it was always fun when we’d be in the same places.

27 Shops at The Village

I really enjoyed working there and being there when it opened. Because it was 27 shops. The Empress [Empress Lilly] wasn’t even there. So to be there and see what it was. I painted inside, outside, everything in those places. Hung a lot of wallpaper working in there. I enjoyed working in The Village. But for fun, Yacht and Beach can’t be beat.

Wow! That’s incredible and beautiful, too, The Yacht and Beach Club…

The insides are just gorgeous. Another story, I was there on Saturday with my son for a conference and I was walking around and I was just so impressed with how well they have maintained it. And so, I was really impressed. Yeah, that is nice. The rooms are not cheap at The Yacht and Beach, it is not a value resort. I don’t know how people can afford to stay here, but I know people who come back year after year after year. You know, every year they spend a year at The Yacht and Beach Club. “Hey, how ya doing!” So it was a lot of fun. It really was.

And you met people from all over the world, right?

Oh, yeah, I met people from all over. And, Miss Jane, you know me, I like people. So I would get into more than one conversation with people and where they were from and why they were there. I met one guy and he came back about four or five years in a row who was a New York City Fire Captain. He said, “Any time the question comes up we’re going to the Beach Club.” And that’s where they went. And one year he came back and he didn’t see me so they asked at the front desk if I was still there. So they called me over so I could meet this guy. And we had a good time. But you met all kinds of people and all kinds of interesting situations. Some of the people that were not always the most – were the people who were there on conventions. They were there to have fun. They were interesting.

I understand, in addition to your years of service at your full-time work at Disney, you also worked in the community. For instance, you worked with the Orlando Fire Department Emergency Response Team, this was as a volunteer basis. But you’re a state certified trainer. Would you tell us about that?

In 1994 after Andrew there was this real concern that they needed volunteers in communities to be able to respond to and the big word is “disasters” that covers hurricanes, tornadoes, whatever you want to talk about. So there was a program that covered California called CERT: Community Emergency Response Teams. So they decided to teach it here in Orlando and they put an article in the newspaper and I responded. And I was in the first class that was taught here in Orlando. So we did that. And then, eventually there were more classes taught and eventually we decided to form a CERT Association and I became president of that. And then they were looking for people to be certified as trainers. So I got certified as a trainer so that I could teach the classes.

Bill Jennings and Jerry Porter test the Ham Radio Emergency Communications System at Bill Jennings’ home.


Now in the classroom we taught evacuation. We taught a lot of stuff like that, fire and everything. Whenever I could, I didn’t teach the medical. Then I would let the paramedics come in and teach it. But I have taught the medical in a pinch. But I have taught other classes. And, it’s kind of faded out right now. There still are some CERT Teams available, but that was a lot of fun. We did a lot of, we did three or four simulation exercises at Universal Studios which was really cool because Universal provided the studio. Dr. Phillips has an arts program and they had a bunch of their students who loved to get made up and they came over and we used them as victims. They spread them throughout the back lot and we rescued them. And it was a lot of fun doing that. That was a full simulation.

Pictured from left to right are Jerry Porter, City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Bill Jennings, and City of Orlando Commissioner Robert Stuart at the College Park CPR Class.

Orlando Fire Department Simulation Exercise

And the Orlando Fire Department was great because they handled it and they treated everybody like it was a full simulation not that this is just a game. I remember the fire trucks pulling up and I had a white hat, which means in the fire service, the guy with the white hat is either the captain or usually the person in charge. “So what do we have here?” And I said, “Well, I got two people dead over here. I got one person over here, I got shock over here.” All right. And they would get to work and treat them. And it was really, it was a lot of fun.

Bill Jennings and the Ham Radio Team.

CERT HAM Radio Team

And out of this CERT Team came the ham radio team. And I got my ham radio license. And if you go out to the Office of Emergency Management for the City of Orlando which is out near the airport, they have a radio room. And in that radio room there is a ham radio station. And what we do is we supply someone to monitor that station. And then I don’t go out there, I stay out in the field and I have my own ham radio station at my house so that I can communicate with them. When someone says, “Hey, we got a problem.” If you can’t get through on landlines or cell phones, and in a disaster cell phones go down. They get overworked like anything else. So we do that. And so, I am on the CERT ham radio team also. And we do that which is a lot of fun. Keeps us busy. I do ham radio, but I don’t sit home and try to contact people in Turkey. I just use it for emergency purposes and that’s what I use it for.

That’s fascinating. So, I know that you are a School Crossing Guard for Princeton Elementary School. And that is a really busy area, that Princeton Street, so that is an important job. When did you start with that and how did that come about?

That came about because of my wife. When I was getting ready to retire, six months ahead of time she looked at me and said, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going to retire.” She says, “No, what are you going to do? I don’t think you will be able to make it just sitting around the house. You need to find something to do.” And she said, “I’m not saying you need to get a 40 hour a week job, but if you could find something to do, you would be much happier.” And one thing led to another and I don’t remember how I actually saw it, but I saw that they were looking for crossing guards. And I thought, maybe that’s something I could do. And the thing I like about the crossing guard, it’s two hours a day, Monday through Friday, nights, weekends, holidays and summers off. So that it’s not like I have a 40 hour a week job.

Crossing Guard Bill Jennings and Princeton School Students.

Making Friends at Princeton School

And the other aspect of this is, my wife is three years younger and she had her own business. And the ultimate idea was, that she would close down her business – get to 66, start closing down her business. And then, in took her ten years to close down her business as she dropped clients and everything like that. And to this day, she still has one client that won’t let her go. She did bookkeeping. But the idea was that I would work as a crossing for guard for maybe three, maybe four years. 13 years later, I’m still there as a crossing guard. But to me it’s a great job. It’s Princeton Elementary. You have got good parents. You have good students. You have kids walking across the street going, “Good morning, Mr. Bill.” and “Thank you, Mr. Bill.” And I’ve made a lot of friends there at the school.

Crossing Guard Bill Jennings and Friends.


Quick story, last night I’m standing on the curb and this car pulls over. And this guy says, “Hey, I got Ryan in the backseat.” I thought, Ryan. Ryan went to the school up until about third or fourth grade and then he went to another school and, it was his grandfather. And his grandfather says, “Every time we come by he says, ‘That’s my friend, Mr. Bill.'” He’s been gone for like three or four years. So he pulled up so I could talk to Ryan and see Ryan so that we could talk back and forth for a few minutes. And his grandfather says, “You know those pictures of fire trucks? They’re still up on his wall that you gave him when he was here at the school.” So, it’s things like that.

Princeton Elementary School window with a message for the Crossing Guard: “We Love You, Mr. Bill.”

“You crossed my child when he was in third grade…”

But the one that got me end of last year was the parent that drove up and said, “You crossed my child when he was in first grade and he’s graduating from high school this year.” I said, “Okay, I really didn’t think I’ve been here that long.” But I’ve watched the kids grow up and it’s been great. Like I said, it’s Princeton and it is a very busy street. You have to have your wits about you. Because there are more people on their cell phone then there should be. They go right by you. And you’re waving: It’s a school zone. But they just go right on by. We’ll see what happens. But I have really come to enjoy that and especially the people that I have met.

Well, we are thankful for your community leadership. It is like something out of a children’s book.

Crossing Guard Bill Jennings with Princeton Elementary students holding up signs showing their appreciation for Mr. Bill.

We talked a little bit about College Park, because Princeton Elementary is in College Park. How did you get involved with the College Park Neighborhood Association, was that when you moved to the area?

No, not really. We moved in to College Park in 1973. And it wasn’t long after, that we had children. And when my children got into school, I was active in their school. When they were in a private elementary school I was the President of the- they didn’t call it PTA – they had another word for it. Anyhow, I was President of PTA and I led a lot of their fundraiser. When my youngest son got into middle school he was in band and I was the dad on the field trips because of the fact that the band director said, “I always like to have a male voice on field trips.” So she always wanted me to go on field trips. So I did that. Then both my boys went to Winter Park High School, for international baccalaureate. My younger son was still in band and I was a band vice president and everything like that. So, that’s my involvement. So I was involved with the children first.

Princeton School Crossing Guard Bill Jennings with his younger son, Franklin.

Neighborhood Association

Then as they went off to college, it was about the same time that this CERT program was starting. And so, I went to the Neighborhood Association and presented the CERT program. And they said, “This is a great idea. Why don’t you be on the Board of Directors?” And I said, “Well, that wasn’t my idea here.” And so, that’s how I got involved with the Neighborhood Association. In the early days, I was involved in the safety program. I was involved with the Police Department and we did that.

Chairman of the I-4 Committee

And the other thing that happened is, we got this notice that they were going to expand I-4 in College Park and since I live three houses away from I-4, I was nominated to be Chairman of the I-4 Committee. So we spent a lot of hours working with the Department of Transportation with the firms that they hire in going over the expansion of I-4. One of the things that really got me involved is, I was only there, we had only started this committee. And I got a letter from a lady who lived on the other side of I-4 that she was 75 years old, that she was going to put her house up for sale. She got a letter from the Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation says, we’re going to buy your house, but we don’t know when. So she wants to sell her house so she can go live with her daughter and she can’t sell her house because some day the FDOT is going to come.

Retention Ponds in College Park

And I got involved in that and that’s how I got involved with FDOT. And we found out that they were going to build retention ponds all through College Park and tear down houses for retention ponds. And that was the thing that we really got upset about. So one thing led to the other. There are some retention areas still that they’ve put in, but no ponds in the middle of a neighborhood. So we got that and they decided to put in exfiltration and all the rest of this stuff. But that’s one of the things that really – here’s this lady 75 years old, we’re going to buy your house, but we don’t know when. So that’s how I got involved with that.

Meeting with the College Park Neighborhood Association and Department of Transportation

And second largest meeting ever held in College Park was with the Department of Transportation and the Neighborhood Association going over what was happening. I learned more about roads than I ever thought I needed to know. And I was interviewed on television more than once and there’s all kinds of stories.

Grace Hagedorn

But then, I also, while I was there, I got involved with Grace Hagedorn. Grace Hagedorn, originally came from New Jersey. She was a reporter for a newspaper in New Jersey. She was a Fulbright Scholar and her husband was offered a job here in Orlando. So her story is, she told him, I’ll come down, but we’re going to buy an historic house. So that’s when she got involved in buying an historic house. Their first historic house was over on Peachtree and then they moved to where they are now. And I got involved with Grace and the History Committee. And then as things kind of got along, Grace needed help so I was doing a lot to help her… she had all this history stuff in files and she got it out of the house and she gave it to the Neighborhood Association. The Neighborhood Association gave it to one person. They gave it to another person. And this lady says, “You can put it in my garage.” I said, “No, it’s not going in your garage, it’s going in my house.” So as of now in my study, I have four boxes piled up with nothing but research that Grace did and I was concerned that this research should be saved or documented or something.

College Park Historical Society

So we got together a small group of about 12 people, interested in history, we met at Dartmouth Park and we voted to form a society. And that’s how the society got started. We wanted to save that. And since then, the society is getting involved in more and more things. And I think the days ahead are going to be great.

I understand that you also have been working on some of the heritage, historic markers for the area?

Yes. In the late nineties, interstate people had money that was marked for mitigation that they could spend in the neighborhoods for mitigation purposes for the destruction that I-4 was going to charge in College Park. So it was like do you want any of it? We had some crazy ideas. But one of the the things that came up was, that we could ask them to use the mitigation money to define the historic districts in College Park. So, this is not an easy task. But they hired Janus Research out of Tampa. And Janus Research came over and rode around and took pictures of every house and documented the house. The houses did not have to be historic because George Washington slept there. They had to be historic because of their age and that they weren’t remodeled. So if you had a house that was over 50 years old, well if you took and put in new aluminum windows or built a side porch or something, it was no longer historic.

Three Historic Districts in College Park

So they came back with three districts. One was Lake Adair, one was Lake Ivanhoe, and the other was Rosemere which is on the other side of I-4 between I-4 and Orange Avenue. So we ended up with three historic districts. And then the idea was that we would like to put up historic markers to designate these districts. And we went to work writing. And we have Ms. Tana Porter who is our historian, who is just an amazing lady. And we start writing up the text for the historic markers. And we’re working on these markers and they weren’t cheap. So we didn’t know where this money was coming from, but we thought a likely source may be our commissioner.

State Historic Preservation Office

So Grace Hagedorn and Tana and I had breakfast with Robert and we laid out what we were looking at and he says, “What’s the problem?” And I said, “Well, we could use some money.” “Don’t worry about it. I’ll find the money.” So Robert actually found the money for these two. This was a real project because we had to write it up. We had to submit it to the City. The City had to approve it. And then we had to submit it to SHIPO, the State Historic Preservation Office in Tallahassee and they had to approve it. And there were some interesting times. They changed some of our wording that we didn’t like. But we’ll work with them. So they changed some of the wording and then they approved it. And then once they approved it, it had to go to their board. The staff approved it. Then the board had to approve it.

Orange Preservation Trust

But at that time, the historical society was not a 501(c)3. So Robert needed to put his money somewhere so he gave it to the Orlando Preservation Society [Orange Preservation Trust] and then they handled the money because they were a 501(c)3. But then the stuff went from the Historic Preservation Office to a foundry in Ohio. Then they passed these things in cast aluminum and then they painted them. And, as of this past Tuesday, They finally appeared in Orlando and there was excitement in Mudville because of the fact that we have these in our possession. And hopefully, this week they will make the final designation as to where the signs are going to go, Lake Adair and Lake Ivanhoe. We’re still working on Rosemere.

College Park Historical Society President Bill Jennings addresses the community at the unveiling of the Lake Ivanhoe Residential Historic District Marker Event on October 24, 2023. He gives thanks to District 5 City Commissioner Robert F. Stuart for his support in the project.

But hopefully, we’re hoping in about two weeks we will see these signs standing tall. And there is going to be great rejoicing. And, of course, we’ll have an unveiling and all that stuff. But for some of us, just looking at the sign standing by the lake is going to fill us with great warmth.

A round of applause for the new Lake Ivanhoe Residential Historic District Marker unveiled on October 24, 2023. Pictured from left to right are Bill Jennings, President of the College Park Historical Society, Historian and College Park Historical Society Board Member Tana Porter, Historic Preservationist and College Park Historical Society Board Member Grace Hagedorn, City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and City of Orlando District 3 Commissioner Robert F. Stuart.
Photo by Jane Tracy.

And there was a lot of work gone into this. I mean, you know Tana Porter the historian, everything was researched. Every word was checked. Every dot was checked. Every period was checked in order to do this. But we are excited that one of the main things that the historical society has done, is were starting off by getting these markers in College Park.

The Lake Ivanhoe Residential Historic District Marker is located on the grassy plain at Lake Ivanhoe Park near Southwest Ivanhoe Boulevard and Columbo Circle. Photo by Jane Tracy.

College Park has had some notable people from history as its residents, right?

College Park has produced a lot of great people. I was in a meeting the other day and we were talking about Walter Rose. You know, Rosemont, Rosemere, and all the rest of the stuff. Walter Rose back in the twenties was a farmer. His farm was out in Fairvilla. But he was also a community leader. And I was at a meeting and his nephew was at the meeting. And his nephew said, “When you went to my uncle’s house and you stayed for dinner you never knew who you were going to be eating dinner with.” He says, “I ate dinner with the governor and senators and everything.” And the nephew said, “You know back in the twenties, everybody thought the government ran out of Tallahassee.” He said, “It ran out of my uncle’s house.” So, you know, we have had people.

John Young

And, of course, how could we talk about great people without talking about John Young. John Young was raised, he wasn’t born in College Park. But he was raised in College Park. He went to Edgewater High School. He went to Princeton Elementary. And also, Edgewater High School. And, there is a historic marker in the front of the house where John Young lived as a young person. So, you know, we like to claim John Young, too. So it’s interesting.

Two Mayors of Orlando

And, a side comment, we had the last two Mayors of Orlando lived in College Park, Bill Frederick and Buddy Dyer. And so, it’s quite a neighborhood. A lot of special people.

You mentioned your children had gone to school in the area and went off to college. What did they become?

Both of my boys did private school for elementary. Back in the seventies, people weren’t impressed with public schools. And then they went to middle school. And then both of them went to Winter Park High School for the international baccalaureate program, which is not for everybody, but for my boys it was amazing. As I told somebody the other day, at Winter Park High School, both of them, they did four years of Russian. And some of the teachers at Winter Park were absolutely great.

Science Teacher with a Doctorate from MIT

Their one science teacher, a lady, actually was, went to Stanford to get her doctorate. And when they found out she was a lady, they said she couldn’t enroll because they didn’t enroll women in the engineering program. So she said, “Well, okay.” So, she submitted the application and fudged the name so it wouldn’t look like she was a lady. But she got into MIT. But these were the calibre of people that taught my sons.


Both my boys were music. My oldest son actually went to Oberlin in Ohio with the idea of being a piano major. And while he was there, he said, “Would you mind if I switched to a math major and a piano minor?” And we still remember, there are people practicing here six hours a day and they don’t even know if they are going to get a job. So, sure, okay, you can be a math major. So he went from there into, he had offers from six graduate schools for statistics. He ended up at Stanford. Stanford actually gave him a signing bonus to come to Stanford University. And he got his PhD in statistics. He taught at Purdue for six years where he met his wife.

Biomedical Statistician at MD Anderson

And then they moved to Texas and he is now a biomedical statistician at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He also has done work for the National Science Foundation. About twice a year they fly him to, well, last time he went to Baltimore. And people who have applied for grants, they have to be reviewed. All grants have to be reviewed by a statistician. And so, he did this. And he says, “Dad, they gave me one on brains and I didn’t know anything about brains. But, I guess, I did all right because they’ve given me four more things to do on brains. So he’s at MD Anderson. And we’re pretty proud of his wife who got her PhD from Purdue in kinesiology and she is on the staff at the University of Houston in their Medical Scientist Department. She’s an assistant professor. She has her own lab and everything like that. So that’s what they did.

Commercial Interiors Manager

My youngest son went to Stetson for music education. Then he went to the University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to get his masters in wind ensemble conducting. He was a band director in the high schools for about 13 years. And there were issues that he thought, you know, I’m doing a lot of work, as so many teachers are finding out, you could walk down the street, get a job and make more money. And so, right now, he is the online manager for Staples and he is responsible for all online furniture sales. Well, it’s called commercial interiors, but he sells desks in the United States. So we’re pretty proud of my son Franklin. And his wife is director of music at Lake Nona Middle School. So there’s still music in the family. And my younger son sings in the choir at First Pres [Presbyterian] and if the director is not there, he’s the assistant director. So I’m pretty proud of my boys. And I’ve got two good grandchildren, too, so I’m pretty proud of that.

You have much to be proud of, you and your wife. That’s wonderful.

Are their future plans for the College Park Neighborhood? You are going to be setting a date for the unveiling of the signs, is that what is next?

Yes, we’re going to be setting a date for the unveiling. And, I’m expecting that the powers that be will be there for the unveiling. And you know, Miss Mandy, Miss Mandy says she’s bringing the champagne. So it should be an interesting affair.

100th Anniversary of College Park

The other thing that the Society is doing, is we are working on the 100th anniversary of College Park. In 1924, when Walter Rose was active, he named three streets: Princeton, Harvard, and Yale and he named them after colleges. It wasn’t until 1925, that Cooper Atha and Barr, which was one of the main developers of College Park, submitted a plat to the City of Orlando and named a whole bunch of streets after colleges and that was the first time it ever appeared in writing, the name College Park. So this was 1925. So in 2025, the society is looking at having a little bit of a party to celebrate the 100th anniversary. In 1924 it was submitted in February, so we’re going to try to do our party in March because we want an outside party. We’re hoping for a little better weather in March than in February. But we’re really excited about sponsoring it. We don’t have anything definite. One of the things that’s being talked about is a party on Edgewater Drive and having tables and music and speakers and all that kind of stuff. So we’re looking forward to that. So we’re really, really excited about that.

Publishing a book by Becky Dreisbach

The other thing one of our board members used to write historical articles for the community paper. And she has been given permission by the editor to take those articles and to put them into a book. And the editor of The Community Paper has said, “You wrote them. They’re yours. You have them.” So Becky Dreisbach is working a little at a time, she said, “I don’t have time to just sit and do them.” But she’d take an article, and in some cases rewriting it, so it would fit better. And we’re looking at, hopefully in another year or so, we’ll publish our first book. So that just sounds exciting.

Historic Information

And then, of course, as I began this conversation, the historic information that we have, our ultimate goal is to take and get that information so it will be available to historians or people who just want to know so that they can go and look at this. I’ve got files full of stuff. You know take these files, and copy them and make them available for people who would like to see what’s there or do research. So that’s the other part we’re really excited about.

So, what do you do for fun when you’re not busy leading the community?

That’s interesting. What do I do for fun? Well, I guess, I could probably say that one thing I do for fun is read. I love to read. I am currently reading Andrew Jackson The American Lion and the other book is a history of Winston Churchill during the war, not before or after, but during the war. The Splendid and the Vile is the name of the book by Erik Larson. In my old age I am finding it is better if I just read a little bit slower and take it in rather than just saying, I read the book. So Erik Larson, I read a few chapters and then I put it down and then read.

Fire Trucks

The other thing that I thoroughly enjoy: I like fire trucks. I always have. From the time I was a little boy, I always loved to see firetrucks and go see fire trucks. So I’m on a webpage of antique fire trucks. And I look at these antique firetrucks and I just look at them and drool to see how great they are. But the follow up to that is I married a fireman’s daughter. And he was driving a fire truck to a fire in the sixties in Scranton. It broke down. The City of Scranton decided they wouldn’t repair it, so that fire truck is now in the Philadelphia Fire Museum in Philadelphia. It’s called Fireman’s Hall. And whenever I get near Philadelphia I like to go see Grandpa’s fire truck. But it’s just something I enjoy. I don’t want to watch buildings burn. I just like firetrucks and fire fighting. I read articles about fire fighting and what’s going on and how far they’ve come in firefighting.


What do I do for fun? I guess the answer would be just to sit down in the chair and turn everything off and turn the light on behind my shoulder so these old eyes can read. I just love to read.

Thank you so much for your legacy of service to our region, particularly the many lives that you have touched in College Park through your intelligent leadership, your dedication, and your neighborly spirit engaging people of all ages in community life. We’re so thankful for you. And we are thankful that you shared your valuable time with the Library today and came downtown for this oral history, Mr. Bill.

My privilege Miss Jane, my privilege.

Interview: Bill Jennings

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date: October 5, 2023

Place: Orlando Public Library

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Oral History Interview with Bill Jennings, President of the College Park Historical Society

Interview: Bill Jennings

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date: October 5, 2023

Place: Orlando Public Library

There are currently no documents related to this memory.

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