Who are the greatest business leaders in Alachua County’s history?
It’s a question the Business Report asked when we decided to create a regional Leadership Hall of Fame.
Our goal was to recognize people who not only have been pre-eminent successes in their businesses, but who have also made a lasting impact on the community at large.
This year’s class includes leaders who helped mold the community by:
- Bringing the teaching hospital to the University of Florida that has grown into ShandsHealthcare;
- Preventing the sale of Gainesville Regional Utilities to an out-of-town utility;
- Providing housing and borrowing opportunities for minorities;
- Founding important charities;
- Spearheading economic development at critical times; and
- Funding new programs and buildings at UF and Santa Fe College that help train our workforce.
Gainesville and Alachua County would look far different today without the impact of these leaders.
To recognize their contributions to the community, the winners or their families will be honored with a plaque, and the stories announcing their awards, plus the Leadership Hall of Fame itself, will be prominently displayed on our website (gainesvillebizreport.com).
By recognizing these leaders, we celebrate them and the overall role of free enterprise in benefiting our community and everyone who lives in it.
The name Shands is synonymous with a health care empire that is a cornerstone of Gainesville’s economy.
But Shands HealthCare wouldn’t exist today without the vision of the man behind the name, William Shands, in the 1950s.
Shands was president of the Florida Senate when the state was looking for a home for a major medical school, his granddaughter Betty Scheveling recalls.
Shands helped put together a statewide committee of physicians, and he assumed that they would propose Miami, Jacksonville or Tampa over the small agricultural community of Gainesville, Scheveling says.
“He was delighted when they recommended Gainesville, and he took the ball to get it approved,” she says.
Working with State Rep. Ralph Turlington of Gainesville and State Sen. Charlie Johns of Starke, Shands won approval for the medical school, which opened in 1956.
But the move required some bargaining, says Al Alsobrook, the former University of Florida vice president of university relations, who was a friend of Shands. “There was lots of debate, with people asking why put it in the boondocks,” Alsobrook says.
Sen. Johns agreed to throw his support behind the move if he could get a highway patrol station in Starke, Alsobrook says. “When I drive by that station, I think it was a good trade-off for the medical school.”
Shands’ desire to have the medical school—the hospital that followed and here is an example of his vision, Alsobrook says. “He always thought far down the road.”
Shands ran for governor in the Democratic primary of 1948. He was defeated by Fuller Warren, who later was elected governor.
During the campaign, Shands advocated a state sales tax to recoup the burden that tourists placed on state services. Warren opposed the sales tax during the campaign. “After the election, he called my grandfather in and said he agreed that a sales tax was needed,” Scheveling says. “Warren asked him to write the sales tax bill,” which Shands did.
Shands attended UF in the early 1900s when Gainesville’s roads were made of sand, and he played baseball and football for the university during a time when barely 200 people attended football games, according to a Shands HealthCare profile.
He left school without graduating and went into the fertilizer business in Gainesville. In 1928, Shands founded the Gainesville Poster-Advertising Co.
He was elected to the city council and served on the Charter Commission and Road Board.
Later, William Shands and his brother, Jim, joined Thompson Baker in founding Shands & Baker, a Jacksonville-based concrete and rock company that later became Florida Rock Industries.
“He was a statesman who cared about the community, but he also was a down-home kind of guy,” Alsobrook says.
Scheveling saw him as generous and loving. She recalls that he would give away celery, corn and other vegetables from his farm in Citra to families around Gainesville. “He was the sweetest, most wonderful man in the world as far as I was concerned,” Scheveling says.
Shands died in 1973 at the age of 83.
C.B. Daniel is best remembered as a banker, but his role in the economic vitality of Alachua County extends beyond that.
“He was a natural leader and a natural doer,” says Rick Mulligan, who worked closely with Daniel when Mulligan was president of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in the 1990s.
Daniel, who died in 2008 at the age of 69, graduated from the University of Florida in 1969. During his career, he served as an executive or director of First Federal Savings and Loan, Florida National Bank, First Union Bank, Mercantile Bank and Alarion Bank.
As a banker, Daniel was color-blind when it came to lending. When he was president of Florida National Bank, he established the first banking office in East Gainesville. Although the bank didn’t attract the business Daniel hoped for, establishing it demonstrated his commitment to serving a low-income population, says his friend, retired attorney Jim Quincy.
Rosa B. Williams, a community activist and chair of the Black on Black Crime Task Force, agrees. “C.B. was the first banker who made loans to black businesspeople, and he took a very big interest in the east side of town, in helping people to improve their businesses and setting up programs for young people,” she says.
Outside the bank, Daniel was instrumental in helping the business community.
When he and other community leaders recognized the need for a dedicated agency to spur economic development, they founded Gainesville’s Council for Economic Outreach. The CEO, of which Daniel was the first director, has become the major champion of economic development in Alachua County.
When C.B. wanted something done, it generally got done.
That was the case when he decided in the early 1980s that Gainesville needed a Girls Club to complement the Boys Club, an organization on which he was a board member.
“I was in awe that C.B., as the capital building chair, set and achieved his goal for our new facility to be without a mortgage or debt service,” says Renae Clements, who has been executive director of the organization, now known as Girls Place, since its founding.
Daniel also played a pivotal role when Delta Airlines threatened to leave Gainesville in 1995, Mulligan says.
“He recognized the negative potential this would have, and he organized a massive effort to fight it,” Mulligan says. “He created a team that compiled information from UF, the business community and other sources to demonstrate potential ridership.”
The local team took its findings to Delta CEO Leo Mullen. Although Delta departed at that time, Daniel’s efforts demonstrated his ability to mobilize people across the community, Mulligan says
Daniel was renowned for leading fund raising campaigns for charities, including the March of Dimes, the United Way, the American Heart Association, the Reichert House and the United Negro College Fund. And he had an impact in higher education in the state, serving a six-year term on the Florida Board of Regents.
Tommy McIntosh, the owner of Prudential Trend Realty and incoming chamber chairman, credits Daniel with getting him involved in the chamber and starting him on a leadership path.
Daniel was a tireless cheerleader for many community groups, McIntosh says. “The way you really judge someone’s legacy is not by asking ‘Did he lead a group?,’ but by asking, ‘What kind of effect did he have on future leadership?’” McIntosh says.
“I imagine you could go to a lot of local organizations and if you looked at the leaders in the past or the people who are in the leadership line, you’d that find C.B. got them involved in the organization,” McIntosh says.
To the casual observer, S. Clark Butler was just the man behind Butler Plaza—a successful developer who created the largest shopping complex in the Southeast.
But as a businessman, developer and promoter of his community, he had few equals in the state.
“Clark Butler was a pillar of the business community,” says Brent Christensen, president of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “He started from humble beginnings and faced adversity time after time while building a successful company. He always wanted to do what was best for his community and his family. He didn’t want any credit.”
Butler grew up on a family farm in Plant City and first came to Gainesville during the Depression to visit his older brother, Bob, who was working his way through the University of Florida. Though just a teenager at the time, Clark saw the opportunity to sell fresh produce here and convinced his parents, who were in their 70s, into moving to Gainesville to open a produce stand.
The stand eventually grew to a 14,000-square-foot grocery—the largest in the city—and a store that provided equal service to blacks and whites, which was uncommon the 1940s and 1950s.
“He always treated black people fairly,” says Rosa B. Williams, chair of Gainesville’s Black on Black Crime Task Force. “My parents would shop at his store, but they didn’t always have money, so he would let them buy on credit, and they would pay him when they got paid on the weekend.”
He gave back to his community as well. Butler was elected to the city commission in 1950 at the age of 31 and served for six years. While in office, he provided the deciding vote that prevented the city from selling Gainesville Regional Utilities to a St. Petersburg utility company for $5 million. That decision has paid off handsomely by keeping city control over GRU revenue, which makes up the majority of the city’s budget today.
Butler also negotiated with UF to get it to pay for the city water it used, ending the practice of the university getting free water.
The Butler Supermarket burned in 1953. Unable to get a loan to rebuild, Butler and his brother turned to development. They built Westmoreland Estates, Palm View Estates, Westwood and Sunnybrook, completing 500 to 600 homes before turning to commercial development.
It was while he was developing the Millhopper Shopping Center at Northwest 23rd Avenue and 43rd Street that Butler had his major breakthrough. He went to New York City to try to convince an executive from the Britz Department Store chain to open in one of his plazas. The executive wasn’t interested, but he pointed to some property bordered by Archer Road, Southwest 34th Street and Interstate 75, and predicted that the area would become a major center for commercial growth.
“I finally woke up,” Butler recalled in an oral history interview with the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor. Butler began purchasing property in an area that then was little more than a grass strip airfield and vacant land. Today that area is the core of the 1.2 million-square-feet of retail space that makes up the current Butler Plaza. As Butler Plaza began to grow, Butler founded Gainesville State Bank—not just to finance his own projects but to help others. “I wanted to loan money to the little people because I had been turned down many times when I had an idea of trying to do something new,” Butler said in the oral history interview.
Even in his 80s, Butler was deeply involved in bringing new commerce to the community. Working with his daughter, Deborah and Bob Bratcher, he was planning for an additional 1.3 million-square-foot shopping complex on 100 acres north of Butler Plaza. He died in 2008 at the age of 89.
Charles Perry left many landmarks—both literally and figuratively—when he died in 2005.
The landmark buildings that his companies—Charles Perry Construction and PPI Construction Management— constructed is long. It includes the headquarters of the Alachua County Library District, the new Alachua County Criminal Justice Center, the older Alachua County Civil/Family Justice Center, North Florida Regional Medical Center and many buildings at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College.
Several landmark educational programs carry his name. They include the Charles R. and Nancy V. Perry Center for Emerging Technologies and the Charles R. Perry Construction Institute at the Santa Fe. At UF, the Charles R. Perry Construction Yard and Charles R. Perry endowed professorship in the Rinker School of Building Construction are part of his legacy.
Perry’s support of the buildings for training workers illustrates his commitment to a strong labor force, Perry Construction President Breck Weingart. “Without the workers we don’t succeed,” Weingert says. Perry was a gem to work with, Weingert says. “He was a wonderful mentor, friend and partner for over 22 years. He was a patient and calm person.
“He regarded a handshake agreement as good as gold,” Weingert says. “He was regarded throughout the community as an honest businessman who gave back to the community.”
Perry was committed to his employees and friends too, according to the Charles Perry Construction website. “Chuck built a family within his company,” it states. “He built relationships. He listened when his employees talked about their lives. He knew the names of their children and where their spouses worked.”
Perry also strongly supported economic development, says longtime community leader Marilyn Tubb. “He was the first person I went to when I raised money for the Council for Economic Outreach,” Tubb says. “He made a very generous pledge.”
Tubb also served with Perry on the Gainesville-Alachua County Regional Airport Authority. “He was very level-headed,” she says. “He had few words, but when he talked, everybody listened.”
Chuck grew up poor and had to hitch a ride to Gainesville to attend UF in 1954. His college years were interrupted by his service in the Navy, but he completed a bachelor’s in building construction in 1960.
Perry founded Charles Perry Construction in 1960 and PPI Construction Management in 1993. Perry Construction specializes in projects that are bid, mostly for the private sector, and PPI manages projects, many of them in the public sector.
PPI President John Carlson says that Chuck’s favorite charities were the Boy Scouts and the American Heart Association, although he supported many other organizations.
“Chuck truly believed in giving,” Carlson says. “He was generous to the core.
“His philanthropy ranged from major charitable contributions to just helping someone who was really in need,” Carlson says. “The gifts that few people ever knew about are the ones that touched me the most.”
Over his 50-year career in Gainesville, Phil Emmer has built roughly 2,500 of the area’s homes. But during that time he’s also been a key builder of the community.
He has served in leadership roles for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Five (the support group for WUFT-TV), the University Gallery Guild, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, the Ronald McDonald House, the Girls Club of Alachua County and the Gainesville Community Foundation.
He was a charter member of the Board of Overseers of University of Florida’s Health Science Center, served on the board of the UF Foundation and was a member of the statewide Fine Arts Council of Florida.
Among his proudest achievements has been his effort to provide affordable housing for the area. After he moved his company from Miami to Gainesville in 1960, he started building Lincoln Estates, one of the first developments in the United States that provided black families the opportunity to own their own homes.
Current Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones remembers those days and says Emmer’s work had a significant impact on East Gainesville. “I watched a miracle come into reality,” Jones says.
Lincoln Estates is thriving today, and Emmer says he still stays in touch with some of the original families who bought homes there.
Success on a Larger Stage
Emmer’s work on Lincoln Estates eventually drew national recognition, which led to him advising federal officials and builders in other parts of the country who were interested in affordable-housing communities.
“It became a labor of love because not only was I helping them, but even more significantly, they were helping the cause of home ownership for lower income families,” he says.
The buzz about Emmer’s efforts even drew the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which featured him in a 1965 story headlined: “Housing for the Poor: Federal-Private Effort to Help the Needy Buy Homes Shows Promise.”
Emmer says that his influence led to the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and other agencies making changes that improved low-income housing opportunities.
Emmer has had a large impact throughout Florida as well. Along with the thousands of homes he’s built in Gainesville, including the Capri, Portofino and Sorrento subdivisions, his company has built nearly 6,000 homes in 14 other counties.
The homeowners in Marion Landing in Ocala so appreciated Emmer’s work as the builder of their homes that they named the main street in the development Phil Emmer Boulevard.
“Most homeowners hate their developer,” says Emmer’s daughter Lori McGriff, who now heads the Emmer company. “The street naming came about because we do what we say we’ll do and if we make a mistake, we fix it,” she says.
Emmer and his wife, Barbara, have shared their good fortune through major gifts to B’Nai Israel, the Harn Museum, the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Health Science Center, Dance Alive and UF Hillel, a Jewish student center. Among their donations to the University of Florida is an endowment for women’s athletics.
Emmer also has been a major supporter of the Reichert House, which provides mentoring and training for at-risk young men. With his help, the Builders Association of North Central Florida raised $267,000 to construct a new 6,700-square-foot building for the Reichert House. Association members donated their time to planning and construction of the building.
Now 82, Emmer is still involved in key decisions with his company. Last year, he invested $4 million in a solar electric system on his Stoneridge Apartment community along Southwest 34th Street. The project is one of the largest privately owned solar-powered electric systems in the state. Also, he recently won approval for two of his out-of-town projects to participate in HUD’s Green Retrofit program.
Recently, Emmer received the latest in a long line of awards for his unselfish support of the community when he was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of Gainesville in November. The award is named after the founder of Rotary International.
Melanie Shore, a former recipient of the award, says that she immediately thought of Emmer when she learned that she was eligible to select a Paul Harris Fellow.
“I’ve known him for 25 years, and I worked with him on many community boards,” she says. “They never wanted any recognition for what they’ve done, but both Barbara and Phil care deeply about the community.”