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Polk to honor distinguished alumni
Events, People, Schools
Polk to honor distinguished alumni

Lakeland mayor Gow Fields, U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D – North Carolina), education official Ron Jeffries and law enforcement crime scene expert Edgar Pickett, Jr. are 2011 inductees to the Polk County Public Schools Hall of Fame.

They will be honored at a June 10 event at the Lake Ashton Country Club in Lake Wales along with the 2011 Polk high school valedictorians and salutatorians. The June 10 event is invitation only.

The Hall of Fame was started in 1985 and inductees are individuals who attended Polk Public Schools and made significant professional and career contributions in the arts, business, clergy, education, entertainment, government, law, military, medicine, sports or other fields.

The Hall of Fame will have 99 members with the induction of four new members in 2011. Inductees are chosen each year from nominees submitted by the public. Hall of Fame members review nominations and new inductees are chosen through a selection process.

The Hall of Fame event from the Lake Ashton Country Club will broadcast live on cable and fiber optic television. The broadcast will begin at 7 p.m., Friday, June 10 on Polk County School Board Television airing on Bright House Networks channel 614, Comcast channel 7 and Verizon FiOS channel 45.

The event will also be shown live simultaneously on PGTV, the county government’s channel on Bright House channel 622, Comcast channel 5 and Verizon FiOS channel 20. It will also be Web streamed on the school district’s www.polk-fl.net Web site and the county government’s Web site, http://www.polk-county.net/.

Profiles of Hall of Fame members inducted from 1985 to 2010

Profiles of 2011 inductees:

Gow Fields was elected Lakeland mayor in November 2009, the first African-American to be elected to the position. He served on the Lakeland city commission from 1992 to 2009 before being elected mayor. Mr. Fields is on the board of directors of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce and the Florida League of Mayors. He is also affiliated with the Tampa Bay Partnership and the MyRegion.org, economic and business development groups.

Mr. Fields has been a prominent member of the local insurance industry since 1988 as both an Allstate representative and operating his own independent agency. He is the president and CEO of Fields & Company, Inc., d/b/a Fields Insurance and Financial Group.

Mr. Fields holds undergraduate degrees from the former Polk Community College and the University of South Florida. He has a MBA from Nova Southeastern University. He graduated from Lakeland’s Kathleen High where he is a member of Kathleen’s Hall of Fame. Mr. Fields has received distinguished alumnus awards from Kathleen High and Polk Community College.

Kay Hagan was elected U.S. Senator as a Democrat from North Carolina in November 2008 defeating incumbent Elizabeth Dole. She served for ten years in the North Carolina state senate and for ten years she worked for North Carolina-based NationsBank, the predecessor to Bank of America. Her responsibilities at NationsBank included the position of vice president in the estates and trust division.

Senator Hagan was born in Shelby, N.C. but raised in Lakeland. Her father, Joe P. Ruthven, was a Lakeland mayor and her uncle Lawton Chiles (Polk County Public Schools Hall of Fame inaugural member, 1985), was a U.S. senator, Florida governor and Florida state legislator. Her experience with public service and politics came at an early age as she helped her uncle place campaign bumper stickers on cars.

While in the North Carolina senate, she championed middle class tax cuts, expanding access to healthcare and higher education and creating jobs. She has continued those platforms in her first term in Washington. Senator Hagan earned a law degree from Wake Forest University and her bachelor’s is from Florida State University. She is a Lakeland High graduate.

Ron Jeffries was a high-level official in the area of vocational and technical education with both the Florida Department of Education and the Polk Public Schools. He was a state vocational director and an assistant superintendent in Polk. His contributions led to his inductions into both the Florida Vocational Association Hall of Fame and Florida FFA Hall of Fame.

Mr. Jeffries was considered decades ahead of his time for his creation of small, career and technical education components integrated with academic learning. He was an early visionary implementing school-based and work-based learning activities supported by strong partnerships with the business community. In 1983, at the peak of an unemployment crisis, Mr. Jeffries was appointed to a state senate task force creating solutions to the high unemployment rate caused by phosphate industry downsizing.

Mr. Jeffries used resources of the Ridge and Traviss technical centers and regional adult schools to create both long and short-term programs that helped many workers transition into other employment. Mr. Jeffries holds bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Florida. He is a Lakeland High graduate.

Edgar Pickett, Jr. was among the first group of African-Americans with the Lakeland Police and worked for the LPD for more than 30 years. He made his mark as finger print expert during an era when fingerprinting was done by hand and sight rather than computer.  A Lakeland Police crime laboratory was named the Pickett-Moulden Crime Laboratory for Mr. Pickett and his long-time partner Herman Moulden.

Mr. Pickett’s fingerprinting expertise was utilized by law enforcement agencies from all over including the FBI. Mr. Pickett, the state’s Identification Officer of the Year at one point in his career, assisted many law enforcement departments that did not have fingerprint experts on staff. His system of classifying fingerprints was also copied and used by many agencies.

Mr. Pickett was publicly lauded for his involvement with President Carter’s visit to Lakeland in 1980. His work helped to identify a suspect considered an assassination threat.

Mr. Pickett’s post-secondary education included studies at the Eastman-Kodak company, the FBI Academy, the Institute of Applied Sciences,  the University of Virginia and Hardee, Pasco and Polk community colleges. He graduated from Washington Park High, the precursor to Rochelle High and the current Rochelle School of the Arts.

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