New School Honors Stowers
LITHIA - It's a piece of property Dick Stowers knows well. In the 1940s and '50s, Stowers and his friends used to race around Lake Hutto in Lithia, just south of the Alafia River, in their Buick Roadmasters and Chrysler Windsors. "We'd race around the lake, and then we'd go parking and courting," recalled Stowers, 79. "It was out in the middle of nowhere, so we knew we wouldn't bother anyone." Today, Lake Hutto is hardly "nowhere," noted Stowers, marveling at the changes that time has wrought in his old stomping grounds."There are houses everywhere you look," he said. And there are more to come. The Hillsborough County Commission approved construction of 3,200 homes at what was called the Lake Hutto development but may get a new name - a master-planned community encompassing 1,129 acres. But now, Stowers has a permanent tie to the area where he stole his first kiss. On Nov. 6, the Hillsborough County School Board voted to name an elementary school under construction in the Lake Hutto area on the south side of FishHawk Boulevard in honor of Stowers. Stowers was aware that a community petition drive had been launched to name the school for him. But his wife, Raymetta, and friends managed to conceal from him the fact that the school board was scheduled to vote on the new names of the elementary school and a neighboring middle school this month. Stowers said he thought the vote was a year away. "I was trying to keep it a surprise, so we told him we were going downtown to take some papers to the school board," Raymetta Stowers said. When Stowers arrived at the school board meeting Nov. 6, he was surprised to see longtime friends, as well as his children and grandchildren from West Palm Beach and Albany, Ga. "I didn't even suspicion it," Stowers said, using the Florida Cracker vernacular he refused to abandon no matter how successful he became. "I'm just an old country boy. I couldn't believe it when I heard that the school board had named the school for me. I never thought anything like this could happen to me. I still can't believe it." Longtime friend Nancy Waters, a teacher at Cimino Elementary School in Valrico, launched the petition drive in June to have one of the new schools in Lithia named for Stowers. The community, as well as friends from as far as Texas and Virginia, quickly jumped on the bandwagon, sending letters and e-mails to the school board in support. The school district received petitions with more than 1,500 signatures, as well as hundreds of letters and e-mails requesting that a school be named in honor of the lifelong Hillsborough County resident. Stowers graduated from Brandon School, now McLane Middle School, in 1947. In 1960, he purchased the historical 1876 home built by James Brandon on Brandon Boulevard and turned it into Stowers Funeral Home. While building his business, Stowers played an active role in building Brandon, serving as president of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce and honorary mayor for 1963-64. Stowers also helped establish Brandon Community Hospital, now Brandon Regional Hospital, and many of the community's nonprofit organizations. He and his wife continue to play an active role in the community, despite Stowers' retirement. They most recently contributed to the newly opened soup kitchen, I Am Hope Cafe in Seffner. Earl Lennard, former schools superintendent, has known Stowers for decades. He recalled how Stowers provided an ambulance at every Brandon High School football game after he opened his funeral home. In those days, funeral homes provided ambulance service for the county, and Stowers voluntarily provided the ambulance for the games in case a player was injured. Lennard suspected it also was an excuse for Stowers watch the football games every Friday night. Stowers has remained an active member of the Brandon High School Alumni Association, which raises funds for Brandon High School and McLane Middle School. Stowers' name was among 76 suggested as a namesake for the new elementary school. Lennard, also a homegrown Hillsborough County resident who had a high school named for him, thought Stowers was an appropriate choice to be honored. "He's always been a strong advocate for kids," Lennard said. "I think he's an excellent choice." Longtime Brandon residents attorney B. Lee Elam, Vince Ferraro and Lisa Rodriguez, along with Waters and Stowers' daughter, Kimberly Kimbrel, were on hand at the school board meeting to support naming the school in Stowers' honor. Stowers didn't take the honor lightly. The morning after the school board vote, he and his wife visited the school site, where they were welcomed by the construction contractor, given a tour of the site and showed site plans for the building. "It's just beautiful," Stowers said. "This is going to be some campus. I didn't realize it was going to be so big and so impressive. It made me so proud. Children are the greatest investment we have." "This is so exciting," Raymetta Stowers said. "We're looking forward to becoming involved in the school. I think it will be a wonderful outlet for Dick." Afterward, Stowers sat down to read copies of the letters and e-mails sent to the school board on his behalf. "Tears were running down his face as he read them," Raymetta Stowers said. "I'm glad that he's here with us and able to see how much he's loved. Too often, we don't express how much people mean to us until after they're gone." Such was the case in the naming of the new middle school near Lake Hutto. The school board voted to name the school in honor of the late Glenn Barrington, a longtime school board member. Barrington, who died in November 2005 at age 82, retired as assistant principal from Hillsborough High School in 1983 after 32 years as an administrator and football coach. He was first elected to the school board in 1988 and was re-elected in 1992, 1996 and 2000. During his tenure on the board, he was known for his tough stance on school violence and his call for the return of corporal punishment. Lennard and Bill Person, general director for student planning, placement and support programs for the Hillsborough County School District, worked with Barrington when he was assistant principal at East Bay High School. They called him a friend and outstanding educator who was dedicated to the well-being of children and an advocate and mentor for educators. "He's an absolutely tremendous choice," Lennard said. The two schools are scheduled to open in August 2009.
Reporter D'Ann Lawrence White can be reached at (813) 657-4524 or [email protected]