Month: February 2018

March Happenings at the History Center


Bartow, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2016) – Journey into Polk history this month at the Polk County History Center. The following programs and events are open to the public and free of charge:

March’s Family Program – Curators of Curiosity – All Month

o   In honor of Women’s History Month, learn about the Poppy Lady, Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia. During World War I Michael worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers, a symbol that remains strong today. Create your own poppy to take home with you.

 March is Women’s History Month

o   On March 1, 1987, the United States Congress passed a resolution designating March as Women’s History Month. Celebrate women’s history at the History Center by participating in the “Hidden History Tour.” Explore multiple exhibits and take special note of the vital contributions made by local women to the early development of Polk and during World War I and World War II.

Special Weekend Hours for Bloomin’ Arts Festival and Quilt Show, March 310 a.m. – 4 p.m. and March 4, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

o   The 1926 Courtroom will have more than 50 quilts on display representative of all skill levels. The History Center’s Medallion Quilt will be on display in the Rotunda. The quilt was a gift of Keightley Stringfellow, with hand quilting completed by Melody Clyatt. The medallion rosette uses more than 10,800 squares to recreate the tile decoration in the rotunda of the History Center.

March 3, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Second Annual Book Sale

o   From the south porch of the History Center, the Second Annual History Center Book Sale will be offered by the Polk County Historical Association (PCHA), including older and duplicate books (fiction and non-fiction) which range in price from $1 to $5. This is a cash-only event for unique and limited books. The PCHA will also be selling newer books priced as marked by the publisher, featuring local history titles. The aassociation supports local history and heritage education through programs such as the Pioneer Luncheon/Annual Meeting, History Center events and quarterly publication of Polk Proud History.

 March 3 – 11 a.m. – Oak Hill Cemetery Tour

o   Learn about the pioneer families and World War I veterans interred at this historic Bartow cemetery. The tour starts at the History Center with a short walk of about one mile and includes historic landmarks along the route to the cemetery. Those with mobility issues may drive to the Cemetery for the tour, located at West Parker Street and South Dudley Avenue. Oak Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 with the earliest recorded burial dating to 1860. The cemetery tour begins at 11 a.m. the first Saturday of every month, November through April.

 March 17, 11 a.m. – Architectural Tour

o   Join us for an architectural tour of the History Center and learn about neoclassical architecture, the construction of the building and the stories behind the iconic Old Polk County Courthouse. The architectural tour begins at 11 a.m. the third Saturday of each month.

 March 20, 12:15 to 1 p.m. – Lunch and Learn – “OH FLORIDA! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,” by Craig Pittman.

o   The state that is sometimes paradise and sometimes a punchline makes for a humorous and entertaining lecture topic by Craig Pittman. Pittman is a native Floridian and long-time environmental reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. His book of the same title won the Gold medal for Florida Non-Fiction at the 2017 Florida Book Awards.

 Book Club Recommended Reading – “OH FLORIDA! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,” by Craig Pittman

o   Florida is touted as a care-free paradise, yet the state is also known for its perils – alligators, sinkholes, pythons, hurricanes and sharks, to name a few. It attracts 90 million visitors a year, some drawn by its impressive natural beauty, others bewitched by its man-made fantasies. Oh, Florida!, by award-winning journalist Craig Pittman, explores those contradictions and shows how they fit together to make this the most interesting state.

 On-going Temporary Exhibit – Bartow Art Guild Dimensions Exhibit

o   Features the creative talents of local Bartow Art Guild artists, focusing on guild members with different skillsets and multiple mediums. On display in the south activity gallery through April 19.

 March 22, 2:30 p.m. – The Polk County Historical Commission and Marker Committee will meet at the Polk County History Center. The meetings are open to the public.

About the Polk County History Center: The Polk County History Center is located at 100 E. Main St. in Bartow and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit or call (863) 534-4386 for more information on exhibits and programming. All events and programming are free and open to the public.

Shooting Death of Fort Meade Man

downloadFort Meade Florida – Around 1:20 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2018, PCSO received a 9-1-1 call in reference to a person shot at 10  SW MLK Blvd  in Fort Meade (cross street Charleston Avenue). When first  responders arrived they found 30-year-old Charles McGhee (11/19/87) of  Fort Meade with gunshot wounds. He was transported to Bartow Regional Medical  Center, where he was pronounced deceased.

Witnesses reported the shooter was 48-year-old Jimmy Lee Hester (DOB 12/17/69) of Wauchula. Hester arrived at the PCSO Fort Meade Sheriff’s Station to turn himself  in shortly after the shooting occurred. Hester was taken to the PCSO Sheriff’s  Operations Center to be interviewed by Homicide detectives. Hester is being booked into the Polk County Jail and being charged  with Manslaughter, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Tampering  With Evidence. An autopsy will be conducted at a later date.

Sheriff Grady Judd had this to say:

“Here’s another example of how dealing in drugs, or associating with those who deal in drugs, is violent business. Luckily this suspect went to jail shortly after killing a man in broad  daylight, before he hurt anyone else.”

Hester and McGhee were known to each other and had a dispute earlier  in the week, which likely led to today’s altercation.


PARKLAND, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott called on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to release all details surrounding the Bureau’s failure to take action after receiving information on January 5, 2018, regarding “[Nikolas] Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.” Last week, Governor Scott called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign following the Bureau’s admission that it did not follow through and investigate this critical tip.

Governor Scott said, “Last week, our state and nation was shocked to learn of the FBI’s inexcusable inaction after receiving a tip informing them of Cruz’s desire to carry out a school shooting. The FBI’s failure to initiate an investigation raises many questions, and the victims’ families deserve answers now. Today, I am calling on the FBI to immediately release all details surrounding the Bureau’s failure to act on a tip it received, including all details and protocols.

“Last week, I called on Director Wray to resign, and the FBI should release all records involving this terrible error. People in Washington tend to want to investigate, hold hearings and put off what truly needs to be done. Instead, someone needs to be held accountable.”

Governor Scott said, “The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable. The FBI has admitted that they were contacted last month by a person who called to inform them of Cruz’s ‘desire to kill people,’ and ‘the potential of him conducting a school shooting.’

“Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it. An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain. The families will spend a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and an apology will never give them the answers they desperately need.

“We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act. ‘See something, say something’ is an incredibly important tool and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI Director needs to resign.”

Water Service at Anna Woodbury and Fort Meade High School interrupted

Water service for the elementary school and high school has been interrupted.

As a result, students and staff at Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary and Fort Meade Middle-Senior High are being supplied with bottled water, and other provisions are in place to address the water issue. Breakfast and lunch will still be served to students. The school day is expected to otherwise continue as normal.

Fort Meade High reflects on procedures for mass shooting in wake of tradegy in South Florida

In the wake of the tradgey in South Florida, there are parents, teachers, students, and admimistrators that are left to question if their procedures for this kind of event are in place correctly. Fort Meade high school principal, Amy Hardee explains how she looks at the situation.

It is unfortunate that after a tragedy, many people come forward with information. It is important for our school to remain safe that students, staff, and community all share information that is helpful in knowing when something is not right with a situation or a person. We need to trust our intuition and not ignore it in how busy we are.

Hardee went on to say that at Fort Meade High they teach the concept of “Run, Hide, or Fight.” In cases of mass violence like this the school she wants the students to keep a calm demour and be able to take appropriate action as needed.

Mrs Hardee takes her job to protect children at Fort Meade High School very seriously

When I look at each child at Fort Meade Middle Senior, I know there are parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles that love them and they want their child cared for and considered precious. We do. From the time the children set foot on our school buses and on our campuses, we take that responsibility seriously. Administration is constantly assessing how the school could improve our safety measures and we stay vigilant in upholding a safe and secure campus. We also value our relationship with the Polk County Sheriff deputies. We seek their advice and we partner with them in making our school safe.

When asked what she felt a solution would be for this issue she had this to say.

I know that we reflect about the good ole’ days when schools did not have to take these steps, but times are different because of the media age we live. Because of the media, we don’t just hear about the violence, we see it too. I know these school shootings produce worry, but if we all come together and pay attention, we can safeguard our children and community.

Body of a 47-year-old man found near a Ft. Meade orange grove being investigated 

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the death of a 47-year-old man whose body was found near an orange grove, south of Ft. Meade on Monday, February 12, 2018. The man has been positively-identified as Douglas John Bowling (DOB 12/29/70), who was known to frequent the Winter Haven area. Detectives could not determine any recent address for Bowling, and acquaintances told detectives that he has been homeless. His next of kin has been notified.
Deputies responded to Old Bowling Green Road, west of US Hwy 17, at around 2:00 p.m. Monday, after a grove worker discovered Bowling’s body.
At this time, the death is being investigated as a homicide. An autopsy, which is scheduled for this morning, will determine the cause of death.
If anyone has information about Mr. Bowling’s recent activity or anything else they believe may be helpful to this investigation, they are urged to contact PCSO at 863-298-6200.

Anyone with information about this investigation who wants to REMAIN ANONYMOUS and be eligible for a CASH REWARD is asked to call HEARTLAND CRIME STOPPERS AT 1-800-226-TIPS or log onto to submit your tip via the web. For a secure and password protected mobile app for your smart device, go to the app store and download the free “P3tips” mobile app. No caller ID, no recorded lines, no tracking cookies, no saved IP addresses. Anonymity is Guaranteed!!

Death Investigation near Fort Meade

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a death investigation off of Old Bowling Green Road, west of Hwy 17, south of Fort Meade. The body of a male was found near an orange grove north of Old Bowling Green Road, around
2:00 p.m. Monday afternoon. Detectives are investigating the identity and circumstances of death, and an autopsy will be performed by the Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 to determine cause of death.
There is no other information available at this time. If anyone has any information about this, or witnessed anything suspicious in this area in recent days, please call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200

Lakeland man arrested for sexual battery of a child

On Thursday, February 8, 2018, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested 26-year-old Michael Smith of Lakeland, for one count sexual battery on a child between the ages of 12 and 14 years old.
According to the affidavit, on January 25, 2018, the victim told deputies that Michael Smith had sexually battered her numerous times over a span of one year. The victim told deputies that on at least one occasion Smith bought her, “Plan B,” a contraceptive pill for her to take after concerns she might become pregnant. She also told deputies that on occasion, he would pick her up from school in the middle of the day to engage in sexual intercourse.
During the investigation, deputies recovered an empty emergency contraceptive box, growth supplements, a box of pregnancy tests (with only one test remaining), and an empty condom wrapper (to which Smith had access). Deputies also confirmed school records showing when the victim was taken out of school early by Smith.
“Michael Smith is a child molester and he has no idea the amount of long-term damage he caused to this young girl. We will do everything we can to limit his access to children in the future. With him behind bars, we hope she can move forward, put this abuse behind her, and get the help she needs.” Grady Judd, Sheriff
Michael Smith was arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail on the above charge. He does not have a criminal history.

Polk County Clerk Hosts Saturday Opening for Passport Applications

Bartow, Fla. (February 8, 2018) – Spring break and summer are just around the corner—make sure you have a passport ready for any out-of-country destinations!

To help make the application process easier, Polk County Clerk of Courts & Comptroller Stacy Butterfield is hosting passport application events from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, February 24. Instant passport photos are also available on-site for $10.70.

The event will be held at the Clerk’s Lakeland office located at 930 E. Parker St., and the Northeast office located at 3425 Lake Alfred Road in Winter Haven.

“We typically see an increase in passport applications this time of year, as residents prepare for spring break and summer travel,” Clerk Butterfield said. “Coming into the Clerk’s office to fill out an application isn’t always convenient or possible for those working full-time jobs, so a Saturday opening provides a more convenient time for customers to apply for a passport.”

In order to provide the quickest service possible, the Clerk’s office is unable to serve customers by telephone during the events. Please call ahead for questions and additional details.

Suggested Time Savers:

1. Visit the Clerk’s to review passport application requirements, required documentation and fees.

2. Passport application forms can be found at You may complete the application in advance using BLACK INK ONLY, and DO NOT SIGN UNTIL IN FRONT OF A CLERK.

3. Bring a checkbook or money order for the correct amount AND cash or credit card, as well as proof of citizenship, and identification. Customers requesting overnight shipping must bring an overnight stamp with the application. A separate check or money order is required for each application. Both forms of payment are required as there are two separate fees for every application.

4. Customers who bring a photo with them will save time and avoid waiting in line to have their photo taken.

For additional information, contact the Clerk’s office at 863-534-4000. Visit the Clerk’s office on the web and “like” the Polk County Clerk’s Facebook page.