Roots run deep
Compiled by Laura Byrnes, APR and Toni James, APR, CPRC
Long before the Ocala Chapter was chartered in 1980, Marion County’s roots in FPRA ran deep. It was at Silver Springs that the Association’s founder, Lt. Col. John Dillin, famously stopped in 1938 on his way home to Miami from the Florida Chamber of Commerce meeting in St. Augustine, disappointed that chamber executives had not devoted enough attention to publicity and tourism. He discussed the issue with his friend, Wilton F. Martin, Silver Spring’s publicity director, and the seed for what would become the Florida Association of Publicity Directors, later FPRA, was planted.
Dillin’s idea was further nurtured by nine leading PR professionals, including Frank Wright of the University of Florida, during a series of organizational meetings that took place at Silver Springs. And later that year, 45 PR professionals ratified the organization during a statewide meeting in Tampa co-hosted by Dillin and Silver Springs’ co-owner, William M. “Shorty” Davidson (later inducted into FPRA’s Hall of Fame).
Dillin, then publicity director for the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, went on to serve as the Association’s first president; Martin, FPRA’s first secretary, served as its second president. Two subsequent public relations directors from Silver Springs also served as state FPRA presidents: Allen Skaggs (1952) and Cliff Davenport (1960).
Silver Springs was also the site of the Association’s 20th annual fall conference in 1958, complete with the crowning of Miss FPRA, a call for tougher highway safety laws including blood alcohol testing and driver education for those under 18, and tickets to the very first University of Florida/Florida State University football game which the Gators won, by the way, 21-7.
Dillin, who went on to serve a second term as state President during 1953-1954, returned to Marion County at that time as public relations director for Rainbow Springs, another major tourist attraction.
The Early Years
(Pictured: Wilton F. Martin, Sr.) In the beginning, the Ocala Chapter was a member of what was then the Osceola Chapter (Gainesville/Ocala). The chapter began exploring breaking off in 1978 and in December 1979, Andy Williams was installed as president of the Gainesville/Ocala Chapter and finished the year as president of the new Ocala Chapter.
Larry Newnam of the American Cancer Society was the Ocala Chapter’s first full-year president and Patti Griffiths of ABC Leisure Attractions (Silver Springs) was president-elect. Chapter President Williams, Newnam, Griffiths, Margaret Hankinson (now Spontak) and other “paid-up” members of FPRA petitioned the state board in July 1980 to create the Ocala chapter.
Strong Programs at the Rustic Grill
Hot on the heels of the state association adopting the Quotation Mark as FPRA’s official logo, in 1983 the late Nancy Scharmach, APR, served what turned out to be her first, but not last, term as president. By then, the chapter’s long-standing practice of meeting the third Friday of the month was firmly entrenched.
Programming rocked. On March 16, members toured the Star-Banner newspaper. Guest speakers included then U.S. Rep. Buddy MacKay, who discussed the “Public Relations of Politics” at the June meeting, and John H. Hankinson Jr., in October. Hankinson, the brother of incoming president Margaret Spontak, later was appointed by President Clinton as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and now serves as chairman of the Florida Audubon Society.
The Ocala chapter, which had changed its name to the Ocala-Marion County Chapter in 1985, started the 1986-1987 membership year on Nov. 1, 1986 with a balance of $2,552, which was quite an increase from the $386 ending balancing just two years earlier. How did they do it?
One report indicates that revenues were up 12 percent over budget while expenses came in 87 percent under budget. Other ways the treasury was bolstered included a Roast and Toast at Silver Springs, and a professional development “seminar and luncheon” held at the Hilton. The daylong professional development seminar, Newsletters … the Professional Communications Tool, cost $50 for members and $60 at the door. There were 62 attendees and the chapter cleared $1,500.
Another initiative was a “Media Reception” described as a “good-natured roast and toast to show appreciation for all the support given throughout the year by the press, radio and television.”
The chapter also adopted a family for Christmas that year with Dr. Steve Gilman and the late Mary Lou Gilman delivering the gifts.
FPRA/Ocala also collaborated with AdFed in September 1987 to host the Hinton O. Bradbury Memorial program, Music and Memories of Marion County, held at what was then Central Florida Community College’s fine arts auditorium and emceed by John Evans of WESH TV. The purpose of the fundraiser was to “establish an endowed scholarship in communications for CFCC.”
The chapter’s bylaws were only four pages long and the annual Chapter Management report, which now takes up three-inch thick binders, was only one page long.
In 1987-1988 the chapter really ramped up its community service presence. Area nonprofits, invited to present their requests to the board in January 1988, included the Humane Society’s Pet Health Fair, the Teen Center’s Graduation Nite, Central Florida Regional Library and SAVE (Substance Abuse Volunteer Education drug program). The Humane Society was selected in March 1988 with the first phase of the project, a phone poll to gauge public awareness, was conducted in April.
“For Your Eyes Only,” the chapter newsletter, was published 10 times a year – of which nine issues were sponsored. In June 1988, the chapter president suggested giving the newsletter a new name and holding a contest among members for ideas. The newsletter was renamed Prestige.
The chapter’s first APR study group was held on June 4, 1988 at the “agriculture center,” and the chapter also issued its first member name tags.
At the time, the Ocala Chapter had four APRPs (accredited public relations practitioners, now known as APR); Bill Mansfield, Diane Mathes, Otis Winegar and Jenta Wyatt. The late Nancy Scharmach joined their ranks by March 1991.
The group met at Shells restaurant and members paid $8 for professional development luncheons. Up until March 1992, guests were admitted free! In terms of professional development programs, there was interest in “case studies on how a professional has dealt with a public relations crisis, how to sell the use of the micro computer in the PR field, photography and graphics presentation (and) developing audio-visual presentations …” Programs included a media panel in November 1990, followed the next month by “Dealing with the media during a crisis.” In November 1991, chapter members offered a best-practices roundtable of “PR ideas that worked.”
In 1992, Carole Savage, APR, CPRC, stepped in as president to finish the year begun by Donna Hogan, who resigned. Highlights of Carole’s term included judging entries for Jacksonville’s Local Image Awards.
A program that garnered much interest and media attention featured Jimmy Carnes, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Site Selection Committee and member of the Gainesville Chapter, who discussed how Ocala could become a training site for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta (cost to attend the program was $25).
In June 1993, a joint meeting was held with Lake, Sumter and Citrus counties with 43 in attendance. A member social, “Set the Stage with FPRA,” was held at Ocala Civic Theatre in September 1993. Total treasury in October 1993 was $1,579; membership goal was a 100-percent increase.
In October 1993, Ocala Inc., a local magazine, reported that the Ocala Chapter received the 1993 President’s Award for Enhanced Credibility with Clients, at the annual state conference.
The focus for the 1993-94 chapter year was “high level monthly programs, communicating the importance of the APRP (now APR) designation, entering Golden Image and attending state conference.”
The community service project was co-sponsoring the Total Quality Management seminar with the Marion County Quality Council. The fundraiser was “Savin’ of the Green” PR Fair and Auction.
Anyone who has attended annual conference is familiar with Vanessa of “Books! Books! Books!” Vanessa’s mother, the late Fran Clemmons, also served for a few years in the ‘60s as executive director of United Way of Marion County. Vanessa, who offers substantial discounts on her PR titles, first came to the chapter’s attention in the spring of 1994 when Kathy Giery “reported a bookseller named Vanessa is an (APRP) and could speak on selling books and other aspects of her career.” The board agreed she might be a good speaker.
Two FPRA/Ocala representatives were invited to sit on the planning committee for the fall political forums at CFCC. The forums were hosted by FPRA/Ocala, CFCC and the Star-Banner. The community service committee, headed up by Carole Savage, APR, CPRC, selected the Rape Crisis Center for the annual project.
First Local Image
Stardate -326668.08970856096 (May 1, 1996) The Ocala/Marion County chapter of FPRA decided to boldly go where it had never gone before by rewarding members’ “enterprise.”
Those who trekked out to the Planet Hilton Ocala for the chapter’s first annual Image Awards found themselves surrounded by a galaxy of stars and federation officers, including Starfleet Commander Janet T. Dennis, APR, CPRC (president of the state association) and Communications Officer Dean Johnson of WTRS and WMFQ. With Johnson at the helm as emcee, the crew of the Starship Ocala FPRA soon hit warp-factor fun.
Back then, the Ocala Chapter had 30 members and there were 900 members in the association statewide. The late Nancy Scharmach, APR (then APRP) co-chaired the local contest with Toni James, APR, CPRC, and the fee to enter was $20 per entry, with no discount for multiple entries. The cost to attend the awards banquet wasn’t exactly out of this world: $10 for members, $15 for guests.
The Local Image contest was judged by the Gainesville Chapter. A total of 11 members submitted 15 entries which won nine awards, including an Award of Distinction for Toni James, APRP for United Way of Marion County’s Campaign Video; Division A Grand Image and Judge’s Award for Carole Savage, APRP for the “Make a difference at Busbee Community” project that garnered national recognition in USA Today Weekend; and Division B Grand Image for Nancy Scharmach, APRP for her news release, “The ‘S’ in Paso Fino stands for Seniors.”
Carole went on to win a Golden Image Grand Image and Judge’s Award, presented at the 58th Annual Conference, “The POWER of PR,” in St. Petersburg at the historic Renaissance Vinoy. Also at conference, the chapter received the President’s Award for Communication.
Postscript: Chapter records indicate a second annual Local Image contest was held the following year, but by 1998 we began participating in the Gainesville Chapter’s contest.
In 1999 the chapter set a goal “to present a professional development seminar which also would serve as a fund-raiser. It was themed “Getting It Right in Prime Time – The Art of Working with the Media.” Using an invitation list that included allied organizations, such as printers, caterers, sign companies, etc., there were 44 participants, including 23 members. The year was plagued with turnover due to job changes. Use of email and the web seemed to be new wrinkles in communications. The chapter won first place from the state association for membership renewals.
Records for the years 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 have been lost. Chapter presidents respectively were Joan Spainhower and the late Nancy Scharmach.
A highlight of the 2002-2003 year was the beginning of community service projects. The first was a media training for City of Ocala employees, followed by holiday gifts to seniors, donation of books on public relations to the public library, and the creation of a media directory which was sold to the public.
A second professional development seminar, now called a “Toolkit”, had 68 attendees and made a profit for the chapter of $759. It also resulted in 4 new chapter members.
The following May another seminar for non-profits was conducted around the topics of fund-raising, grant writing, and measuring public relations effectiveness. It had 22 attendees.
The next year saw the establishment of a chapter website domain and the highest retention of members by any chapter in the state for the second year in a row. The “Toolkit” professional development seminar that year generated a $500 profit. The theme for the year was “Set the PACE – Professional and Career Enhancement”. Community service was assistance to Hospice families and again books to the public library. The chapter treasury experienced a growth of 71% by year end.
During Ginger Broslat’s presidency, the chapter’s 25th anniversary was fittingly commemorated at Silver Spring Attraction. Attendees enjoyed glass-bottom boat rides and heard from Bob Gernert, former state president and former executive director of the Association. Gernert recounted Silver Springs’ role in the creation of FPRA and, as reported in the June 9, 2005 Star-Banner, noted that “ ‘In keeping with the Ocala chapter’s theme for the anniversary, they are accurate in saying Ocala is the birthplace for FPRA.’ ”
The chapter’s inaugural Communicator of the Year Awards were presented during the anniversary celebration to Heather Danenhower, APR, as individual communicator, and to the Star-Banner, institutional winner. The awards included annual chapter membership.
In the spring of 2006 the chapter hosted a Roast & Toast of Toni James, APR, a chapter member who was retiring from the United Way of Marion County. The event netted $7,500, shared with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, the United Way, and the local chapter.
Chapter meeting sponsorships by local companies generated $1,000. Average attendance at chapter meetings was 33, with membership topping 55. The Toolkit featured “Keys to Reaching the Hispanic Market” and generated a $500 profit. Community service projects were branded “ER for PR”. A second Roast & Toast was held to honor Chamber CEO Jaye Baillie, APR, and chapter member. The ACES program was created (“Advanced Career Enhancement Series”) to add member benefits to senior members.) The Ocala Chapter received the State Association’s President Award for Communications for 2005-2006.
The chapter adopted a theme “Power of the Profession” for the 2008-2009 year and offered its first “PR for the Non-Profit” professional development seminar. A chapter blog was begun, and a first-ever Media Breakfast was held featuring a panel of media representatives. Membership retention was a focus that year due to the recession, resulting in 91% of members retained.
A third Roast & Toast was held to honor two CEOs of large nonprofits who were retiring. It netted $4,500. A “PNM” (potential new member) list was developed to be used to recruit new members and invite them to chapter events. Recognition of the longevity of members was also instituted, and a new member brochure created. A chapter member (Toni James, APR, CPRC) was awarded the state’s Doris Fleishman Unsung Hero Award.
During the 2009-2010 chapter year, Ocala was a state leader in membership. The website was redesigned and a Facebook page replaced the blog. The Toolkit netted $822. Two community service projects were done each year. The chapter, which had been partnering with Gainesville since 1998, returned the Local Image to Ocala in April 2011 during Laura Byrnes, APR’s presidency. Coincidentally, Laura reported on the first contest in 1996 when she was a reporter for the Star-Banner.
The chapter president launched a regular “chapter roundup” to help keep members up-to-date and recap monthly professional development highlights. In partnership with the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce, ACES members presented Ask a PR Pro roundtables for small business and nonprofit partners.
Also during the chapter’s 30 Years and Growing anniversary year, the Communicator of the Year Award was renamed the “Wilton F. Martin, Sr. Communicator of the Year” in 2011 in honor of Martin, one of FPRA’s founding pioneers and early state presidents. The award annually recognizes both an individual and an organization/business which exemplifies the highest standard of effective communication. The recipient in 2011 was Martin’s son, Buddy Martin, who received multiple nominations for his leadership in the “Save the Marion Theatre” effort. Both Buddy and his brother, Bill Martin, along with several members of the extended Martin family, attended the awards program; Buddy was unaware that he had won the award until it was announced. Also on hand was Bruce Mozert, considered the father of underwater photography who was Silver Springs’ publicity photographer when Dillin met with Martin there in 1938.
The theme for the year 2011-12 was “One Vision: One Voice” focusing on engagement of new and older members. Every Friday a “Friday Focus” email was sent from the chapter president to keep members informed. 36% of the members were credentialed, including two CPRCs. The state board meeting was held in Ocala featuring, at the Friday night social, a show at a downtown improv theater and a treasure hunt at local downtown stores and restaurants and passes to a movie at the downtown theater.
The Ocala Chapter maintains one of the highest percentages of credentialed members in the state. Significantly, the chapter’s presidents have all been credentialed, beginning in 2008 – that succession is slated to continue into the 2013-14 membership year when Kevin Christian, APR, takes on the leadership role.
Other highlights: The Ocala Chapter received the Association’s inaugural “Hall of Fame Philanthropy Award” in 2012 for its long-standing and generous support of the FPRA Education Foundation and for the first time in the chapter’s history, three members served simultaneously on the state executive committee.
Ocala Chapter Shines
During the annual conference in 2013, which commemorated FPRA’s 75th Anniversary, the Ocala Chapter’s Tina Banner and Toni James were the Association’s only members recognized for earning their Certified Public Relations Counselor (CPRC) credential.
Banner also served as VP Golden Image during the Diamond Anniversary celebration and Laura Byrnes, APR, presented state President Jeff Nall, APR, CPRC, and VP Annual Conference Gordon Paulus, APR, with a commemorative anniversary book she compiled highlighting chapter histories. A copy of the book is now part of FPRA’s permanent history museum.
The 2013-2014 year ended with a bang as the Ocala Chapter received the FPRA President’s Award for Communication at the State Association’s annual conference. Our own Tina Banner, APR, CPRC was honored as the FPRA Member of the Year. Chapter President Kevin Christian, APR, CPRC summed up the year:
91% = membership goal met (42 members)
29% = Ocala chapter members attended the 2014 Annual Conference
19 = # of FPRA media releases issued increasing chapter visibility in our community
12 = # of monthly meetings in our new venue, Holiday Inn Conference Center
12 = # of quality programming sessions / opportunities for professional development
12 = newsletters taken to new heights
10 = # of weekly APR study sessions this spring
5 = number of nominees for “Communicator of the Year”
2 = # of “Communicators of the Year” winners
2 = # of Ocala members earning their CPRC credentials – matching last year’s success!
2 = # of Annual Conference scholarships provided to chapter members
1 = Revamped and awesome web site
1 = fantastic year to “ThinkFPRA”
Under the leadership of Ocala Chapter President Jen Lowe, the chapter sparked a financial recovery from the heavy investment into the website renovation the previous year. Lowe was presented the President’s Award for financial management at the 77th Annual Conference. That conference was lead by our own Laura Byrnes, APR, CPRC!
Chapter of the Year!
It finally happened! For the first time, the Ocala Chapter was recognized at the 78th Annual Conference as Chapter of the Year! Several factors likely led to this honor.
1. Cox Communications became the first-ever $1,500 chapter sponsor leading to financial stability and enhancement of programming.
2. Chapter President Barbra Hernandez, APR had a mid-year job change and move which thrusted Lauren DeIorio into an early leadership role. Despite the leadership change, past presidents rallied in support. The chapter flourished.
3. Under the direction of Laura Byrnes, APR, CPRC, the 2016 Local Image Awards raised the event bar to a new level. For the first time, the Wilton F. Martin Communicator of the Year Awards were held in conjunction with Image Awards. The event attracted a record 80 attendees. Dave Schlenker was honored as the individual recipient and the Ocala International Film Festival received the nod as institutional winner.
#MyFPRA in Ocala
The 2016-17 FPRA State President Terri Behling, APR, CPRC set the theme of the year as #MyFPRA. Ocala was chosen as a centralized location to host the three state executive committee and board meetings. Though nothing extra was required, the Ocala Chapter took the opportunity to serve as hosts. Chapter leaders secured sponsors to host EC meetings and lovely receptions to welcome state board members to our community.
The Fall meetings introduced visitors to the Horse Capital of the World. The EC meeting and board reception was hosted by Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association. The executive committee made the cover of Wire to Wire magazine which was presented at the reception. Abundant refreshments and an open bar were provided free of charge to attendees. It was sponsored by FTBOA, Florida Equine Communications and Fresh Green Tomato Catering.
February showed off Ocala’s Downtown as EC was held at the Chamber and Economic Partnership conference room and the board reception was hosted by Brick City Center for the Arts. Attendees were able to view the exhibit placed for the upcoming Culinary Arts Festival as they, once again, enjoyed abundant refreshments and an open bar sponsored by Marion Cultural Alliance, Fresh Green Tomato and the Ocala Chapter.
The May EC meeting returned to FTBOA and culminated the state board visits with an exquisite reception hosted by Golden Ocala. As attendees soaked in the beauty of the surroundings, they sampled a delicious array of heavy hors d’oeuvres and open bar. The World Equestrian Center plans were revealed by host coordinator Amy Agricola.
The 2017 year was completed with chapter member Ginger Broslat, APR, CPRC serving as VP of Annual Conference. The 79th FPRA Annual Conference broke registration and sponsorship records.
Chapter of the Year and Fleischman Recipient
The 2017-2018 year was a milestone for the Ocala Chapter. For the second time in three years, Ocala was chosen as Chapter of the Year. Chapter President Lisa Varner, APR, CPRC presented her Top Ten Reason Ocala should be Chapter of the Year in her 2018 Chapter Management Report.
Ocala Chapter members shined at the FPRA 80th Annual State Conference. Lauren Debick graduated from Leadership FPRA Class Two. Seven members were recognized for service on the State executive committee. Six members received Golden Image Awards. The night culminated with a huge celebration as Kevin Christian, APR,CPRC was presented the Doris Fleischman Award.
2017-18 was an amazing year for FPRA Ocala!
Zoom and COVID-19
The 2018-2019 chapter theme PRoactive PR led by Lauren Debick, APR included several community service opportunities and getting to know your fellow members through outreach and socials. On the heels of receiving the “Smart. Engaged. Fun.” president’s award, the chapter rolled into the next year with Purpose. Katie Hunnicutt encouraged members to find purpose in everything they did professionally and personally.
In March 2020, the world came to a screeching halt with COVID-19, the world-wide pandemic that changed everything from meeting in-person to canceling FPRA’s Annual Conference for the first time in association history. It became the year of Zoom virtual meetings and wearing masks out in public. Christy Jergens, APR was president in 2020-2021 and lead with a theme of Resilience taking note that FPRA members can quickly pivot and recover from changes put in front of them.