Historical Society Panel Discusses Early Days Of Wellington

The Wellington Historical Society presented a virtual panel discussion Wednesday, Nov. 18 about the history of Wellington, from the first sales of lots in the community through two incorporation initiatives, the original comprehensive land use plan, initial efforts to make Wellington the “Winter Equestrian Capital of the World,” to celebrity sightings, including the famed visit by Prince Charles and Princess Diana for a polo match.

The local pioneers participating in “A Discussion of Wellington’s Early Days,” were themselves actual participants in the village’s history: Tom Wenham, Dr. Carmine Priore and Jim Ogorek. They shared their recollections via the Zoom platform in a discussion that was led by longtime resident Chuck Edgar, a Wellington Historical Society board member. He had a list of enlightening questions, and also took questions from viewers during the discussion.

The presentation opened with a moment of silence to honor Wellington pioneers Ken Adams and Denis Quinlan, who both recently passed away and were instrumental in the development of the village.

Wenham, the village’s first elected mayor, moved to Wellington in 1981 and has been an active community member throughout the years. He served on the board of the Acme Improvement District, Wellington’s first local governing body, and following incorporation in 1995, served on Wellington’s first council. From 2000 to 2003, he was chosen by his fellow council members to serve as mayor. In 2003, he became the village’s first elected mayor. Since leaving the council in 2008, he has focused on other public service duties. He currently chairs the Wellington Community Foundation.

Priore, who served longer than anyone else on the Wellington Village Council before his retirement in 2012, was also instrumental in the incorporation of the village during its two efforts. He served on the Acme board and on the inaugural council, including two years as mayor back when it was an appointed position. He remains active today in community service and was recently added to the Wellington Founder’s Plaque.

Ogorek moved to the community in 1979 to do work on behalf of the Gould company, one of Wellington’s primary early developers. Later he worked in-house for Gould and then worked as a contractor, vowing never to leave the area that his family loved as their home, despite much trepidation about moving to the community originally.

Ogorek came to know Wellington in its earliest days as a senior manager with Ernst & Young in charge of auditing Gould Inc. Later working for Gould as vice president of administration and finance, he became involved in all facets of development and management overseeing club and golf operations, food and beverage, and ultimately development and construction.

Ogorek described the Gould company selling lots that would be financed and available for building in 10 years. He said the financing provided the capital to build the roads, golf courses and clubs in the village. Gould’s chairman was Bill Ylvisaker, an equestrian with a love for polo who thought that adding the equestrian element to the community would make it successful.

Originally, Ogorek said he was sent to the community to keep an eye on assets and make sure that Ylvisaker wasn’t getting overly ambitious about “the horse aspect and his plan to make the community upscale by adding the equestrian features and other amenities,” he said. “Bill wanted to add our 1,600 acres with other parcels owned by Alcoa and the Stribling group and some others… to create the 16,000 acres Wellington is now.”

Early on, buying a home in Wellington was a bargain. “The first homes sold in Wellington were $40,000… two homes per acre, and it has grown to what it is today,” Ogorek recalled.

As the 10-year period for the land lots was expiring and people were beginning to build houses, Gould sold its share. “It was my suggestion,” Ogorek said. “It was a great time to sell. The company had made a lot of money, and it was a good deal for both parties.”

Wenham recalled that he and his wife came down in 1980 and bought their Wellington house in 1981, and they still live in the same home. He spoke about what he calls the “Wellington Miracle Mile” that begins on Forest Hill Blvd. at the turnpike. He described how it passes by parks and a school, the housing developments then at State Road 7, there is a mall and a hospital, next a library and another school, a commemoration including flags of the country, state and all the divisions of the armed forces, followed by more homes, shopping, a row of churches, then Southern Blvd. with another hospital and a college on the border.

“It is just the way we planned it,” Wenham said. “No section with all businesses or large condominium units.”

Priore spoke about living in Miami when it was a much smaller town, and how he and his wife liked it.

“Wellington was a smaller place size-wise and population-wise. It was a place where the kids could go to elementary school, junior high and high school in the same community,” he said. “I just love that and really enjoyed the concept that we were able to get to know everybody in the community.”

The panel explained in as much of a conversation as Zoom software can permit that the first incorporation effort failed because many residents thought it would mean higher taxes. But some $8 million every year was going to the county, and the community had little to show for it. Perhaps more importantly, nearby Greenacres was likely to consider annexing the land between the turnpike and SR 7 along Forest Hill Blvd. It was the “front door” of the Wellington community, and many thought Wellington residents should decide what went there.

These issues were popularized, and the second incorporation effort was successful, although narrowly. Priore said the village brought home the tax money, and Wenham added that Wellington’s share of the gasoline tax alone has been instrumental. Most amazing memory? Ogorek admitted that, yes, he and his wife had a celebratory dinner along with others, joined by the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Village Attorney Laurie Cohen is also the president of the Wellington Historical Society. She said that the nonprofit organization is designed to capture and preserve the history of the village while the founders and pioneers are still available to tell their stories and share their memories.

The organization was founded in 2013 by former Councilman Howard Coates, now a judge, who formed the entity after a discussion with Cohen and others to get the ball going. Three years ago, the group elected a board, held a retreat, and organized programs and events, including a popular New Year’s Eve dinner dance. Cohen said that the organization welcomes new members and donors, and there are even board memberships available.

For more information, visit www.wellingtonhistorical.com.