FFVA emerging leaders make stop at Lawrence E. Will Museum

Posted 9/21/22

From the exterior, the Lawrence E. Will Museum looks like every other building in Belle Glade...

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FFVA emerging leaders make stop at Lawrence E. Will Museum


BELLE GLADE— From the exterior, the Lawrence E. Will Museum looks like every other building in Belle Glade – a modest structure blending in with the neighboring Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce, city hall complex and fire station. But inside, the unassuming building houses centuries of Belle Glade history, exploring and interpreting all aspects of the complex region.

The Glades Historical Society, under the leadership of Dr. Joe Orsenigo, first opened the museum in 1976. The museum was named in honor of Lawrence Will, best known as the unofficial Glades historian. Dr. Orsenigo was a distinguished agronomist from the Glades who led an illustrious agricultural career in Latin America and Florida. As an avid photographer and historian, his passion during his retirement years laid the foundation for what would become the museum as we know it today, exposing the younger generations to the history of the Glades. Much of that work was later carried on by Palm Beach County’s Historic Preservation Officer and Archaeologist Christian Davenport.

Class 11 of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s (FFVA) Emerging Leader Development Program (ELDP) recently met with Cheryl Rice Stein, museum curator and director, and Paul Orsenigo, son of Dr. Orsenigo and President of Grower’s Management, Inc., during their tour of farm operations in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Since 2011, the Emerging Leader Development Program has provided more than 110 young leaders with an immersive experience on the issues facing the agriculture industry. During the year-long program, participants visit FFVA’s headquarters to learn about all facets of the association; tour farming and packing operations in Florida; meet in Tallahassee with elected officials and state leaders during the legislative session; and travel to the heart of California’s agricultural region to get an even broader perspective. This year, the 15 members of Class 11 will graduate at FFVA’s annual convention in September.

During the tour, Class 11 learned that the museum’s namesake arrived in the Glades region in 1914 with his father, Dr. Thomas Will, from Washington, D.C. to develop a farming community south of Lake Okeechobee. Lawrence Will eventually published six books chronicling life on Lake Okeechobee and in the upper Everglades.

The museum features a variety of uniquely curated artifacts showcasing the evolution of agriculture in the area from an original Fordson tractor used in the Glades to sugar cane knives and safety equipment, and more. Stories from the 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane, during which an estimated 3,000 people were killed, are also told throughout the museum. The Lake Okeechobee News provided a look at the museum’s history last year as it celebrated its grand reopening.

Beyond the area’s rich agricultural history, the class also learned that Belle Glade resident Sara Lee Creech began to design the first anthropologically correct African American baby doll to be manufactured in America in 1949. The dolls were manufactured by the Ideal Toy Company in 1951, featured in the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalogue that very year, and sold at major retailers. Both First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Zora Neale Hurston were instrumental in getting the dolls to production.

From learning about the prehistoric people of the Belle Glade Cultural Area, the daunting challenges faced by the early pioneers, to the area’s unexpected wellspring of National Football League players, a stop at the Lawrence E. Will Museum is worth a visit.

The Lawrence E. Will Museum is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is located at 530 South Main Street.

Lawrence E. Will Museum, FFVA, ELDP, tour, farm operations