Twelve years after our 40th President died from Alzheimer’s, Florida research and support groups are about to get some funding from an unlikely source, Ronald Reagan.
By Jacob Engels
Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley has introduced the Ronald Reagan specialty plate will provide funding to Florida organizations dedicated to finding a cure for this devastating disease. Florida has one of the largest number of victims with Alzheimer’s according to the Florida Council of Aging.
Over 500,000 are currently being treated and this number is expected to grow dramatically as Florida’s 21,000,000 population matures. President Reagan, the only President to be diagnosed with the disease made a very public announcement concerning Alzheimer’s in 1994.
Reagan’s announcement resulted in a dramatic increase in public awareness and funding for a cure.
“President Reagan’s journey with Alzheimer’s raised awareness about this struggle many families face. This will be one more thing we can recognize him for and this will be a way we can continue this effort to help those in this struggle,” said Representative Baxley.
The plate is the brainchild of the iconic T.G. Lee family of Orlando. The Lee family patriarch, Richard Lee, son of T.G. Lee founded the Ronald Reagan Centennial Foundation in 2011, on the 100th year of Reagan’s birth to provide assistance to those afflicted and those researching a cure in Florida.
The Lee family is proud to help support the Ronald Reagan license plate with the State of Florida.
The sample design.
“President Reagan was an American hero and we welcome the opportunity to promote his legacy. We look forward to providing much-needed funds both for research into a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and the Florida National Guard Foundation.
The plate is being created to provide funding to those research and support groups primarily with 10% being donated the Florida National Guard Foundation in recognition of those who have served and are still serving our great state,” according Richard Lee.
Those funds can be used by the Guard Foundation to establish greater awareness of the disease among the Guard. The plate has a very patriotic theme reminiscent of President Reagan’s presidency.
An official White House portrait picture of Reagan with the USS Ronald Reagan is in the background, a salute to Florida’s population of retired members of the armed forces, one of the largest in the United States as well as recognition of Florida’s National Guard, with a red, white and blue flag background.
The Lee Family has several generations of public service and stewardship in Orlando. T.G. Lee was founded over 75 years ago by Thomas Gilbert Lee. Today, T.G. Lee Foods Inc., based in Orlando, has two processing plants in central Florida. In Florida, you will see Lee-branded culture, cream, butter and eggs.
For most of the 20th century, the story of the dairy industry in Central Florida has been the story of one man: Thomas Gilbert Lee. Lee was born in Orlando in 1894 – the year of the first of back-to-back killer freezes that ravaged the Florida citrus industry. At the age of 16, he enrolled in a two-year business course at Rollins College, then studied agriculture for two more years at the University of Florida.
After suffering through World War I with pneumonia, Lee went to Texas and spent three years working in the oil fields. In 1925, his father gave him 20 acres, the family cow and cosigned a bank note so Lee could buy another cow and a calf. The T.G. Lee Dairy was born that year. Lee had to use his initials so his name would fit on a milk bottle.
”They had one cow, and they couldn’t drink all the milk, so they sold some to a neighbor,” Lee’s son, Richard, recalled whimsically last week of the origins of his father’s business.
In fact, T.G. Lee set out to go into the dairy business – despite the fact that he had more than 50 competitors in Orlando. Most were small operations like his. In the early years, it’s been reported that Lee worked 20-hour days because he did the milking and delivering himself while Mrs. Lee did the accounting and the bottling.
He milked his cows in a 10-by-10-foot lean-to shack on Bumby Avenue – near the site of the present-day T.G. Lee Foods Inc. plant and offices. Starting in the mid-1950s, Lee expanded by buying up other dairies. Over the next 15 years, he would purchase almost 70 dairy businesses.
Some were tiny operations, as his had been at the start. But others were established competitors in Winter Park, DeLand, Daytona Beach and elsewhere. In 1955, Lee sold 20 acres at Colonial Drive and Bumby Avenue to a New York real estate investing group for $200,000 in preparation for building the $3.5 million Colonial Plaza shopping center.
It would be the largest retail project in the city’s history up to that time, and it later became Orlando’s first mall. He built his modern processing plant on the remaining 36 acres just south of Colonial Plaza which is still there today. T.G. Lee is the only dairy left in Orange County and the largest in Florida.
It serves an area stretching from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach and west to Tampa and south. TG Lee left more than 2,000 acres between Conway and Orlando International Airport. Today, LeeVista Inc., which Richard Lee heads, is developing the land for hotels, multifamily homes, offices and industrial and commercial space.
Richard Lee attributes his father’s success to ”his dedication to hard work, ability to hire and – through personal efforts – get the loyalty of real good people.”
The plate will get its first hearing on Wednesday in Tallahassee before a House subcommittee, where local State Representative Mike Miller sits as an influential member in his first term.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org