Heroes of History

Our Heroes of History at the Historical Society of Sarasota County

Heroes of History: Who they are and why they are admired by HSoSC
Expanding upon our HSoSC mission, which is to teach about the history of Sarasota County and the State of Florida, our board decided in 2015 that is was time to publicly recognize outstanding individuals who bring the past to life in creative ways. This evolved into a Hero of History award, presented annually to show appreciation to those who have made exemplary contributions in researching and writing about Sarasota history, teaching about Sarasota history, providing philanthropy for preservation as well as preservation and conservation activism in Sarasota and the State of Florida. The award ceremony is typically held in the spring of the year and is a luncheon celebration.  

We have been so pleased to honor and salute these Heroes of History:

2015: Jeff LaHurd, History Research

2015 Hero of History Jeff LaHurd

Jeff LaHurd has written more than a dozen books on Sarasota, starting in 1999 with “Quintessential Sarasota.” He worked at the History Center for 11 years as historian and he is a contributor to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune where he writes articles on Sarasota in past times. A lecturer and tour guide, LaHurd is noted for his wry sense of humor when revealing details about Sarasota’s leaders, developers, politicians, scoundrels and old-time movers and shakers who helped shape the West Coast of Florida. He grew up in Sarasota and whenever Jeff LaHurd’s name is on a program about history, the event sells out. His many books provide a window into the past and a step back in time that leads us all to a better understanding of modern Sarasota.

2016: Sue Blue, Scholarship

Suzette Jennings Blue, whom most of us associate with her popular Saturday morning historic trolley tours, is a woman with a passion for preservation and for teaching about the past. She is a historian, author and an actress and since 2004 she’s been a board member and volunteer at HSoSC. Sue has worked on preservation projects such as the Lido Pool, Sarasota High School, the Van Wezel home, the Municipal Auditorium, the Bidwell-Wood House and Crocker Church. Sue authored a series of 20 articles on Sarasota history that appeared in Scene magazine. Additionally, Sue wrote the play “Mr. Bidwell.” Sue served on Sarasota County Historical Commission from 2008 – 2012. She lives in and curates a house that her grandfather built in 1925.

2017: John McCarthy, Preservation Work

John McCarthy is a Hero of History for his personal passion for history and for his long career in public service in the areas of history education, research, and leadership. He served as Sarasota County’s second official historian (beginning at the age of 19) and went on to have a 32-year-career in County Government, where he was most well-known for his work as General Manager of Parks and Recreation until retirement when he took up new roles in the service of history and preservation. He is a frequent lecturer and conducts tours on water and land, creating memorable experiences for those who yearn to learn about the past. Additionally, he helps area non-profits with strategic planning and board training so that volunteer organizations can maximize their potential and impact.

2018: Howard Tibbals, Philanthropy

Howard Tibbals is a Hero of History for his achievements in research, scholarship, philanthropy, preservation and education culminating in The Howard Bros. Circus Model in the Tibbals Learning Center at The Ringling Museums. It is the most comprehensive miniature circus in the world and has been enjoyed by more than 3-million people from all over the globe so far. Howard Tibbals has been teaching through carving and assembling his circus for 60 years and he continues to add to his circus. This important miniature circus illuminates the history of the American tent circus and is a teaching tool like no other because it depicts America’s most popular form of entertainment as it showcases what everyday was like for Americans (and show folk) during a specific time period in history.

2019: Michael Saunders, Champion of Everything Sarasota

Michael Saunders has made it her life’s work to connect new people coming to our region with homes and neighborhoods while also connecting them with the area’s rich history. Her passion for the environment led her to serve on the board of Mote Marine Laboratory and The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens for eighteen years, where she was instrumental in the inception of the Children’s Rainforest Garden. This Hero of History has spent her life in Southwest Florida, a place where her ancestors contributed to the development of Sarasota and Manatee Counties since 1895. She has provided exemplary stewardship of history and demonstrates giving back to the community. Her foundation’s philanthropy to children and families in need has made her a hero to all.

Coming Attraction!

Jon Thaxton is the designated Hero of History for 2020. An official celebration of his achievements and the presentation of his award should have happened in March 2020 at a grand luncheon with speakers attesting to the many accomplishments of this activist in the cause of preservation and conservation, especially of Florida’s natural spaces. But the HSoSC Hero of History recipients are not only recipients for one year. They are heroes for all time. So, we look forward to celebrating Jon Thaxton’s life in government, the non-profit sector and his private life through affiliation with history, preservation and conservation organizations on March 18, 2021. A worldwide pandemic has delayed his public recognition, but not diminished it one bit.