• A Message from the President
  • 2020-2021 VAHS Events Calendar
  • Centennial 2021 Kick-Off Event
  • Circus Train Car Update
  • Historic Preservation
  • Florida Humanities Council Grant Expanded
  • Two Ways to Support VAHS
  • VAHS Welcomes Our Newest Members
  • New Home for "Old Betsy"
  • In Memory
  • Business Ads
  • Membership Application

A Message from the President


October 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

With fall coming upon us, this is the traditional time to welcome everyone back from summer vacations, travels both domestic and abroad, and a respite from the busy world of volunteering and activities.  As we are all still very aware, due to the worldwide Coronavirus Pandemic, some of us never left Venice or traveled anywhere or participated in many public or even family activities.  We are now living in our “new-normal” world, where to quote Alice, as she went through the looking glass to Wonderland, "Things have gotten very curious."

Many of our regular activities have been curtailed, beginning with our free and open-to-the-public lecture series.  This series, funded by the Dr. Bill Jervey, Jr. Charitable Foundation, will go on, however, just in a different way.  Watch your email for news and instructions about the lecture schedule and format.  

Our free docent-led tour schedule at the Historic Venice Train Depot has been on hold since March, due to the Pandemic.  As things progress, we will be looking for the safest way to proceed and get things "back on track."  To all our loyal, current and soon-to-be new volunteers, be of good cheer.  As we try to get a better handle on controlling the way we can deal with our interaction with the public, we will be calling you back to do your part in telling the story of Venice’s history.  In the meantime, don’t forget to keep your dues up to date and perhaps consider a little extra financial support for the Society.  With the forced shut-down on so many of our activities, our regular income has also been curtailed, but the need for meeting regular expenses continues.

And while we’re talking about the Depot, this would be a good time to tell you that it’s “full steam ahead” on the Circus Car project.  The interior construction is entering its final stages and we look forward to moving the car to the Depot campus very soon.

So you can see, my friends, it is not all doom and gloom.  Life does go on, just in a little different way than we ever thought we would see.  As we wait for the “all clear” signal, may I remind you once more to continue to extend support and kindness in any way you can … to your friends and neighbors, acquaintances, and even strangers.  Pay your way forward with a kind word, a smile, or some small act of encouragement.  Let us continue to make the best of life that we can until we are able to safely say again "Come, celebrate history with us!"

Sue Chapman, President

2020-2021 VAHS Events Calendar

*Fall 2020 Betty Intagliata Lecture Series--Women Get the Vote (August 26, 1920).  Programs will be Video Presentations.  The link to the videos will be on the VAHS website  You will be notified by email when they are available for viewing.

*October 20, 2020: "Overview of the Women's Movement in U.S" by Kathryn Chesley.  Kathryn will be dressed as a "Suffragist."  Ms. Chesley hails from Sarasota and does many re-enactments. 

Kathryn Chesley

*November 17, 2020: "So Women Got the Vote.  What Did They Do with It?" by Phyllis Vogel, former President of the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County (2016-2018).

Phyllis Vogel

NOTE:  You will be notified by email when these presentations above are available for viewing.

*Spring 2021 Betty Intagliata Lecture Series:

Theme will be Local History (Laurel, Nokomis, Englewood, Venice, and Sarasota) to celebrate 100 years since Sarasota became its own County in 2021.  Watch our website for details as they become available.  These will be video presentations.  Dates scheduled are January 19, February 16, March 16, April 20, and May 18.

*The Betty Intagliata Lecture Series is sponsored by the Venice Area Historical Society, with permanent funding provided by the Bill Jervey, Jr. Charitable Foundation.  All programs are FREE and OPEN to the public.

December 2020 Christmas Party has been canceled due to COVID-19.

Centennial 2021 Kick-Off Event

The Events Subcommittee of the Sarasota County Centennial 2021 Steering Committee has put together a wonderful community-wide celebration for marking our County’s 100th Anniversary (1921-2021).  This event will be FREE.

Date:  January 9, 2021. 

Rain Date: January 16, 2021.

Time:  11 am to 4 pm

The event will take place in the front field of PHILLIPPI ESTATE PARK and inside the Edson Keith Mansion.  The park is located on the west side of U.S. 41 in Sarasota.  Plenty of parking space is available.

Inside Edson Keith Mansion, there will be an exhibit entitled, “Behind-the-Scenes Circus Photos from 1920s and 30s.”  Outside, volunteers at tables under tents will give out information about a variety of historical groups, members of the History & Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County, and some local Chamber of Commerce organizations.

Other highlights will include: 

  • Food vendors
  • Re-enactors portraying JOHN and MABLE RINGLING, BERTHA PALMER & others
  • Musical entertainment
  • Bella Nock
  • Children’s Activities
  • One or two “surprise” guests
  • A special reading of a “Proclamation” at 3 pm.

Please put the date on your calendar now.  Don’t forget to stop by the VAHS table and greet Bertha Palmer and our wonderful Depot Docents.

Circus Train Car Update

As can be seen in these exciting pictures, interior construction inside the circus car is nearing completion.  The plan is to move the car to the Depot before the end of the year.  Once the car is placed on the rails near the caboose, a walkway from the deck behind the caboose to the circus car will be built for future visitor access to the car.  Then, the exhibits portraying Venice’s circus history and circus legacy will be installed.

The exhibits will chronicle key events that occurred during Venice’s circus years (1960-1992).  Also included will be three residences, showing how Gunther Gebel Williams, Boss Clown Chuck Sidlow, and Clown Peggy Williams lived on the circus train.  Chuck Sidlow is still performing in the Venice-Sarasota area, as can be seen at

At long last, this train is coming down the tracks!

Photos by George Miller 

Historic Preservation


Betty Intagliata

Chair, VAHS Historic Preservation Committee

As of this writing, the City of Venice is confronting an important historic preservation issue.  A home within the John Nolen Historic District, built in 1927 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, is under threat of "DEMOLITION."  The house is located at 233 Pensacola Road, and in August, its owners were given permission by the Venice Architectural Review Board (ARB) to demolish it.  The vote was 4-2.

An immediate appeal was made to the Venice City Council by some Venice citizens, and a hearing will take place on October 13th at 9 AM, either in person at City Hall or via Zoom.  I hope that our VAHS members will voice opposition to the demolition prior to the hearing by sending letters addressed to Mayor Feinsod and Venice City Council, 401 West Venice Avenue, Venice, FL 34285.

Demolition requires a certificate of architectural compliance from the ARB because the house is located in the John Nolen Plan, Venice Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The 1927 house built by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is considered a "contributing structure" to the John Nolen Plan for the city.

Approximately six months ago, the Venice Historic Preservation Board developed a "Historic Preservation Ordinance" to be presented to the Venice City Council.  It was reviewed by the Venice Planning Board and was then sent to the Venice Planning Department where it still sits.

As its own history shows, VAHS has an important role to play in preserving historic structures in Venice.  It was founded in 1991 as the Venice Area Historic Preservation League, Inc. after a number of organizational meetings.  At the time, many long-time residents of Venice were adamant that “Historic Preservation” be in the society’s name.  They included Dr. Douglas Murphy, one of the founding doctors of Venice Hospital, Betty Arnall who kept city archives in her home and in a closet at the Venice Library, and Mary Eddy who came to Venice as a child and married a soldier at the Venice Army Air Base in WWII.

When Rollins Coakley was President, the Board decided to add a “doing business as” to the Society’s name, resulting in the complete name “Venice Historic Preservation League, Inc., d/b/a Venice Area Historical Society.”  The d/b/a name that is currently used does not include the word “Preservation,” but preserving the heritage of the Venice area remains an important goal of VAHS.  As stated on its website, "Through historic preservation, a society such as VAHS protects buildings, places, and objects of historical significance for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations."  

VAHS’s commitment to preserving “buildings, places, and objects” has been shown in many ways.  Rollins Coakley spent hundreds of hours at Sarasota County meetings in order to save the Historic Venice Train Depot, built in 1927.  Rollins was not alone in this endeavor, but he certainly spearheaded it, and as a result, a park at the Depot bears his name.  Clarke Pressly leads the Society's "Plaque Program" which, to date, has placed plaques on six historic buildings in Venice.  VAHS also supported the original "Friends of the Lord-Higel House," contributing a goodly amount of money to the renovation of Venice’s oldest pioneer home.  This continuing effort is currently led by Venice Heritage, Inc., formed from the merger of the Friends of the Lord-Higel House and the former Triangle Inn Association.  And finally, George Miller and Mary Huba have spent hundreds of hours leading VAHS’s efforts to preserve a Ringling circus train car that was once located at Ringling Bros.’ winter headquarters in Venice.  The refurbished car will soon be placed at the Venice Train Depot. 

As Chair of the VAHS Historic Preservation committee, I would like to hear from our members who may have questions about historic preservation in Venice or questions about the 233 Pensacola Road home.  Please send your thoughts to me at

Florida Humanities Council Grant Expanded

The Florida Humanities Council has granted an additional $3,000 to the Venice Area Historical Society. It will be used to offset loss in revenues due to the COVID-19 crisis such as donations, membership dues, and fundraising revenue.  The grant will cover certain operating expenses for the period 3/27/20 to 2/28/21.  Funding has been provided from the National Endowment for the Humanities through a grant from Florida Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.  Barbara Smith, VAHS Board Member, is the grant manager and may be reached at

“Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed by Venice Area Historical Society, do not necessarily represent those of Florida Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.”


Use AmazonSmile

and New Donate Now Button

AmazonSmile is operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice.

Also, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has provided a way for you to donate to VAHS online.  This can be a one-time or recurring donation.  Click on the green "Donate Now" button to see how it works.



Elaine C. Wood      Sherry and Gary Curtis

Earl and Karen Midlam


VAHS President Sue Chapman outlined many good reasons for joining the Society in her remarks at the beginning of this newsletter.  We welcome new energy to keep our initiatives strong.  Volunteers are needed in all areas, and joining with a friend can provide an outlet for a new shared interest.  The fall has traditionally been a popular time for joining and renewing, but actually one can join at any time.  If you would like to have a personal chat to find out more about our goals, needs, and plans, please contact me at or leave a brief message on the VAHS phone at 941-412-0151.

For those who are unsure of renewal dates, these two venues will also be helpful.  

Carol Bailey, Membership Chair

New Home for "Old Betsy"

Fundraising is underway by Venice Heritage, Inc. for "Old Betsy's" new home.  "Old Betsy" is Venice's 1926 LaFrance Fire Engine.  It was originally used to fight fires from Gulf Gate to Englewood.  Now, it is driven in parades by Earl Midlam.  The new home will be a hurricane-hardened, air-conditioned structure on the Cultural Campus.

Above is a rendering of the future "Old Betsy" Display Building provided by Beechwood Builders.

Donate to Old Betsy's New Home by mailing a check to:

 Venice Heritage Inc., P.O. Box 1190, Venice FL 34284-1190, with “Old Betsy’s New Home” noted on the check.  

In Memory

Sadly, VAHS has lost three individuals who were passionate in their love of history and preservation, and who could be counted on to share their knowledge and skills.  All were active members of VAHS as well as many other non-profit groups in Venice, and their dedication and legacies will be remembered for many years.

Harold "Jack" Bauer, age 82, died on July 29, 2020.  He and his wife, Judie, were usually seen together, whether working on a project or attending a lecture.  Friendly and always willing to "lend a hand," he is perhaps best remembered for his dedication to the restoration of the Lord-Higel House.  He had a background of completing restoration projects from earlier years in the Cincinnati, OH area, and he brought that same passion to his adopted state of Florida. He inspired many to volunteer.

Colonel Vincent P. Surwilo, USAF, Retired, age 80, died on September 27, 2020.  Vince and his wife Maggie offered their support and skills to many VAHS sponsored events, often serving as greeters.  Many of our members will fondly remember the tall man who calmly greeted and counted them as they came to programs.  Little did many of us realize that ‘commanding’ appearance came naturally from serving his country for so many years. He enjoyed a little friendly competition with another tall male volunteer as to who could count more people coming to the programs.  Vince enjoyed Venice and giving back to his chosen place for retirement.

David Werner Tschanz, age 67, died August 23, 2020.  David was a skilled photographer and writer, and combined with his many interests, he was willing to offer his extensive background knowledge to groups like VAHS.  He was particularly interested in the Civil War and was a lecturer who could be counted on to make facts, some perhaps not well known, interesting to his audiences. 

These men had extensive membership associations with philanthropic groups and details can be found at the Farley Funeral Home website. 

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Office: (941) 412-0151 • PO Box 995, Venice, FL 34284-0995