Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of 24 articles published by The Apopka Voice in 2017 that were among the most noteworthy. We will post all of them from December 26th and December 31st. Then on Monday, January 1st we will poll our readers and let them decide which is Apopka’s biggest story of 2017.
Story #7: His storied career rewrites a potentially traumatic family history
First published May 18th, 2017
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
Commissioner Billie Dean is a brash outspoken fighter. He has been for 24 years on the Apopka City Council, on the battlefields of Korea, and in the classrooms of Phillis Wheatley and Apopka High Schools.
His family history made it a requirement.
Dean announced yesterday that he will end his career on the City Commission in 2018, thus closing the book on one of Apopka’s political legends.
“I just think it’s time,” he said. “After 24 years I think I have served the community well and I think I have brought a lot of good to the community also. I feel it’s time for me to step aside and allow someone younger and with new ideas to step in.”
But to fully understand his storied career, you must first understand his roots, which in many ways began in Morriston, Florida circa 1920’s. Dean was not alive yet, but his relatives were about to experience an incident that would shape the family for generations to come.
Dean has been the voice crying out in the wilderness that is South Apopka for change, and improvements, and there have been highs and lows to that fight.
“South Apopka has not changed a lot except the county has paved some streets,” he said. “For years South Apopka had nothing but dirt, sand and clay roads. Central Avenue was a clay road when I came here in 1963. Michael Gladden Boulevard was a sand street. Other than the pavement, not much has changed.”
Perhaps Dean’s most fulfilling moment in the fight to bring improvement to South Apopka came in March with the beginning of the Habitat for Humanity project (Juniper and Arbor Bend) to bring 58 houses to the struggling community.
“It’s a God sent endeavor to do something on this side of the city,” Dean said. Affordable housing in South Apopka is what I have been fighting for as long as I’ve been a commissioner. Habitat taking the reins is just what we need.”
“Look over there,” he said pointing across the street past Juniper and Arbor Bend.” You see those houses? My wife and I built those homes. Beautiful 2-bedroom duplexes, 21 of them we built. Back in the 80’s. For decades I have been calling for this. This has been necessary for decades. I have been asking for this type of project well into the previous administration. This is a godsend for this community. They called it the Graveyard Quarters because of all the shacks they built right next to the graveyard. But no more.”
Dean may not be running for a seventh term in Seat #1, but he does have a preference as to who will succeed him – Pastor Alexander Smith.
“I nurtured that young man from elementary, high school, college… I carried him to college, Dean said of Smith. “I consider him my surrogate son. Alexander will be an asset to this community. He’s young. He was a teacher for 30 years. He is an Associate Pastor at New Hope Baptist Church and he has a lot of connection to this community. I think he is the ideal person to continue the legacy of Seat #1 and of Apopka.”
In April of 2018, Dean will watch as a new member of the Apopka City Commission will be sworn-in to sit in Seat #1… a seat that he has occupied for 24 years.
Dean will begin the next chapter in his life after a successful career on the Apopka City Commission that saw him rise to vice mayor of the second largest municipality in Orange County, after becoming the undisputed champion of South Apopka, and after re-writing a family history that was nearly erased from history in 1920.
Morriston is less than 100 miles from Apopka, but it may as well be on another planet as far as Billie Dean is concerned.