Editor’s Note: This is the 13th 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.
First published November 3rd, 2017
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
John Land was a giant.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the seven-foot bronze statue in front of the Apopka City Hall where Land was immortalized this morning at an unveiling and dedication ceremony where he served as Apopka's mayor for seven decades.
Need more proof? Keep reading about the life and times of this iconic figure in Apopka history.
Land was Mayor of Apopka for a total of 61 years, from 1950 to 1968 and again from 1971 to 2014. He was the longest-serving mayor in the history of Florida and the second longest-serving mayor in US history.
Land was mayor for 19 terms, and according to several sources presided over 1,483 out of the 1,488 City Council meetings that were scheduled in those 61 years. He worked alongside 40 different city commissioners in that time span.
He was mayor when Apopka was a small town of 2,254 people, and when it grew to 45,000 residents and became Orange County's second-largest city.
But let's put his astounding time in office into historical perspective.
Land was mayor of Apopka through the terms of 12 U.S. Presidents. He was mayor during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. He was mayor during segregation, integration, and when the Civil Rights Act was signed. He was mayor when the Apollo projects at NASA began, and when the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles exploded.
He was mayor of Apopka for the entirety of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both conflicts in Iraq, and the current war in Afghanistan. He was mayor during the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. He was mayor when President Ronald Reagan said: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Land was mayor during assassinations, resignations, and recounts. He was mayor when America was described as a shining city on the hill... when police officers, firefighters, and first responders ran into the fire and smoke and rubble that the twin towers had become on September 11th, 2001, and he was mayor when the first black president of the United States was inaugurated.
He was mayor during the good and bad times of American history, and he was a part of its history as well.
John Horting Land was born in Plant City in 1920, but he and his family moved to Apopka soon after. He graduated from Apopka High School in 1938, and then went to the University of Florida before leaving college to join the Army during World War II.
He served under General George S. Patton in Europe and was present at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany in 1945.
After the war, Land helped run the family business of Consumers Lumber and Veneer, which made wire-bound crates for various agricultural products grown in the immediate Apopka area. He also had a bulk oil business.
But politics and public service seemed to be in Land's blood.
Soon after returning to Apopka, Land ran in the 1949 Mayoral election. He won, and in 1950 was inaugurated as the 24th Mayor of Apopka at the age of 29. 2018 will be the first time in 69 years his name does not appear on a mayoral ballot in Apopka.
Pete Pasha was the sculptor who crafted the Land statues. He also spoke at the unveiling ceremony and seemed to capture Land's essence both in the bronze figure and in his words.
"When a sculptor fashions a person, it should do more than capture a likeness... but was John Land really seven-feet-tall? No.... he was taller. Mayor John Land rose to the occasion for the city of Apopka during his life. God made him that tall. He was larger than life."
Note: John Land's Wikipedia page and the narrative in the John Land Trust website contributed to this story, and served as reference material as well.