If you've ever had a question about St. Petersburg's rich history, Will Michaels is the right guy to ask. The former executive director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History knows just about all there is to know about our great city. He has written two books on St. Pete's past and seeks to commemorate its legacy in the many initiatives in which he is involved today. The latest is Flight 2014, a project to build a monument in recognition of the World's First Airline, known as the St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line, which flew from St. Petersburg to Tampa on New Year's Day 1914.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
Co-president of Bahama Shores Neighborhood Association, member of the Rotary Club, member of St. Matthew's Church, serves on city community planning and preservation commission.
What gets you out of bed every day?
Life gets me out of bed every day. I live in a beautiful community, I have a wonderful wife, three adult children - two of them still live here in St. Pete and one is in New York City. I've got four grandchildren. It's a great community and I'm enjoying being engaged in it. I play a lot of senior softball; I play on the Gulfport Boomerangs team and I also play on the Kids and Cubs, which has been playing in St. Pete since 1930.
Why St. Pete?
Well, it's paradise! We've got terrific weather here - usually. It gets a little hot during the summer, but even then it's really a beautiful place. The neighborhood I live in, Bahama Shores, is right on the bay and my wife and I take walks around the neighborhood, and along the bay, every day. It's just sunsets and sunrises and blue waters and pastel colors. There are fish swimming around the bay, and it's absolutely terrific.
What is one habit that you keep?
I would say it's being engaged in the community and trying to keep a balance on that with my family life and personal life.
who are some people that influence you?
From the standpoint of St. Petersburg history, I would say my hero is William Straub. He is the guy who is best credited for keeping the downtown waterfront for public use and for parkland. But beyond that he was really a wonderful community leader for many many years in our city. He was a guy who was able to come up with win-wins - compromises that worked and that have stood the test of time. Some of the other things that he was involved in - well one, for example - he created the county, Pinellas County. He led the effort to do that, and an example of his ability to compromise was that there was a fear that St. Petersburg would dominate the new county because it was the biggest city. So he said, "Let's make Clearwater the county seat instead of St. Petersburg." And that helped to unify folks on this side of the bay. The downtown waterfront parks, an example there would be that there was a lot of push for commercial development on the waterfront, and he was able to work out a compromise to save the downtown area of St. Pete for park land, but to support the development of a commercial port at Bayboro. Right now Bayboro is of course the University of South Florida, but prior to that - certainly in the 1920s and 1930s - it was a very viable commercial port in our city.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
I would say to be respectful, to listen, to be respectful of the opinions of others, where you maybe have disagreements with others. It might be a personal situation, it might be a city policy or project that you don't come out attacking a different point of view, but you take an approach which is gentle and tries to persuade rather than dominate the conversation.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
Well, the need for patience. Some of these projects - for example, a project I'm working on right now, the World's First Airline, we began that a couple of years ago and it's a steady grind to get that project done, to raise the funds that are necessary for the sculpture in the plaza . We're making progress on that, but it requires a commitment and persistence to get it accomplished. Hopefully it will happen.
I also write a lot about history. I have two books out - "The Making of St. Petersburg" and "The Hidden History of St. Petersburg." I'm a former director of a history museum. I had written articles for the Northeast Journal for more than 14 years, I don't think I've ever missed an edition. So think I will probably continue with that. I will perhaps emphasize the writing more and the meetings less.