Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Marilyn J. Heminger

Marilyn Heminger, groundbreaking principal in Pinellas, dies

ST. PETERSBURG — The appointment of Marilyn Heminger as principal of Gibbs High School in 1981, making her the first female high school principal in Pinellas County in almost 50 years, provoked skepticism in some, disappointment in others.

It also landed Mrs. Heminger, who was white, in the middle of a race-based controversy.

A School Board member announced he would oppose the appointment, saying Gibbs "needs the strong physical presence and the strong moral presence of a man."

While she had her share of critics, none accused Mrs. Heminger of lacking a strong presence. She survived both the Gibbs controversy and a campus shooting as principal at Pinellas Park High School seven years later.

Mrs. Heminger, a music teacher who proved to critics that a woman could handle the bumps and bruises of running a high school, died March 23, of a respiratory illness. She was 80.

"She was a very strong leader in that you knew where you stood with her," said Sara Dubbeld, a Gibbs English teacher when Mrs. Heminger was hired. "Her expectations were her expectations, and everybody pretty much followed along with that."

She grew up in South Bend, Ind., the daughter of a postal worker. Through her cello skill, she won a music scholarship to Hillsdale College in Michigan. She moved to Pinellas County in 1957 with her husband, Duane Heminger. Joining the Pinellas County schools in 1969, she worked at Meadowlawn, Riviera and Safety Harbor middle schools, then Dixie Hollins High School, where she served as assistant principal.

Word of her appointment to Gibbs riled community leader Watson Haynes, who thought that Gibbs, which served many black students, needed a black principal. "I think this decision shows real insensitivity to the needs of the black community," he said.

School Board member Jerry Castellanos, who made the "moral presence" comment, questioned her ability to break up fights.

Others bristled over newspaper accounts calling Mrs. Heminger the first female high-school principal in Pinellas County. Theresa Snell McKinney, a black woman, was principal at Gibbs for several months in 1932, but resigned for health reasons and died in 1933.

In the end, the School Board unanimously confirmed Mrs. Heminger. Under her, Gibbs won a $30,000 grant for a performing and visual arts center.

After six years at Gibbs, she became principal of Pinellas Park High, where she faced a new set of challenges. In 1988, a student shot and killed an assistant principal and wounded two other educators.

"The aftermath was really tough on her," said Charles Wintz, her brother. After vetoing an account of the shooting in the school newspaper, she fired the newspaper's adviser, calling her insubordinate, then saw the decision overturned in arbitration.

She retired in 1990, and enjoyed scuba diving through Florida's springs and sunken ships. She won cutting horse competitions, separating sheep from the herd.

"I want people to think I am intelligent and that I make good decisions," Mrs. Heminger said.


Marilyn J. Heminger

Born: Sept. 1, 1929.

Died: March 23, 2010.

Survivors: Brother Charles Wintz and his wife Sandra; sister Alberta Kennard; and several nieces and nephews.

Service: Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, date to be determined.

Marilyn Heminger, groundbreaking principal in Pinellas, dies 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 8:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Largo commissioners raise ceiling on next year's property tax rate

    Local Government

    LARGO — The proposed budget included a recommendation for the property tax rate to remain the same, but city commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to increase the maximum rate in a move to give city officials more flexibility.

    City Manager Henry Schubert says the city needs to take a look at its operation.
  2. Allegiant Air reports $400 million in revenue for second quarter

    Allegiant Air CEO Maurice J. Gallagher Jr. | [Courtesy of Tony Jannus Aviation Society]
  3. Dade City's Wild Things touts cub encounters as conservation, but experts say they lead to too many tigers languishing in cages


    DADE CITY — A lifelong animal lover, Lisa Graham was intrigued when she saw photos on social media of friends cuddling and petting baby tigers at zoos.

    A tiger named Andy is seen at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Big Cat Rescue is a nonprofit sanctuary committed to humane treatment of rescued animals, often coming from exploitive for-profit operations. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times

  4. Once close to death in Ukraine, sick girl finds hope in Tampa Bay

    Human Interest

    Everything was packed for Walt Disney World. Clothes for three nights. The pressurized air vest and pump that travel with her. The dress she would wear to meet Cinderella.

    Marina Khimko, 13, pauses for a moment during a walking exercise to test her prosthetic legs at a fitting appointment Dec. 7 at the Shriners Hospital for Children's Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services in Tampa.  [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  5. What you need to know for Thursday, July 27


    href=""> Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Marina Khimko, now 14, pauses for a moment during a walking exercise to test her prosthetic legs at a fitting appointment at the Shriners Hospitals for Children's Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services in Tampa.  [ANDRES LEIVA | Times]