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He humbly helped shape his community // William Dean McGinnes | 1910-2006

Published Dec. 8, 2006

He ran one of Plant City's most prosperous businesses and was a driving force behind its hospital and a major financial institution.

His accomplishments, and his contributions to the community, astounded those who knew him best. But Willard McGinnes seldom spoke of the way he had shaped the quality of life in Plant City and never wanted credit.

"Mr. McGinnes was simply one of the most humble and most caring individuals I have ever met in my life," said Bill Ulbricht, administrator of South Florida Baptist Hospital. "He didn't do things for himself."

Mr. McGinnes, who died Nov. 30 from congestive heart failure at age 95, was instrumental in the founding of the hospital.

He served as chairman of its board from 1954 until 1966 and was still active on the board until his death.

"I can't remember him missing a single board meeting," Ulbricht said. "If you had a problem, he was there with a solution. It didn't matter if he was 25 or 95."

Mr. McGinnes was born in Ocala but grew up in Lakeland. He was a star tennis player at Lakeland High School and the University of Florida.

Even some of Mr. McGinnes' own family didn't find out until decades later about his accomplishments on the tennis court.

In the early 1960s, Mr. McGinnes took his son's high school tennis team to the Masters Tennis Tournament, a now-defunct competition that brought the major stars of the day to St. Petersburg.

Mr. McGinnes' son, Dub, was gazing in awe at the names of past winners etched on the tournament trophy, including legends Arthur Ashe and Roy Emerson. Then he saw that the winner in 1933 was a man named W.D. McGinnes.

"I ran over to him and said, 'Dad, is that you?' " Dub McGinnes recalled. "He just said, 'Oh, yeah, I won it back then.' "

About the same time that he won that tournament, Mr. McGinnes met a young woman named Helen Sanders.

In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, they married and Mr. McGinnes bought a lumber yard in Plant City. It turned into McGinnes Lumber and Supply, which he continued to operate until he sold it to a national chain a few years ago.

He fought financial and political battles to make sure the hospital opened in 1953. The next year, he flew to Washington to lobby for a federal savings and loan for Plant City. His efforts culminated in the establishment of First Federal Savings and Loan, now Sunshine State Federal Savings and Loan. He was the first chairman of the board and served on the board until his death.

He passed away peacefully at home, sitting in his favorite chair, wearing his favorite bathrobe.

"He was a man of few words, but I learned so much by the way he lived, the way he acted and the things he did," Dub McGinnes said. "He was my father, but he was also the most amazing man I ever met."

Besides his son, Mr. McGinnes is survived by his daughter, Mary Jane Hoffman, seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.