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Why would the dress code for the funeral of a former Pinellas County commissioner be "jeans and boots"?

Because after years as a political leader in one of Florida's most populous counties, Joseph "Joe" Wornicki retired to rural Webster in Sumter County to spend much of his time on horseback.

He traded long meetings in the County Courthouse and Pinellas Park City Hall for life on a 50-acre ranch, where he and his wife, Kathleen, spent their time raising, riding and showing quarter horses.

"Most of his friends in the later years were horse people," Kathleen Wornicki said.

But in Pinellas County, Wornicki will be remembered as a mayor of Pinellas Park, a county commissioner and a member of the Pinellas Sports Authority at the time when the "Florida Suncoast Dome" was an empty venue still seeking a Major League Baseball team.

Mr. Wornicki died of cancer on Saturday. He was 86.

"He was a super man," his wife said, and there's a story behind her comment. She said a Pinellas Park newspaper once asked: Does he think he's Superman? She said she wrote in anonymously: "No he didn't think he is Superman, he is just a super man."

Mr. Wornicki was born in Iowa in 1922. Years later, when asked to fill out a candidate questionnaire and list the schools he attended, he wrote simply: "Grew up in orphanage."

He was proud of serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a tail gunner. He was proud of the business he built in Pinellas County as a State Farm agent, where he earned honors as a top producer, and used the slogan the "Good Guy Nearby."

After serving as president of the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce, Wornicki was elected in 1974 as mayor of Pinellas Park. He was elected in 1976 as a Democrat to the County Commission, and served as chairman in 1979. But he ran in 1980 as a Republican and was defeated by Democrat Gabe Cazares.

Wornicki scrutinized the county budget and pledged not to raise taxes. He also vowed to fight drug abuse, and introduced an ordinance to ban drug paraphernalia. Later, he said he thought this stand was what caused him to lose re-election.

Although he was an insurance agent and politician, he also had many other interests. At one point he had an upholstery business. He also enjoyed racing stock cars at the Tampa Speedway and the Sunshine Speedway in Pinellas Park, and "had a lot of fun until his car flipped and he saw his life flash in front of him on the curve with all the race cars dodging him at high rates of speed," said his daughter Karen, a State Farm agent in St. Petersburg.

Wornicki also kept a love for horses and the rural life. He sometimes wore boots to the County Courthouse.

"I think he'd have always been happier if he'd been a cowboy," said Don M. Jones, who served with Wornicki on the commission.

He was divorced from his first wife, Dolores, in the mid 1970s.

He and Kathleen moved to Webster about 20 years ago. Asked if he missed the hustle and bustle of his political life in Pinellas County, she said, "for a very, very, very short time. He was glad to get away from it."

Information from "A History of the Board of County Commissioners of Pinellas County" was included in this report.


Joseph Wornicki

Born: Dec. 13, 1922.

Died: Sept 12, 2009.

Survivors: Wife, Kathleen; daughters, Karen Wornicki, Theresa Holly, Diana DeVito, and Pamela Hartnett; and grandchildren, Michele Holly, Joely Wornicki DelVecchio, Melanie Holly-Moss, Marcelle Pinto, Joseph Wornicki Brommelsick, Miranda Fender, Larry Holly Jr., Sophia M. Hartnett, Michael Rees Pinto, GraceLynn Holly, Deanna Meadows, Layla J. DelVecchio, and Maia Meadows.

Graveside services: Will be 11 a.m. Friday at the Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.