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Descendants recall stories of the era when Brandon became Brandon.
Published Feb. 23, 2012

The laws of the universe took a backseat for a few hours Tuesday as Brandon collectively turned back its clock.

Marking the 155th anniversary of John and Martha Brandon's arrival in the area, the annual Community Affairs Dinner at Center Place Fine Arts & Civic Association invited six members of pioneering local families to share in a celebration of Brandon's past.

The panel included members of the Brandon, Mulrennan, King, Bryan and Simmons families.

Sponsored by the Community Roundtable, the dinner ranks among the social highlights of the year in Brandon and features the announcement of the Alice B. Tompkins Award for outstanding volunteer, the Non Profit of the Year and the recipient of the Maureen Krzanowski Scholarship.

The panel highlighted the evening, however, beginning with Mike Brandon, who said packing his wife and family into two wagons and leaving Mississippi was no small task for his famous forebear.

"My great-grandfather heard they were giving away good land in Florida to draw people here so he took a 700-mile trip, crossing 32 different rivers and streams during the 11-day journey. He also had to watch for Indian raiding parties along the way," Brandon said.

An extensive family tree - a book on the family's history is available at the Brandon Regional Library - traces the Brandon family to England and the court of Henry VIII, "so if anybody needs someone executed just let me know," joked Brandon who today lives in Riverview.

Proud of his family's history, Brandon has nonetheless tired of telling the stories over the years.

"The stories are just too long and I have told them so many times I just tell people I am rushing to an appointment when they ask me about it now."

Brandon pioneer John R. King moved from Georgia to Brandon in 1881 where he homesteaded more than 200 acres, said panelist Judy Darsey, a member of the King family.

Instrumental in developing the area's First United Methodist Church, King's wife, Susie Bell, was also a pioneer in her own right.

"She helped found the Brandon Woman's Club and acted as a midwife throughout her life," Darsey said.

Paul Dinnis, editor and founder of the Brandon News in 1959, also joined the panel and treated the audience to a story of the founding of the town's first library, one he couldn't tell in print at the time.

A bookstore in Tampa was going out of business and had books to unload, Dinnis said. Some Brandon residents moved those books to another store and ended up getting some funds for the library.

"It was all above board with maybe a little 'umpph,'" Dinnis said with a laugh, twisting his fist downward as he spoke. "The bookstore got rid of its books, the books found a home and the town ended up getting a library."

Dick Stowers, a longtime Brandon resident, also joined the panel of amateur historians and recalled making his career choice at an early age.

"I wanted to be a funeral director from the time I was 8," said Stowers, who knew he wanted to set up shop in Brandon early on, much to the consternation of his colleagues in Tampa.

"They told me I was insane. Brandon was considered a far-off country town at the time (1960). I remember I could stand on State Road 60 and see all the way to (U.S.) 301 in those days."

Stowers would open his new business, Stowers Funeral Home, in the former home of James H. Brandon, the son of Brandon's founding father. The Southern-style mansion on Brandon Boulevard between Parsons and Kings avenues is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Brandon today.

A Kid's Place, a residential group care home for abused, neglected or abandoned children, received the Nonprofit of the Year Award.

"This community has been so generous to us we could not be more happy with everything we have received," said Virginia Johnson, executive director of A Kid's Place, who accepted the award with Dottie Berger MacKinnon, the organization's chairwoman.

Donating $12,000 in materials to Brandon area elementary schools, mentoring high school students and creating a charity fundraising cruise for women are just a few of the accomplishments of Alice B. Tompkins Award winner Tammy Holmberg, said Sandy Pullinger, the 2011 honoree.

"This is not something I deserve," Holmberg said, "because no one person does." Holmberg is the 40th recipient of the Alice B. Tompkins Award and the fourth to hold the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce Key Citizen Award at the same time.

Emily Almand of Strawberry Crest High School took home the $500 Maureen Krzanowski Scholarship. She was recently accepted at the University of Florida.

Kevin Brady can be reached at

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The early days of Brandon

- In 1857, John Brandon traveled 700 miles by wagon from Mississippi to Fort Brooke (now Tampa) with his six sons and wife Martha.

- According to The Brandon Family of Southwest Florida, by James Scott Hanna, John Brandon and his father-in-law were interested in settling on the fertile new land in Florida and decide to uproot their families and move here. (The out-of-print book is available at the Brandon Regional Library.)

- In 1858, John Brandon bought 40 acres of land in New Hope (now Brandon) between what we now call Parsons Avenue and Lithia Pinecrest Road. He would build a home on N Knights Avenue and Victoria Street and also donate land for the area's first church - New Hope - which would also serve as Brandon's first school in the 1870s.

- After the death of John Brandon in 1886, his widow Victoria (John's second wife) and railroad engineer Charles S. Noble reached an agreement that led to the building of a train depot and the platting of land for a town, according to a 2009 column David Boyett wrote for the Brandon Area Genealogical & Historical Society.