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Gladys Howell Named Lake Wales Pioneer of the Year 2021 – 45th Annual Lake Wales Pioneer Days Festival

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LAKE WALES, FLORIDA, OCTOBER 12, 2021 – The Lake Wales History Museum will host the 45th Annual Pioneer Days Festival on Saturday, October 23 & 24, 2021 from 9 AM – 5 PM each day in Lake Wailes Park. This event is a heritage celebration for the whole family with free admission and parking on both days. This year the festival will feature the same great old-fashioned fun and new offerings for the whole family. The event draws a diverse audience of nearly 10,000 visitors and residents annually to the area. 

For the health and safety of all our participants, this event will be held entirely outdoors, and mask requirements and physical distancing will be implemented in accordance with regulations and guidance from the state of Florida, City of Lake Wales, and the CDC. We are so excited for the return of this community event, and we will do everything we can to make it safe.


The Lake Wales History Museum’s Pioneer Days Festival is synonymous with Lake Wales history and culture, and celebrates the heritage of the greater Polk County community. The two-day event will feature 50 craft & community market vendors, dozens of heritage education activities, historical reenactors, live entertainment, a dozen new and returning local food vendors, a new Pioneer Beer & Wine Garden, The Pumpkin Patch family activity area with petting zoo, antique car & tractor show, architectural tours, and the naming of Lake Wales’ Pioneer of the Year.

During the Pioneer of Year Celebration, the museum will honor Gladys Howell as the 2021 Lake Wales Pioneer of the Year. The celebration will be held during the festival on Saturday, October 23 at 10 AM.

Mrs. Gladys Howell was born in Florida in 1926 to Richard and Theresa Isom, and moved with her family to Lake Wales as a young child. She attended and graduated from Roosevelt School in 1944. She then attended Bethune-Cookman University, and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 1960, and afterwards she received her master’s degree from Alabama State University. During that time, she met and married Robert Howell, and they moved back to Lake Wales to live permanently in 1964. Mrs. Howell starting teaching at her own alma mater, the Roosevelt School in 1960, and then later at Polk Avenue Elementary. 

She taught school in Lake Wales for more than 30 years. She was the first teacher in Polk County to raise fund and take her 4th th grade class to Washington D.C. This was one of many extra-curricular activities for the students she raised money for. She worked part-time at Mountain Lake Estates so she could travel and pursue further educational experiences. Robert and Gladys Howell had four children, all of whom pursued the educational fields and community activities. Mrs. Howell’s dedication to her community is evident by the organizations she has volunteered at over the years including Girls Scouts, the NAACP, Lake Wales Care Center, Order of the Eastern Star, American Legion, and the Bethune-Cookman Alumni Association, and her hometown church, the First Institutional Missionary Baptist Church.

Today, the Howell family has been recognized for their community contributions with a park named in their honor in Lake Wales, and Mrs. Howell was also personally honored at the Green and Gold Foundation Gala for her education and community efforts in 2019. Milford is an integral part of Lake Wales’ community history. Please join the museum in honoring Mrs. Gladys Howell on Saturday, October 23, 2021 at 10 AM in Lake Wailes Park.

Heritage education activities offered throughout the weekend celebration include historic architecture tours of downtown Lake Wales, canoe carving, wood working & turning, weaving, knitting, spinning, basket weaving and pine needle basket making, blacksmithing, candle making and dipping, cast-iron, camp fire cooking, pioneer camps, the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame with Miss Florida Citrus and citrus labels, a 1861 cracker chuck wagon, along with the Florida Flywheelers antique tractor, engine exhibits, antique car show, and the museum’s own 1985 fire truck.

Forty (40) craft market vendors will be selling a range of handmade, gemstone and silver jewelry, home goods, kitchen items, gourds woven with natural materials, essential oils, organic & natural clothing & hats, handmade holiday home décor items & candles, organic health products, nail polish, fiber art & crocheted home goods, hand spun & dyed yarn, reclaimed and recycled art, wood décor, home goods, hair accessories, Teddy bears, photography artwork, bath & body care products, greeting cards, children’s items, repurposed furniture, gourmet and homemade culinary & food gifts.

Community organizations will be onsite to share information about how you can get involved in community social services and civic clubs in and around Lake Wales including Fellowship of Christian Farmers, Daughters of the American Revolution, Lake Wales Literacy Academy, Trinity Baptist Church, Lake Wales Heritage, Lincoln Community Redevelopment, Circle of Friends, Women’s Club of Lake Wales, Removing the Barriers, and Rotary on the Ridge.

Food concessions include the return of local favorites and new offerings including, WTF Concessions, Little Joe’s, Rodney’s Funtime Concessions, Cuppa Joe, Topsy’s, Tony’s Italian Ice, Fresh Lemonade, The Sweet Spot, Old-Fashioned Soda Wagon, Taco Riendo, Weekend Catering, and Tallulah’s by the Sea. Food for sale includes Coffee, Smoothies, Funnel Cakes, Hot Dogs, Polish Sausage, Corn Dogs, French Fries, Philly Cheesesteaks, Hamburgers, Fresh Lemonade, Slushies, Hoagies, Chicken Tenders, Po Boys, Fish & Shrimp Platter, Wings, Italian ice, Tacos, Conch Fritters, Salads, Fried Crab, Rib Platter & More!

NEW! The Pioneer Beer & Wine Garden will feature a selection of beers and wines for sale from 11 AM – 5 PM each day. Enjoy a selection of beers, hard seltzers, and wine while listening to the live entertainment along the shores of Lake Wailes Lake, presented by Rotary on the Ridge. Purchase a 45th anniversary commemorative, custom-made Pioneer Day glass for $10, and receive one free drink!

Live entertainment will feature music and performances each day including the Lake Wales High School Highlander Band, Sandy Back Porch, PT Mortimer Medicine & Magic Show, Grateful Alive, Studio 6 Academy of Dance, Jimi Pappas, Mountain Brew Trio, and Bryan Rivers.

The Pumpkin Patch family friendly activity area includes all sizes of pumpkins for sale, to paint and decorate, along with fall crafts, a corn crib, old-fashioned games, hay pit, face painting, relay races, and live animal petting zoo. 

Kids Costume Contest will be on Sunday, October 24, 2021 at 3 PM. Children ages 3-12 are invited to dress up and enter for a chance to win prizes for the following categories: Cutest, Spookiest, Most Original, and Best Overall Costumes.

NEW! A Dog Parade will be on Sunday, October 24, 2021 at 1 PM. Well-behaved dogs of all shapes and sizes, along with their owners, are welcome to dress up and enter for a chance to win prizes for the following categories: Cutest Costume, Most Original, and Best Overall.

Sponsors and media partners who help make Pioneer Days Festival possible include the City of Lake Wales, Visit Central Florida, Advent Health, Citizens Bank & Trust, Duke Energy Foundation, SEMCO Construction, Gibson Law Firm, Jahna Industries, Family Elder Law, MAX 98.3, The Ledger Media Group, Haven Magazine, Polk News Sun, WUSF Public Media, 97.5 WPCV, 90.7 WMFE, and Orlando Sentinel Media Group.

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