Don Porter, whose vision helped transform ranch land into an urban center in Wesley Chapel, has died. He was 73.
Porter’s family, which owns the sprawling Wiregrass Ranch, sold the land that is now occupied by The Shops at Wiregrass and Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel. The family also donated 60 acres of land for Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch, which now occupies about 6 acres of that land.
There’s also a high school in the community named after the Porter’s Wiregrass Ranch.
While Porter had a hand in projects of a regional scale, that is not what meant the most to him, said his son, J.D. Porter.
“Out of all of the accomplishments, I think the thing that he was most proud of was his family,” he said. “He wanted to see everyone do well.”
Pasco County commissioner Pat Mulieri recalls when her colleagues were considering approval of The Shops at Wiregrass. She and Commissioner Jack Mariano supported the request, but they needed a third vote, which came from Commission Ted Schrader.
“I believe that Don’s generous spirit and clear vision made a difference in the Wesley Chapel area, and set the tone for all future development there,” Mulieri said. “Don will be missed. He was a good steward of the land and a southern gentleman.”
Greg Lenners, general manager of The Shops at Wiregrass, said it was easy to see that Porter was a highly respected man in the community.
“He will truly be missed,” said Lenners, who oversees the main-street style shopping mall at the intersection of State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The mall is a popular gathering spot and pulls shoppers and visitors from across the region, especially during the holidays and for special events.
Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel also issued a statement paying tribute to Porter’s contributions.
“Don Porter’s vision was to transform the Porter Ranch into a Wesley Chapel community centered around family … a community with quality health care, education, and recreation services for its residents,” hospital officials said. “It was wonderful to work with Don and his family to bring that vision to life. The entire Porter family has been very supportive of the hospital and our programs to improve the health and wellness of the entire community.”
Katherine Johnson, president of Pasco-Hernando State College, recalled the first time she met Porter. It was her first day as the college’s president, and she was being introduced around the community. Those introductions included a lunch with Porter at Saddlebrook Resort.
Porter was approachable and she immediately felt at ease, Johnson recalled.
“We clicked. We just clicked,” she said.
At that very first lunch, Porter told Johnson about his vision for higher educational opportunities for students living in the community. The family’s later contribution of 60 acres for the campus played an instrumental role in making that vision come true, Johnson said.
“Clearly, we would not have been able to have a campus in Wesley Chapel without that family,” she said. Beyond helping to bring that vision to life, Porter became a friend and mentor.
When Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch opened in January, it signaled the first time in Wesley Chapel history that a student could attend preschool through college without leaving the Wesley Chapel community.
When the Porters moved to Wesley Chapel during the 1940s, there wasn’t much development in the area. Over the years, the community has evolved, and Porter had a clear vision for the future, Johnson said.
When plans were being discussed for the Porter Campus, he envisioned a campus with multi-story buildings.
“He wanted an urban, corporate look,” Johnson said.
Porter is survived by son, J.D., daughter, Quinn Miller and her husband, Matthew, as well as three grandchildren, Johannah, Cooper, and Lillian Jane, of Odessa; and his brother, William H. and his wife, Debby, of Dade City.
Don Porter memorial service
A memorial service for Don Porter has been scheduled for 2 p.m. on July 12 at the conference center at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch, 2727 Mansfield Blvd., in Wesley Chapel.
Published July 9, 2014
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