Dade City’s Centennial Elementary School has a brand-new barn for its 4-H Club.
But, this structure is much more than a sturdy protective home to hogs and sheep, with goats on the way.
It’s a son’s tribute to his late father, a pioneering marine biologist and beloved resident of Dade City.
The “Blake Barn’’ was funded by a $10,000 donation from Dade City veterinarian Jonathan Blake, in the memory of his father, Norman Jasper Blake.
The elder Blake, who was 74 when he died in 2018, initiated the University of South Florida marine science program at its St. Petersburg campus.
“We are so appreciative of Dr. Blake’s generosity because when we put out the word for fundraising, we thought it would take a couple of years to happen,’’ said Kristi Dorough, a third-grade teacher at Centennial and the 4-H club leader. “Now we already have it and it’s already making a huge impact for our students. It has been wonderful.’’
Blake said he had been searching for a way to honor his father. Centennial’s plans seemed like a perfect fit, especially considering the family’s connections to the school — his mother, Virginia, was a charter faculty member when the school opened in 1986 and his son, Levi, is currently a fourth-grader there.
“It was a good opportunity for my wife and I to get involved,’’ Blake said. “I’m interested in the teaching of agricultural science and maintaining the roots to the rural nature of our Dade City area, and teaching kids where their food comes from.
“Those are important values that we are slowly losing. So it’s a perfect marriage — a way to honor my dad and, at the same time, do something good for our community.’’
Centennial principal Gretchen Rudolph-Fladd said Dorough began the 4-H club about three years ago. Some chicken coops were moved to the campus, but overall, Centennial relied on another barn.
When some Zephyrhills High School seniors donated three prize-winning sheep to Centennial, there was a problem — nowhere for the sheep to live. So the plans began.
It played nicely into the plans of Rudolph-Fladd, who wanted Centennial to become a STEAM school. While the “A’’ typically stands for the Arts, at Centennial, it stands for Agriculture and Aviation (including the use of drones).
“We want our ‘A’ to be cubed and the science learning is so closely tied to our community,’’ Rudolph-Fladd said. “It has worked so well. We are delighted that the Blake name will resonate forever at our school.’’
The Blake Barn, which will include a plaque about Norman Jasper Blake and a wrought-iron sign, has eight stalls. It was constructed by Affordable Building, a Hernando County company.
So far, the 4-H Club has 15 members from kindergartners to eighth-graders. The older students attend Centennial Middle School.
Besides the plans for hogs, sheep and goats, there also are designs on bringing in dairy cows.
“From a very practical standpoint, the barn allows us to house more animals and grow our ability to educate the students,’’ Dorough said. “If some members live in the city limits and don’t have the farmland, they can keep their project at the barn.
“It opens up so many opportunities. The young members can see what the older kids are doing. That will get them excited and interested.’’
Blake said it’s an appropriate way to honor his father, who spent his life dedicated to education and conservation. He had a particular interest in the study of scallops, oysters and clams. Blake said his father was instrumental in returning the scallop population to West Central Florida.
“He had friends everywhere,’’ Blake said. “He would love to see these kids using that barn. When I hear ‘Blake Barn,’ those words cause me to choke up because I know it would’ve meant a lot to him.’’
The University of South Florida-St. Petersburg meant a lot to him, too.
But, he moved his brood to the family land in Dade City.
For more than three decades, he made a long commute to work. But, the community-feel of Dade City was more than worth that trade-off.
“It is a great honor for my husband to be remembered,’’ Virginia Blake said. “It means a lot that my son gets to honor his dad. We miss him very much, and I know all of this would make him happy.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published November 25, 2020