Lake City Reporter: North Florida roads lead to Ralph Powers

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North Florida roads lead to Ralph Powers

Helena Powers opens up a stuffed red album in her home on Duval Street and the memories instantly return. Glossy black and white photos smile at her and she beams remembering her husband, Ralph, and their busy life together.

Snapshots of road dedications, dinners, speeches, meetings, gatherings and even the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy piece together a colorful tale of how much Ralph Powers meant to Florida.

Newspaper clipping from the Lake City Reporter, the Jacksonville Journal, the Florida Times-Union, and the Tallahassee Democrat document the progress.

Flipping the pare reveals additional clippings from the Jacksonville Beach News, Bradford County Telegraph, Levy County Journal, Gainesville Sun, and Union County Times.

They are all about Powers.

Anyone who has cruised down the numerous Florida roads and interstates has been affected by Ralph Powers.

The map of Florida was changed forever in the early 1960s as he helped pave the way for the construction of many new roads and bridges, connecting Floridians in ways unseen before.

“I miss him so much,” Helena Powers whispered.

Route to Success
Born in Indiana, Ralph Powers moved to Columbia County when he was 11 years old, says his wife.

Powers began his own route to success from an early age through the vehicle of hard work.

When he arrived in Lake City with his father from his hometown of Ladoga, Ind. he started working at a grocery store and service started.

Powers started a service station in 1935.

He had knack for business and only years later he founded a car dealership soon a line of trucks, too.

He did so well, by 1940 he bought out his wholesale supplier and opened up his own tributorship, Columbia Oil Company.

He constructed a new building for his business and called it Powers Service, which included automobiles, farm equipment trucks and provided Sun Oil Company oil to eight counties.

He sold Pontiac, Oldmobile Cadillac, International Trucks and Farmall Trucks.

Before long he opened up a second office in Ocala.

Powers enjoyed being in charge of his own businesses and did well at whatever he pursued.

He was quoted as saying, “I look in the mirror to hold my board meetings.”

After he opened the Ocala office, he met a local attorney, Farris Bryant.

Powers helped Bryant campaign for governor of Florida in 1956.

Bryant didn’t win then, but ran again in 1960.

This time he won and Powers enjoyed celebrating the victory with his friend.

Powers served as campaign manager for Bryant in Columbia County, and helped him earn 78 percent of the vote.

A New Path
Bryant recognized Powers’ talent and dedication and appointed him to be in charge of the second district of the Florida State Road Board when he took office in January 1961.

The appointment was meant to be a part-time job.

In the Sept. 21, 1963, issue of the Jacksonville Journal, staff writer Bill Sweisgood wrote an article on Powers and his dedication to the Florida State Road Board as part of the paper’s “Personality of the Week” series.

In the article Powers said that in addition to being a family man and business owner, his appointed position on the road board was an 80-hour week job, but that he enjoyed it.

He was to receive $3,600 a year until the legislature raised the amount to $6,000 in 1963.

As was character to him, Powers soared above and beyond in his new position.

He spent some days talking on the telephone for seven hours about road problems and solutions.

Powers spent most of his earnings from the road board paying for operating costs such as his lengthy phone bill.

He said it actually cost him money.

Powers called his appointment “a real experience” and said he “wouldn’t take anything for it.’

When citizens in Jacksonville complained that it seemed that the road system seemed to be taking more central routes, Powers defended the board’s work.

He emphasizes that the roads allowed more people to travel easier, from north to south and east to west.

“He promoted Lake City wherever he went,” Helena Powers said. “People joked that he made every major road intersect in Lake City on purpose.

Under Powers’ work, Interstate 75 and Interstate 10 were built, along with multitude other roads.

While he was on the board, more bridges and roads were constructed than any other board before them.

Powers’ work also affected the Jacksonville Espressway, Jacksonville Riverside Viaduct, Interstate 301, the four laning of Duval Street, the Shands Bridge, McFarlane Street, State Road 100 and U.S. 27.

Additional projects included work on State Road 232, University Boulevard in Jacksonville, U.S. 90, U.S. 441, State Road 24, the Acosta Bridge in Jacksonville and State Road 228.

In the June 3, 1963, issue of the Jacksonville Journal, Lake City was dubbed as the “newest Gateway to Florida.”

Writer Jimmy Walker predicted that the construction of I-75 in the summer of 1964 would make Lake City a gateway city.

I-75 was to meet the Florida Turnpike in Wildwood to allow speedy travel to Tampa and Miami.

The new construction was in addition to the new I-10 that was completed in May of 1963.

Initially it connected Lake City with Jacksonville and eventually stretched to Pensacola.

The construction extended the interstate 65 miles away from Jacksonville and was said to be the second longest completed segment of the interstate in Florida according to an article in the Florida Times Union.

Rewards Along the Road
Ralph and Helena Powers frequently accompanied Gov. Bryant and his wife Julia to many functions.

After the dedication of I-10 the Powers hosted a buffet luncheon at the home for the Bryants.

One of Powers favorite memories is attending the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and an address by Kennedy in Miami Beach.

The governor had the Florida group on the train and we attended a big reception at a hotel for the president,” Powers said.

She described the Kennedys as “down to earth, nice people.”

While juggling his family duties, growing businesses, and road-board duties, Powers remained active in the community.

He served as president of the Kiwanis Club and country club, served as district chairman of the North Florida Council of Boy Scouts of America, was a member of the chamber of commerce, member of the Elks and Sportsmen’s Club, and worshiped at a Methodist Church.

He was also a member of the Jacksonville Expressway Authority, president of the Lake City Automobile Dealers Association  and member of the board of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.

Powers was entertained by the Rockefellers in New York and he and his wife attended the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.

Powers received an award from Bryant at the Blanche Hotel for his outstanding achievement in industrial a civic contribution.

The chamber of commerce gave him a plaque in 1965 for his services to Columbia County.

In addition, Levy County held a “Powers Day in Bronson in June 1962 to show its appreciation for Powers’ work.

“My husband worked hard,” Powers said. “I still don’t know how he did it all.”

–Ashley Cisneros
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.

About the Author:

Ashley Cisneros Mejia is a journalist, entrepreneur and marketer. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later as an editor at Florida Trend business magazine. Ashley has worked as a professional freelance writer since 2009, as a technical writer, marketing manager, and public relations practitioner. She also founded two digital marketing agencies in Orlando. Named one of Orlando’s 40 Under 40 and honored by the Women’s Executive Council of Orlando for achievements in media and communications, Ashley earned a B.S. in Journalism and an M.S. in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida.

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