A Special Message from FKCC President Dr. Jonathan Gueverra (Nov. 5, 2016):

“At our Community Day festivities on Saturday, we celebrated the many members of our vibrant community with whom Florida Keys Community College is privileged to serve and partner.  One sector within our community deserves particular recognition, honor, and gratitude: military service members.  Suitably, the College’s Community Day aligns closely with Veterans Day each year.

As we enjoy this holiday with family and friends, I encourage all to take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices that our service members bear for all Americans and for the principles of democracy.  Our heroes continue to serve in a variety of ways that benefit our communities.  I salute all of our veterans as well as current servicemen and women.  I express my sincerest thanks to them and their families for their dedication and commitment, and for their continued service to protect our freedom.

The Florida Keys and the College have indeed benefitted from the contributions of many veterans over the years.  Each one deserves special recognition.  Today, I salute one particular local individual: Mr. Jerry Wilkinson, an entrepreneur, historian, philanthropist, artist, adventurer, and 22-year Air Force Veteran.

Long before Jerry Wilkinson permanently joined the Keys community in the 1980s, he first ventured to Key West aboard a motorcycle in 1947.  While in Key West, the young Wilkinson quickly noticed a challenge in seeking lady friends as the swarms of sailors on the island had him sorely outnumbered.  So he decided that if he couldn’t beat them, he should join them.  He applied to the Navy, but did not pass their vision test.  Fortunately though, the Army Air Corp was right across the hall, and from there he embarked on his military career.

Eager and hard-working, Mr. Wilkinson soon climbed to the positions of Drill Instructor and eventually Special Electronics Instructor.  In those roles, he discovered his passion for teaching.  He enjoyed preparing scores of young soldiers—who were barely yet adults at the time— to be physically and mentally prepared for whatever their missions may bring.

In 1955, during the Korean War, Mr. Wilkinson was deployed to Guam.  For two years, he was part of an Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron that repaired disabled aircraft and returned them back to action.  In 1958, post-Korean War and amid The Cold War, Mr. Wilkinson took part in a mission with our Allies to build a “radar fence” around Russia.  He studied Spanish in Washington D.C. before being sent to Spain for four years to train Spanish Air Force radar operators.

Mr. Wilkinson’s military career concluded with the Vietnam War during which he served two years as an Electronics Superintendent at a radar station in Alaska.  He retired in 1970 as a Command Sergeant Major after 22 years of service.

That was just the beginning of Mr. Wilkinson’s adventures.  He spent the next ten years with his wife Mary Lou, rotating between Key Largo—teaching windsurfing, Colorado—guiding river raft tours, and California—taking college classes.  With the GI Bill and a love for education, he ultimately earned seven associate degrees.

The Wilkinsons eventually settled in Tavernier in 1988.  Very soon a new passion was ignited.  He became enthralled with the rich history of the Florida Keys and began his quest to research, archive, and preserve records of the islands’ unique stories, culture, and ecology.  He became the president of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys (HPSUK) and shares his historical repository through a website he built, keyshistory.org.  The collections he amassed even assisted several television documentaries on historic Keys events, including the 1935 Hurricane and the construction of the Overseas Highway.

While Mr. Wilkinson has established a legacy in the Keys of preserving its past, earlier this year he decided to invest in its future.  He donated $100,000 to the FKCC Foundation to establish a scholarship that will provide scholarships for worthy FKCC students in perpetuity.  Fittingly, this history buff’s act of generosity has solidified his place in the College’s history—as well as in its future.  Mr. Wilkinson is a true champion for education and a treasure to our community and our nation.

It is with great honor that on this Veterans’ Day 2016, FKCC and I salute Air Force Command Sergeant Major Jerry Wilkinson.  Thank you for your continuous service to our country, state, and community.  May such service, achievements, and generosity serve as an inspiration for all.”