News-Sun photo by LARRY LEVEY Freda and Kenny Long were named the 2012 Avon Park Pioneers of the Year by the Historical Society of Avon Park.
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published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Longs honored by Avon Park Historical Society
By LARRY LEVEY
AVON PARK - Take a woman with a Cherokee Indian background; mix well with a fellow raised in Pennsylvania Dutch country; add a couple of scoops of humor ... and what do you get?
Simple. You get the 2012 Avon Park Pioneers of the Year, as proclaimed at the Sixth Annual Avon Park Pioneer Homecoming Picnic held at the Community Center on Saturday and sponsored by the Historical Society of Avon Park.
Ladies and Gentlemen: May we present Kenny and Freda ("Queenie") Long.
The Longs, co-owners of Long's Air Conditioning in Avon Park, have been prominent in the business community, both within and outside of Highlands County.
Humor, by the way, was very much in evidence at the picnic. It began when Nancy Weber, a society board member and co-chairperson of the picnic committee, introduced Kenny by talking about his desire to preserve the history of Avon Park by collecting artifacts that somehow wound up in his backyard.
Items like a steeple and like a fire escape.
"I'm sure," said Weber, "if we ever get in a situation where we might lose our Depot Museum train, Kenny would figure out a way to move the car over to his backyard."
When Freda spoke, she recalled her Oklahoma upbringing, including how the girls there wore Levis and cowboy boots to school - but once she and her family moved to Florida in 1957, they had to wear dresses.
She also recalled meeting Kenny Long once she arrived in Florida.
"I thought," she said, "that if that's the best Florida has to offer, God must have a sense of humor."
When Kenny, wearing his APHS jacket, took the microphone, he started by singing the country song "He'll Have To Go," a reference to Freda, who was already dating another boy. "She wouldn't let me kiss her, even after two dates, but finally she did and that was the beginning of our relationship."
Kenny, who came to Avon Park in 1946 with his family, then spoke about his youth in a talk punctuated by whoops and hollers and bursts of laughter - and a variety of hats and jackets as props.
"I loved the Avon Park circus program," he said. "I performed on the flying rings. It was a big thing for the community. It finally got too big for the gym and we went to the football field and we performed in other towns.
"Everybody supported it. People from Barnum and Bailey came over to help train us. I missed one performance because I went into the Marines."
While in the Marines, he was stationed at Parris Island, N.C., and became a tank commander for a while. He also went into boxing. Then, because he had taken typing in high school, he became administrative chief of his unit.
Following his discharge, he and Freda (the two married after he had served one year in the military) returned to Avon Park.
A business pioneer
"I had a plan," said Kenny, "and it worked out. I became a pioneer in the residential air conditioning business in Florida; and later, I became a pioneer in the home generator business."
One of the most repeated stories about Kenny has to do with his career in flying. Once he had returned to Avon Park after his tour of duty in the Marines, Stanley and Kenny Wells, of Wells Motor Co., who were building a helicopter, got him interested in flying and he began taking flying lessons, he said.
"I was still a student pilot, and one day I was flying to Tampa to Peter O'Knight Airport. It was foggy, so when I saw this airport, I landed.
"I was surrounded by MPs and they all had their rifles pointed at me.
"I had landed at MacDill Air Force Base.
"I was harassed for that incident for over 40 years."
The Longs say they were both surprised at being named Pioneers of the Year. As Freda put it, "I'm too young."
That's how Kenny felt, until it dawned on him that he had become a pioneer in the business world, with Avon Park the center of that world.
But, he says, giving credit where credit is due, "Without Freda, I wouldn't be here today. She keeps me under control."
Awesome tribute! (by: Maria - 8/31/2012)
What a wonderful tribute to a couple of the most unique people I have ever known.
Freda & Kenny Long (by: Jim Barnard - 8/30/2012)
Great couple,terrific family who have always supported our community. Kenny always makes me laugh and they deserve the Pioneer award. Congratulations from Jim Barnard
Freda & Kenny (by: Bonnie Painter - 8/29/2012)
What a nice tribute to two wonderful people!! Congratulations to both of you from Penna.
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