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Oral Histories of Winter Park Residents:
Fleetwood D. Peeples

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Oral History

 

This biography is under review due to current events. It may be further revised pending action by the community or as additional facts come to light. - July 10, 2014

Fleetwood "Fleet" D. Peeples, Sr. was the Rollins College swimming instructor from 1922 to 1972 and the first swim coach for Winter Park High School. He was known for teaching thousands of children how to swim and for volunteer efforts with The Red Cross, Scouts and YMCA. He became a revered community icon, whose renown for community involvement lasted decades after his death in 1993. In 2014, multiple former students of Peeples came forward alleging sexual abuse. In light of the allegations, some honors were posthumously revoked.


Biography

Known to the community as "Fleet," Fleetwood D. Peeples, Sr. was born June 30, 1898, in Varnille, South Carolina. He learned to swim when he was six years old at the YMCA in Columbia, S.C.

In 1922, at the request of Ray Greene, Peeples came to Rollins College as a swimming instructor. In 1925 he became Director of Aquatics at Rollins and served in that capacity until retirement in 1972 after 50 years of service. After his retirement, he became the first swimming coach at Winter Park High School. In 1976 a new swimming pool at Winter Park High was named for him. It remained named after him until 2007 when it was renamed the Galloway Aquatic Center.

In addition to his career as a swimming coach, Peeples was credited with teaching 20,000 children to swim. In a 1984 issue of  Winter Park Outlook, Peeples was quoted as saying that the way to teach babies and children to swim is "to love them across the lake. You have to love them into doing what you want them to do." In his half-century of swim instruction, Peeples taught babies as young as eight months and adults in their 70s.

In 1939, Peeples was awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion, the highest honor bestowed by Rollins College. Dr. Hamilton Holt presented the honor, saying "Fleetwood D. Peeples, teacher, Scout, woodsman, life-saver, lover of field and stream and all creatures that dwell therein, ever since you have become a member of the Rollins staff you have spent yourself in the service of others and all so quietly and so effectively that you won the esteem and affection of all. You are a shining example of what happens to himself and to others when a man really has love in his heart for his fellowman." In 2014, when allegations of sexual abuse emerged against Peeples, and Rollins College requested that the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation revoke the award. The foundation agreed to remove Peeples' name from the list of recipients. At the same time, Rollins also removed a plaque identifying him as a charter member of the Rollins Sports Hall of Fame from its Alfond Sports Center.

Peeples was known for his volunteer work on behalf of polio and cancer victims, Cub and Boy Scouts, Red Cross, and the YMCA. He worked with the American Red Cross for over 60 years and was awarded its highest honor, the Red Cross Medal. He was also presented a special Governor's Leadership Award in 1980 by Governor Bob Graham and Jimmy Carnes, chairman of the Governor's Council on Sports and Fitness.

He was the official naturalist for Rollins and the City of Winter Park, and was considered to be one of the state's experts on reptiles. His backyard was frequently a haven for injured or orphaned wildlife. In 1985, the City of Winter Park named a 23-acre park on the shores of Lake Baldwin "Fleet Peeples Park." That honor was removed on July 14, 2014, when the Winter Park City Commission unanimously voted to remove Peeples' name from the park and restore the name Lake Baldwin Park, which it had prior to its change in 1985.

Fleetwood Peeples, Sr. died July 7, 1993, at the age of 95. He was survived by his wife Dorothy, his daughter Adela and son Fleetwood D. Peeples, Jr.

On July 7, 2014, the Orlando Sentinel reported that five former students of Peeples had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against him dating back to the early 1950s, mid 1960s and mid 1970s. The victims said they were prompted to come forward after February 2014 press reports about the arrest of his son, Fleet Peeples, Jr., for similar crimes. On July 14, the Sentinel reported that five more women had come forward. Later that day, when the Winter Park City Commission stripped Peeple's name from a popular local park, Mayor Ken Bradley acknowledged it was regrettable that the amount of time that had passed since the alleged abuse and Peeples' death meant there could be no due process -- but the allegations alone were strong enough to warrant the change. In comments made to the Sentinel on July 14, Bradley said "There is enough circumstantial, evidentiary information, and statements made by credible individuals to suggest we should remove the name, which was honorary." City officials released a statement saying "While the city cannot prove or disprove the allegations, because of the severity of their claims, city staff believes the community is best served by returning the park back to its original name.

 

 

Photo of Fleetwood Jr., Dorothy, Adela, and Fleetwood Sr. Peeples taken January 1950.

Fleetwood Peeples, Jr., Dorothy Peeples, Adela Peeples, and Fleetwood Peeples, Sr. in a photo taken in January 1950.

Photograph courtesy of Rollins College Archives.

Photo of Fleetwood Peeples holding a rattlesnake he caught in June 1969. Fleetwood Peeples holding a rattlesnake he caught in June 1969.

Photograph courtesy of Rollins College Archives.


 

Oral History

"An Interview with Fleetwood Delgado Peeples" by Virginia Pitcher was taped October 9, 1981.  Click on the links below to hear selections from the 60 minute tape of Fleetwood Peeples' recollections of his long career at Rollins College and his love of teaching students of all ages how to swim and be safe in the lakes of Florida.

Below are three selections from Mr. Peeples' oral history interview.

Fleet Peeples tells Virginia Pitcher how he came to Winter Park and Rollins College.  Click here to hear this selection from his oral history.  Below is the written transcript of this audio excerpt.

Mr. Peeples:  " Ray Greene--now, that's a familiar name to Winter Park--was visiting Major Raines who was director of the camp.  He asked him, " Major, do you have a young man here who you think would be interested in coming to Rollins and teaching swimming?"  Major said, " I think I've got the man you are looking for.  Come on down to the waterfront and see what he is doing."  So, I met Ray down at the waterfront where I had a swimming class at the time.  After meeting me he stood there for a while and watched me teach and when the class was completed he said,  " Would you be interested in coming to Rollins and working your way through school by teaching swimming?"  I said,  " That's the answer to my prayer."  So, I was at Rollins from 1922 through 1972.  I retired from Rollins in 1972 but continued on at Dinky Dock with my little babies, which I am still doing".

Fleet Peeples talks about teaching swimming and what his students learned from him.  Click here to hear this selection from his oral history.  Below is the written transcript of this audio excerpt.

Mrs. Pitcher:  " Just think of all the lives you have saved by teaching people to swim properly".

Mr. Peeples:  " That's right.  But, I'll tell you, I don't spend too much time on the technicalities of swimming such as the breast stroke, the back and the crawl stroke; instead I teach survival, distance.  That's the most important as far as I'm concerned.  Of course, I didn't have time to go into the individual life of each child to give them perfection in the various strokes".

Mrs. Pitcher:  " The safety factor is most important".

Mr. Peeples:  " That was my idea completely.  Teach them to swim forever if you have to.  After they could swim a quarter of a mile, about ninety percent of them went on to swim a half of a mile or even a mile.  The rest of them were after just swimming good enough for the quarter mile, to feel safe in the water, survival.  I've got thousands and thousands of pictures of my little swimmers; they are all over the walls.  I've loved every bit of it.  The old saying is that "Success is getting what you want, but happiness is enjoying it while you are getting it."

Mrs. Pitcher:  " That's great!".

Mr. Peeples:  " So, that's me all over.  I just love it.  I love what I am doing."

Fleet Peeples talks more about his students.  Click here to hear this selection from his oral history.  Below is the written transcript of this audio excerpt.

Mrs. Pitcher:  " I imagine that you have had most of the important citizens in Winter Park in your various swimming classes and your scouting".

Mr. Peeples:  " Yes, and some of them are grandparents now.  Some of the children I have taught have grown up and gotten married and brought their children down for me to teach to swim.  In fact, I'm on the fifth generation in swimming!  I've got a picture of Billy Johnson who learned to swim when he was two and one-half years old and he swam across the lake when he was three.  He was the first child I ever put across the lake and that was in 1922.  He was one of my first swimmers.  I taught his older brother to swim when he was five and one-half years old.  Then I taught his mother to swim, and then his grandmother.  Then, he brought his children down from California and spent a month with us--he had a little house in Maitland--and I gave his little children two lessons a day at the waterfront on Lake Virginia.  Every one of them swam across Lake Virginia and the youngest was two and one-half.   That was the fifth generation, you see.  We had more fun with those kids--they were just wonderful human beings.  In fact, I love them all, every one of them.  I have a granddaughter that has swum a quarter of a mile, too".

Click here to return to the Oral Histories page.

 

Edited July 15, 2014


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