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Flagler Beach’s Dishonorable Ploy: Don’t Remove Gamble Rogers’ Name From Rec Area

| September 5, 2014

gamble rogers folk musician florida flagler beach

Gamble Rogers, recreator.

The Flagler County Commission miscalculated terribly this week when it gave its unanimous approval to back Flagler Beach’s attempt to kill Gamble Rogers out of that recreation area’s name. And yes, Flagler Beach is trying to kill Rogers a second time, as if his first death wasn’t bad enough.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive Gamble Rogers, in case you don’t know—and most of us don’t until we look him up—was a folk singer who sang about Florida and the South and had a habit of letting loose in long witty monologues that elicited comparisons, at least from his publicists, to Will Rogers and Mark Twain. He was nowhere near those two talents, just as his music was nowhere near that of Hank Williams or Bessie Smith, two singers took a lot from. But just because he wasn’t an international sensation doesn’t diminish what he was: a soulful singer whose premature death robbed us of lyricism and laughs, two drugs we can’t have enough of these days. Half the pleasure of looking up his name is in a discovery that makes the effort worthwhile, and makes the point of memorializing his name. It’s a way to give him new life.

Rogers loved to hang out in Flagler Beach. He and his wife were on a break from touring the fall of 1991 when they stopped at the recreation area for some camping. When Rogers heard a man in distress in the surf, he rushed in. Neither he nor the other man survived. The Florida Legislature wisely renamed the recreation area in his honor a few months later. It had been the Flagler Beach State Recreation Area. It became Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach. And there his name has been, his only significant memorial. Flagler Beach has done nothing since to honor man or memory. Now it wants to dishonor him.

It’s doing it for the worst reasons, and without a whit of evidence that it’s even necessary. The Flagler Beach City Commission and its economic development task force claim that returning the recreation area to its former bland name will create jobs and bring more people to it. “Rogers often sang about what Florida loses to runaway growth,” the News-Journal’s Mark Lane wrote Thursday in his own affecting memorial to Rogers, “so he would have been amused that local boosters want no part of a park named after a folk singer because it doesn’t bring anyone into town.” That’s assuming that the boosters have their facts right. They don’t. The recreation area’s camping sites are booked solid for just about a year ahead. The area is doing fine. All those people are shopping in Flagler Beach, swimming in its surf, drinking its beer and guzzling its gas. Clearly, the Gamble Rogers recreation area has a loyal following. Change the name, and it may mess with a good thing by confusing that loyal following and possibly losing some of it.

But the worst reason behind the attempted name-change is Flagler Beach’s nuzzling up one of the most god-awful fad of early 21st century tourism. Even the word is awful, as if it were all a matter of cattle: branding. I have nothing against branding. It works with corn flakes. It works with Brillo pads and beer, and it works very well with toilet paper. But culture isn’t toilet paper. You don’t brand your heritage. You don’t brand your town, your history, your people. You honor them, celebrate them, memorialize them.

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If Flagler Beach is so interested in improving its tourism, why not build an annual folk festival in Gamble Rogers’ name as St. Augustine did? Why not pair up with St. Augustine and turn the event into something worth traveling for? Why not create a cultural destination with more than surf and sun? But that would require quite a bit of work, and running around with power points that flash the word branding is much simpler. It’s every tourist developer’s magic wand, and the laziest.

The recreation area doesn’t belong to Flagler Beach anymore than historical and cultural memory is for Flagler Beach to erase. Cities can name their own parks and streets and bridges all they please. But state parks and recreation areas are reflections of state pride, of nature’s bequests and of cultural legacies. Thankfully our local legislators, Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Travis Hutson, appear to understand that and are not too keen on following Flagler Beach’s lead. City officials got ahead of themselves earlier this week when they claimed to the county commission that Hutson was ready and willing to file a name-change bill for them, only for Hutson to set them straight when he read about it: he’s willing to hear them out of they can show unanimity across the county for the change, but he never claimed he’d be their bill-carrier.

Clearly, there is no such unanimity. Flagler Beach tried to manufacture it by way of a specious petition (funny how petitions in that town can be vilified one day and worshipped the next) and lobbying from the town’s economic development task force. But the only thing worth killing is this crass talk of branding, and any plans to silence what’s left of Gamble Rogers’ music yet again.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece was broadcast on WNZF.

gamble rogers flagler beach

Images courtesy of Gamble Group of Friends, Facebook. Click on the image for larger view.

18 Responses for “Flagler Beach’s Dishonorable Ploy: Don’t Remove Gamble Rogers’ Name From Rec Area”

  1. Diane J Cline says:

    Thank you…

  2. Nikia says:

    Well written. Dear Commission, we are not cattle and we do not wish to be branded.

  3. confidential says:

    Leave the name of the park Gamble Rogers!

  4. James D. Fiske says:

    I am the president of the Bulow Parks Historic Alliance, Inc. We are a “Friends of” (Citizen’s Support Organization) for Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park and Bulow Creek State Park. First off, Thank you Pierre for shedding light on this horrible idea being pushed by the City of Flagler Beach.
    What that city needs to realize is, the Park is a STATE PARK and does not belong to the City of Flagler Beach.
    I can guarantee if this comes before the County Commission again (and I believe it will), their idea will be shot down.
    This article has been shared with two of the Florida Folk Music Facebook sites and the Friends of the Florida State Parks Facebook site. I do believe they will be EXTREMELY upset over this!

  5. Bob Cuff says:

    I find it hard to believe that removing Gamble Rogers’ name from the park will magically generate more business for the park or Flagler Beach. On that point alone, this sounds like a bad – or at least a misguided – idea. Even as a marketing or (gag) branding strategy, I’m surprised that a little beachside town that prides itself on not being just like everyplace else in Florida would even consider turning its back on someone as unique as Rogers. Even if all you are interested in is money, I’d think the story of Gamble Rogers and his heroic connection with that park would be marketing gold.

    Money aside, the proposed switch is troubling for a much more fundamental reason. I doubt most people now know who John Pennekamp was, but I’d hate to see the park named for him changed to “Key Largo” Coral Reef State Park. In a state whose collective memory for history is about an inch long, having places named for folks like Gamble Rogers and Pennekamp is one of the few ways to protect what little bit of history we can. Fortunately, I haven’t heard any plans to rename Washington Oaks, Bulow, Tomoka or Anastasia parks – yet. .

  6. Seminole Pride says:

    I had the honor of knowing Gamble, and he was a talented man, and yes a native Floridian. Just because many of y’all didn’t know him, doesn’t mean he should be forgotten. So tired of those who didn’t grow up around here, trying to change our history just to suit them. Leave my State alone !

  7. Christina Pinto says:

    Leave the name as it is for it is in honor of a man that gave his life to try to save another. Flagler Beach does not need to reclaim a park to create jobs. Bring in more businesses through the empty shopping center on 100 (Food Lion) etc. Gamble Rogers State Park stays Gamble Rogers State Park!

  8. I enjoy so much of what YOU write, please keep up the good work of the POWER with words to help shape and guide our dear little town…

  9. Tom Keegan says:

    I don’t often agree with Pierre but he certainly nailed this article.

  10. Outsider says:

    Great job, Pierre on educating the public about this man who selflessly gave his life to help another. Next they’ll want to put “Bank of America” on the pier. Flagler Beach was a great, idyllic town when I moved here 30 years ago; it was unique in that it was so close to Daytona, yet it was nothing like Daytona. Now, in the interest of bringing more people, more tourists, and more money, they want to commit this atrocity in an effort that will only bring more drunks, more trash, and more bars simply to fill the pockets of a few. How shallow they are.

  11. Tom C says:

    You said it so well. Keep up the good work.

  12. w.ryan says:

    I had no idea who he was until now Pierre, I did think he was significant in some way but didn’t do the research. Now that I know I am confused as to why Gamble Rogers should be dishonored this way. Not to mention Flagler Beach should not have the only say! Continue to honor the man for his humanity and his total sacrifice!

  13. ryan says:

    Thanks Pierre for bringing awareness to another ridiculous thing that local govt. is trying to do. I was just thinking the other day when I went to the vet’s office in Flagler Beach and saw the sign for the Gamble Rogers state park about who Mr. Rogers was. Knowing now that he lost his life trying to save another man’s life, even though I never knew the man, I am disgusted that they would remove his name from something as if it had been discovered that he did bad things to other people when he did not. I guess that selflessness of helping others did not fit into the selfishness of most around this area and wasn’t compatible with the local culture of the present.

  14. Jim Smathers says:

    Very nice article!

    It’s always easy to spot small minded people today. Anybody who would take the time and make the effort to really learn about Gamble Rogers would want to enlarge the park that bears his name, not do away with it.


  15. Linda Morgan says:

    Great article. The name of Gamble Rogers does not take away thing from Flagler Beach, it adds character. I for one, am not looking for Flagler Beach to be a destination city. I would rather people find our little town while traveling from St. Augustine, Daytona and Orlando. The people who like it will come back, some will even move here. I also think the idea of a Music Festival at the park is great idea. That in itself will attract like-minded people here and share their love of music. It’s a win win.

  16. rickg says:

    Well done Pierre.. after reading yours and Mark Lane’s column the other day it makes me yearn for those days when the Tippens were still around. But I digress. Thanks for you incited and indeed the city commission needs a little sense slapped into them. How many of them gave their lives trying to save someone in Flagler Beach??? Long live the name of Gamble Rogers.

  17. JG says:

    Having been privileged to hear Rogers on more than one occasion way back in the day, I cannot conceive of anyone wanting to remove the name of the raconteur who gave us the “great Maitland turkey massacre of 1953” or of young men being “fraught with horn” or of insisting that anyone too drunk to play the guitar having to drive. You can’t make that stuff up–but he could.

  18. Dee Michaels says:

    Gamble Rogers died trying to save the life of a tourist. What kind of commissioners do we have on the Flagler County Commission that would consider stripping the park of his name???? LEAVE IT AS GAMBLE ROGERS!!!

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