PLANT CITY There was a time Turkey Creek was overrun with turkeys, which is how the creek got its name and so too the school for which the mascot is a gobbler.
That’s just one fact of many that Willeva Rogers and her husband, Ludo Van Den Bogaert, are quick to share in a discussion about why they’re determined to establish a central location for historical papers, documents, publications and photographs related to the school that brought them together.
“We’re trying to encapsulate the history of Turkey Creek in just one location,” she said. “I am a big person on preserving history. My husband and I do a lot of genealogical history for our families and so much of our information is being lost.”
Back in the 60s, Willeva Van Den Bogaert was one year ahead of her husband, who graduated in 1966. At the time, today’s Turkey Creek Middle School was a high school. It also at one time taught students in all grades.
On the campus today, at 5005 S. Turkey Creek Road, sits a two-story brick building that the couple believes would make a great location for a permanent Turkey Creek archives. Both husband and wife took grade school classes in the brick building, which sat next to a white building that has since been torn down.
The Hillsborough County School Board had plans at one time to tear down the brick building, Van Den Bogaert said, “but I did a lot of the research to get the building its historical designation” and today it remains upright but vacant. Van Den Bogaert’s efforts were part of a push from the Turkey Creek High School Alumni and Friends Association to save the building, which was a so-called Strawberry School.
“Back in the day, like in the 40s and 50s, most of the people who went to Turkey Creek came from farming families,” Willeva Van Den Bogaert said. “They needed the kids home when the strawberries were growing so they adjusted the school calendar so that classes would be in session from June to December.”
Whether that building eventually houses the archives is yet to be seen. Either way, the mission is on to collect as much history as possible from as many ex-Gobblers and Turkey Creek residents and aficionados as possible, she said.
That mission as an idea took root in 2012, when the Turkey Creek High School Alumni and Friends Association held a celebration to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the community.
“We started having schoolwide class reunions,” Willeva Van Den Bogaert said, crediting Pat Ballard from the class of 1966, with spearheading the movement. “We asked Turkey Creek Middle School (educators) what information they had about the school, in their archives, that we could use for our celebration. They basically didn’t have much that they could offer us. I had a lot more than they did, because I collected a lot while we were trying to save the building.”
Willeva Van Den Bogaert said she was inspired by the East Hillsborough Historical Society’s archives housed at the 1914 Plant City High School Community Center, and so, too, the work of the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center.
Now, she is working to bring awareness to her cause for a Turkey Creek archives in one central location, and time is of the essence.
“What’s happening is that over time a lot of our history is gone because people are getting these hand-me-down (photos, papers, publications and documents) and either they don’t want them or they don’t know what to do with them,” she said. “I want to be a source they can call and say, ‘Hey, I went to that school,’ and here’s what I have related to Turkey Creek.”
Van Den Bogaert said she will preserve the items or scan them and give them back to their owners. The aim is to build a shared history for community posterity.
“I was born and raised in the Plant City area,” she said. “I have eight brothers and sisters and we all graduated from Turkey Creek. In my husband’s family, there were eight of them and all of them went to Turkey Creek, until they consolidated the high schools and some of them had to go to Plant City.”
For the Van Dan Bogaerts, the push to preserve school history is deeply personal. But it’s more than that.
“If we don’t preserve the history it’s going to be gone,” she said. “And as anybody who has studied history will tell you, if you don’t study history, if you don’t know your history, you won’t know where you came from and what made what you are today.” As for Turkey Creek itself, its allure today is what drew its fans back in the day, she said. “This was a great school and we were a great community,” she said. “We don’t have big box stores. We don’t have major highways running through, other than State Road 60. It’s still a very close community. It’s still a very rural community.” Her aim now is to get the word out: If you were a Gobbler, or if you know a Gobbler, or have any historical artifacts and photographs connected to the school, she wants to hear from you.
“If we can get this publicized, maybe 100 people will tell another 100 people and it multiplies that much more quickly,” Van Den Bogaert said. “I’m 65 years old and I know that one day I’ll be gone. What I want to do is house all these items in one location.” Her husband of 41 years likewise is committed to the cause, and to his memories of his Turkey Creek education. “For the small school it was, I always felt like the teachers really cared about your education,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my mechanical drawing teacher, or drafting teacher, I guess you’d call it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He encouraged me to go to college.” To aid in the preservation of the school’s history, call Willeva Van Den Bogaert at (813) 986-5965.