The ‘Glades on a bet

John Pennekamp beat the Pork Choppers at their own game.

Here’s one of my favorite stories about how the old Florida “Pork Choppers” did “bidness.”

One day in 1947, a group of movers and shakers sat down over fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens … and poker chips … at a Florida Power and Light-owned retreat on Horseshoe Lake in Marion County.

The big winner that day happened to be John D. Pennekamp; not a politico, but editor of the Miami Herald.

“I was a pretty good poker player in those days but not as good as I seemed that day,” Pennekamp, years later, told Allen Morris, the legendary clerk of the Florida House. “I couldn’t lose. I won hand after hand. Made uncanny draws.”

Finally, as the story goes, B.C. “Bill” Pearce, state senator from East Palatka, threw down his cards in disgust and asked Pennekamp “Just how much money do you need for that (expletive) park of yours?”

As it so happens, Pennekamp was spearheading a campaign to buy land in the Everglades to be turned over to the federal government for preservation. He had intended to ask for $400,000. But running a bluff that would make any poker player proud, Pennekamp impulsively upped the ante to $2 million.

Grumbled Pearce “Why don’t you come over to the Legislature and get it instead of taking it out of our pockets?”

And so he did. “From that point on we were in,” he told Morris. “That was the way it was with the Pork Choppers. When they said something, that was it.”

So it was that the Everglades National Park was born on a bet. Is this a great state or what?

Who wants to play those eights and aces?

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