John Land’s widow: Part of the former mayor’s statue doesn’t ring true

When Betty Land, widow of longtime Apopka Mayor John Land, previewed a city-commissioned statue of her late husband at the artist’s studio a few weeks ago, she noticed something amiss.

Her husband’s clay figure had a wedding ring on.

“Well, John never wore a ring in all the years we were married,” 90-year-old “Miss Betty” told Winter Park sculptor Pete Pasha, who was startled but prepared to fix the error.

“I was there with my chisel ready to cut the ring off” before sending it to the American Bronze Foundry in Sanford for casting, Pasha said. “She said, ‘Nope. Leave it there.’”

With the Land family’s blessing, the Apopka City Council last week approved the sculpture’s final design.

Betty and John Land wed in 1949, the year he was first elected mayor, and were married until he died in 2014 at 94, months after losing an election for only the second time in six decades.

He is believed to be the longest-serving mayor in Florida’s history.

“Usually when you talk about a man not wearing his wedding band, it’s not exactly a positive thing,” said Cathy Waters, 63, one of John and Betty’s three children. “But not Daddy.”

Waters said her father got into the habit of not wearing his ring or other jewelry while working in the family mill, Consumers Lumber and Veneer Co., which made and sold wood-and-wire vegetable crates to farming and citrus operations. A snagged ring could cost you a ring, the finger or both.

Land, whose mayoral salary was $1 for about a quarter-century, made crates until the 1970s when he became Apopka’s mayor full time.

Though State Road 414 bears his name and the Legislature honored him for his longevity and service, city leaders decided to recognize his legacy to Apopka with two statues — one standing in front of City Hall and the other seated on a park bench at Kit Land Nelson Park.

They envisioned visitors taking a seat beside him for a picture.

The city set aside $107,288 for the statues and hopes to have both installed later this year. The City Hall figure is finished while the park statue will soon be cast in bronze at the American Bronze Foundry.

Commissioner Diane Velazquez described the seated figure as “welcoming — it just gives you a feeling of being very friendly and embracing.”

Pasha’s statues depict the mayor as he looked in the ’70s.

“It’s Daddy in his 50s,” Waters said.

He’s sporting a suit and tie, an American flag pin on his lapel and two-toned dress shoes on his feet.

The resemblance must be a good one.

Not only did the family sign its approval to Pasha’s clay model, but Eric Hooper, 92, the late mayor’s friend and hunting buddy for 70 years, walked into the artist’s Winter Park studio and blurted out, “Well, there he is. You got him.”

Stephen Hudak can be reached at shudak@orlandosentinel.com or on Twitter @Bearlando.