FKHDC History

February 2013: Established Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation Inc., with Richard Russell, president; George Hertel, vice president; Richard Saylor, treasurer; and Phyllis Mitchell, secretary. Hired for three months, a consultant, Deb Illes, formerly with the History of Diving Museum.  

July 2013: Hosted an exhibit with Clyde Butcher photography, Preserving Eden, in an effort to build momentum for the foundation and its fundraising.  

September 2013: Signed 50-year lease with C. David Curry of Hobbs & Curry, owner of the Islander property. The $1-a-year lease provides use of approximately 7,500 square feet of space on two floors in the newly built conference center for a future museum. Hired Brad Bertelli to serve as a curator/historian on a consulting basis. Began search for full-time executive director. 

October 2013: Signed three-year contract with Jill Miranda Baker to serve as executive director on a consulting basis.  

January 2014: Keys History & Discovery Center officially opens with a traveling exhibit. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays, staffed by volunteers. Also, launched Charter Club Membership, a five-year, $2,000 per-year commitment with donors to be recognized in perpetuity on a donor board with monitor in the main lobby. First members included Phyllis Mitchell, George Hertel and Brett Ekblom. 

February 2014: Received tax-exempt status from the IRS, officially allowing the Foundation to solicit contributions. Held first community lecture featuring renowned photographer Clyde Butcher.  

March 2014: Recorded first video interview to be used in the future theater with IGFA Hall of Fame fly-fishing angler Joan Wulff. 

April 2014: Opened Florida Highwaymen exhibit featuring curated collection from private art owners. Submitted first of many capital funding grants to the Tourist Development Council. Bertelli started making presentations in the community.  

May 2014: Received first donated collection from the family of the late George Hommell, a longtime angler and owner of World Wide Sportsman. Secured $20,000 from Bill Gilbert/Caribee Boat Sales & Marina to create first permanent exhibit, Legends of the Line. Exhibit debuted in June 2014. 

June 2014: Introduced annual membership program which included unlimited admissions and a variety of benefits. Bette Rosenthal was the first to join and remained a member through January 2020, when she relocated from the area. 

July 2014: Began establishing relationships with the likes of HistoryMiami Museum, Key West Arts & Historical Society, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and numerous individuals, making site visits and having lunch meetings.  

August 2014: Filmed a segment for “Art Loft,” a popular Miami-based public TV show. Show aired in September 2014. 

October 2014: Began hosting regular lecture series.  

November 2014: Hosted and recorded presentation by five survivors of the 1935 Great Labor Day Hurricane in front of more than 100 community members. Video was later used in the theater. 

April 2015: Established Flagler’s Folly Society, a young professionals group to support the mission of the Foundation. Co-founders were Emily Carter, Erin Muir and Liz Huddleston.  

May 2015: Cut the ribbon for the state-of-the art, 35-seat theater in front of an audience of more than 200.  

July 2015: Formed Fundraising & Development Committee and Theater Committee.  

November 2015: Began monthly movie matinees featuring films in and/or about the Keys. 

December 2015: Recognized dedicated volunteers during a holiday reception and honored Matt Hetman as the first volunteer of the year.  

January 2016: Held first strategic planning session with facilitator Capt. Penny Penn. Created and approved 2016-2018 plan in March.  

March 2016: Hosted the 50th Annual Members Juried Art Show compiled by the Art Guild of the Purple Isles. The annual show remains a March exhibit through 2020.  

May 2016: Unveiled Indian Key permanent exhibit, which was funded through a $75,000 donation from Ken and Dee Meeks. Also in May, Flagler’s Folly Society hosted a “History of Lilly Pulitzer” presentation and pop-up shop raising nearly $10,000. 

July 2016: Hosted Key Largo Chamber of Commerce Members in Motion event.  

August 2016: Applied for highway signage permit with the Village of Islamorada. December due to Village staff recommendation, the Village Council denied permit. Process to reapply and/or appeal lasted until June 2017. Highway sign installed in November 2017. 

January 2017: Premiered “The Life and Times of Dr. Henry Perrine,” a documentary about the surgeon, botanist and plant explorer who contributed to Florida’s early agricultural development, particularly on Indian Key near Islamorada.  

March through May 2017: Showed weekly the Netflix’s “Bloodline” series, seasons one and two.  

March 31, 2017: Received pledge from Ken and Dee Meeks to donate $1 million in stock shares to the Foundation, with a $100,000 advance given on this date. In the Foundation’s bank account on this day was less than $9,000.  

May 13, 2017: On Ken Meeks 90th birthday, honored he and his wife Dee for their gift with a sign unveiling and reception with more than 100 in attendance, Ken’s 90th birthday.  

July 2017: Formed an Investment Committee. Meeks donation received in totality. Established $400,000 endowment. Paid off significant debt. 

September 2017: Hurricane Irma struck. The Islander Resort property was devasted. Discovery Center closed for 10 weeks.  

October 2017: Executive Director became first official employee, a move away from the independent contract model. Curator soon followed.  

November 2017: Held the first Signature Event fundraiser, A Night at the Museum: Exhibits Come to Life, raising more than $60,000 exceeding expectations. Highway sign installed.  

April 2018: Opened Treasures of NOAA’s Ark, a traveling exhibit featuring the two hundred-plus year history of the federal agency created Thomas Jefferson. Exhibit ran through February 2019. 

May 2018: Added third staff person to work part-time. Erin Muir was hired on as Membership Coordinator. By July 2018, promoted to Membership and Events Manager with increased hours. 

June 2018: Contracted with a media specialist/librarian to create a plan of action and do a rough review of the existing collections. Plan complete in August 2018. 

June 2018: Launched Walk Historic Islamorada walking tour app at Green Turtle Restaurant. Walking tour was created by the curator and supported by a $5,000 grant from the Florida Humanities Council. 

July 2018: Expanded to five days open for business, adding Wednesdays.  

September 2018: Held opening reception for the Jerry Wilkinson Research Library and celebrated his 90th birthday. 

October 2018: Executive Director and Curator attended Florida Association of Museums conference for the first time.  

October 2018: Kicked off in an alternate location the Keys History & Discovery Center Presents… lecture series. Closed due to major road construction on the property through November. 

December 2018: Reopened and unveiled the new permanent exhibit, Coral Reef Exploration, in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory.  

January 2019: Announced partnership with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, an organization dedicated to the conservation of bonefish, tarpon and permit – the species, their habitat and the larger fisheries they support. Partnership includes annual donation for five years of $10,000 and grant to support a new permanent exhibit featuring their fisheries and habitat up to $40,000.  

May 2019: Concluded a successful lecture season with an average of 132 in attendance, up from 75 in 2018. Florida Keys or Bust: A Celebration of Tourism held with 90 in attendance. 

June 2019: Launched Walk Indian Key walking tour app at Keys History & Discovery Center. Walking tour was created by the curator in partnership with Florida State Parks and supported through a $5,000 grant from the Florida Humanities Council. 

September 2019: Two new permanent exhibits were added, one showcasing a 16th century bronze cannon and the second, an 18th century anchor. 

October 2019: On Fly in the Salt: American Saltwater Fly Fishing from the Surf to the Flats, on loan from the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Vermont, debut. 

January 2020: Unveiled Bonefish & Tarpon Trust permanent exhibit which includes BTT’s annual Circle of Honor recognition to an audience of approximately 180 during BTT’s annual meeting.  

March 2020: Closed for three months due to COVID-19 global pandemic. Reopened in June but due to staffing limitations, open only three days a week.  

April 2020: Held the first of many virtual lectures and implemented a social media plan to utilize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect with members and broader community during stay home orders.  

June 2020: Introduced new virtual programs, Cocktails with the Curator and Community Views, in response to stay home order. 

November 2020: A Night For the Museum: Together From Home, the annual signature fundraiser that went virtual, raised $67,000.  

March 2021: Reopened Saturdays while continuing to experience challenges with volunteer staffing.  

May 2021: Contracted with Vivian Morrison as a consultant for Outreach Recovery and Growth with the intent to create an ambassador group to further engage members, and to create a plan for outreach to the Hispanic community. 

July 2021: Jill Miranda Baker gives notice of departure. Contracted for additional time as National search begins. 

October 2021: Returned to in-person lecture series as well as additional simultaneous virtual offerings. Conducted 14 lectures from October-May 2022. Brad Bertelli resigns as full-time Curator.  

December 2021: Bonnie Barnes assumed position of Executive Director of FKHDF. Museum reopens 5 days a week. 

January 2022: Megan Scallan joined the team as Museum Assistant, and Julie Maris as Administrator, with the departure of Erin Muir. Museum reopens 6 days a week. 

June 2022: Erin Muir joins board and will bring together and facilitate a newly formed Collections Committee. 

June 2022: Added summer mini-lecture series for June and July. 

June-August 2022: Hosted 14 graduate students from around the country who began processing museum collections and artifacts into newly acquired collections software. All collections are available on website for public viewing.  

August 2022: Cuban Boat and Flagler Train painting exhibits open. 

Updated August 31, 2022 

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