tampabay.com

Making it easier for today's kids

Owen Gall had to pay his own way to college. His gift means a student a year won't have to.

By GINA PACE
Published February 1, 2007


ZEPHYRHILLS

When Owen Gall graduated from Zephyrhills High School, 75 percent of the boys went on to college.

Granted, it was 1930 and there were only four of them.

Now, the school is 1,650-students strong and Gall wants more of them to have the opportunity to go on to a university. That's why Gall, who sold his family's citrus groves for development, recently donated $200,000 to the Pasco Education Foundation to establish a scholarship fund for Zephyrhills High graduates.

"I don't want any attention for this," said Gall, 94, when first asked about the donation.

But he eventually opened up about how his high school English and Latin teacher, Annie Gill, always encouraged her students to go on to college. He got a loan from the local Rotary club to attend the University of Florida and study agriculture.

"I didn't get encouragement from my folks," Gall said Wednesday. "I had to hunt up a way to get there myself."

Gall was born in Pensacola and spent his early years in Michigan, then moved to Zephyrhills in 1922.

"When we came to Zephyrhills, you might have been able to scratch up 500 or 600 people," Gall said of the population then.

After graduating from college, Gall worked in soil conservation before serving in the Army during World War II. He returned to Zephyrhills and worked in the citrus industry and owned a sand silica plant.

Over the years, he sold off nearly 350 acres that once grew citrus. Now, Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, Publix and other businesses are on the land.

Gall Boulevard, the main north-south artery running through the city, honors his father, Walter R. Gall, who used his influence in Tallahassee to get the highway routed through Zephyrhills.

Gall's daughter, Lisa Smith, who lives in Wesley Chapel, said her father's ties to the community, especially his friends from high school, have always been very important to him.

Smith remembers the four men from his graduating class meeting for coffee every morning. There were also two or three women in that class.

"He used to say I have a class reunion every day," Smith said. But now, "he's pretty much the last one left."

Gall lives now with his wife, Anne, at a home in Silver Oaks, right along the golf course. He can't believe how much traffic there is outside his neighborhood. The time in high school when he used to deliver to all of the Tampa Tribune's Zephyrhills subscribers seems far away.

Gerri Painter, the principal at Zepyrhills High, said the area is growing so much that the school faces overcrowding. People in the community are so attached to the school that they suggest adding on rather than opening a new one.

"It's a very special place," Painter said. "The community has a sense of ownership over the school."

Gall's donation will start a fund that will send one student per year to the University of Florida. That student must plan to study agriculture, education, pre-medicine or journalism.

It's the third-largest donation from an individual the foundation has ever received, said executive director Chip Wichmanowski.

"It has always been really important to him for people to have an opportunity to have education," Smith said of her father. "He's a very generous person."

Gina Pace can be reached at (352) 521-6518 or gpace@sptimes.com.