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Englewood History
home : features : englewood history
May 16, 2022

9/9/2009 3:07:00 PM
Josephine Cortes Originated First Pioneer Days Celebration
Jo Cortez and Floyd Potter living it up at the Lasbury home on S. Southwind Drive.
Jo Cortez and Floyd Potter living it up at the Lasbury home on S. Southwind Drive.

Most areas in the United States have four seasons. Here in Englewood we often refer to two - "The Season" and the rest of the year. "The Season" starts in November and runs until April and features the arrival and stay of snowbirds in our town. Once these folks head back north, Englewood businesses and residents become the mainstay of the community. The Pioneer Days Celebration is the premier event held in Englewood, during those dog days of summer. It brings the town alive. Local residents enjoy three days of fun-filled activities during the Labor Day weekend, highlighted by an exciting parade down Dearborn Street.

The idea for Pioneer Days came in 1956 from Jo Cortes, a local writer and activist. Jo and her two children arrived in Englewood in 1954, moving here from the Washington D.C. area. Jo had an excellent journalism background, and in 1955 was offered a job as editor of the Englewood Herald, the town's first newspaper. In 1956 Jo decided to start her own newspaper, the Englewood News. Jo eventually took a job for 11 years as a reporter for a Sarasota newspaper. Throughout her career, Jo's first love was being active in Englewood community affairs.

In a 1986 interview ith the Venice Gondolier, Jo related how she came up with the idea for Pioneer Days. "I had been in Englewood for a while, and I noticed there was absolutely nothing to do in the summer. The place was dead!" she recalled. "I decided to have something in Englewood to make things lively. I happened to run into the first recorded plat of Englewood dated August 17, 1956 and found out that the first lot was platted by the Nichols brothers in 1896. It was then that I decided to have a Pioneer Day's Celebation to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Englewood."

Jo's idea was twofold: to stimulate local businesses in the slowest part of the year, and to bring in more visitors to Englewood during the celebration. Another even more important purpose for Pioneer Days was to honor Englewood's pioneer settlers. Residents of more than 50 years were to be designated as guests of honor for the event. Jo had met many of them while she worked for the Herald, and wanted to showcase the important roles these men and women played in Englewood's history. Jo began to talk up her idea around town, and because of her excitement and persistence, got some very positive responses from local merchants and community leaders.

Initially Jo helped to form the various committees that would do the nuts and bolts work of planning for the event. Over 40 area residents enthusiastically played key roles on these committees. Many local merchants were also very generous in donating prizes for the various contests. Organizers decided the best time for this three-day affair would be the anniversary of Englewood, the weekend of August 17. Later Pioneer Days would eventually shift to the Labor Day weekend, a few weeks later.

In a 1986 interview, Jo recalled her excitement in planning for this event. "People will come from miles around to join the fun, because it will be the only celebration in the summertime in this area," she said. Another part of the planning process involved sending out letters to the mayor of every town in America with the name of "Englewood." In the letter, the mayors were supposed to inform their citizens about an essay contest that asked, "Why would you like to spend a week in Englewood Florida?" Only five residents in one city responded - Englewood, Tennessee. Jo thought the response was low, because some of these mayors might have thought the letter was a sales gimmick. Eventually six area motels put up the Tennessee visitors and local restaurants fed them.

The first Pioneer's Day Celebration included such varied events as: a parade, a luncheon, a water ski show, a music program, swimming races, barbecues, fish fries, and a "Shipwreck Dance." It seemed like not only the entire population of Englewood showed up, but hundreds of other visitors as well. Jo Cortes' original idea for "Pioneer Days" was such a huge success that it has now been celebrated every year without interruption for 52 years. Without the spirit and dedication of Josephine Cortes, the memories and accomplishments of the Englewood pioneer families could have been lost. Jo, not only originated the idea of honoring these pioneers, but gave Englewood residents a wonderful opportunity to have fun!

I would like to credit the following sources in the writing of this article:

Bernie Reading, "Pioneer Days events in previous years",  The Englewood Sun, August 31, 2005

Michal Bergstrom, "The story according to Josephine O. Cortes", The Englewood Sun, (date unknown)

Ben Marthaler, "Englewood Pioneer Days continue through this Sunday", Venice Gondolier, August 30, 1986

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