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Ernie Caldwell

Distinguished Alumnus December 1985


Ernest “Ernie” Wayne Caldwell graduated from Haines City High School in 1967. He earned his AA in Social Science from Polk State in 1969. He continued his education at the University of Central Florida, receiving his BA in Political Science and Pre-Law in 1971.

Ernie loved Polk County, and was known as a fighter in protecting its agricultural and environmental land. He worked for the county as a planner in the early 1970s and was instrumental in creating the county’s first wetlands ordinance limiting the amount of development that could occur on wetlands-designated areas. He was then employed at GAC Properties, original developers of Poinciana, for five years as an assistant housing project manager.

In 1978, at age 29, Ernie became one of the youngest county commissioners in Polk County history.  Representing District 4, he served as commissioner until 1990, including two terms as chairman.

His experience with the Board included chairing the Agriculture and Parks and Recreation Committees, as well as the Mined Lands Agricultural Demonstration Center Oversight Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Crime Commission and the Development Coordination Committee and as liaison for Polk General Hospital and the Polk County Health Department.

After leaving the Board of County Commissioners, Caldwell served as Executive Director of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council. He then worked for the citrus division of Jack M. Berry, Inc. Caldwell later switched to the development side of the company with Berry Development, Inc. before taking a consulting job in later years with Berry USA.

Ernie’s leadership was recognized well beyond Polk County. He was appointed by Governors Graham, Martinez, and Chiles to the Non-Mandatory Reclamation Commission, including service as chair. He also served on the Governor’s Commission for Everglades Restoration, and was on the board of directors for Audubon Florida and the Future Farmers of America Foundation.

Ernie spent the majority of his career devoted to issues of Environmental Permitting and Land Development throughout the State of Florida. He received National Recognition in 1996 when he achieved “First in the Nation” status from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in 1999 he received the Environmental Champion Award, presented by Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of the EPA, Carol Browner.

On December 15, 2004, Polk County commissioners voted unanimously to name a new road, an east-west connector, Ernie Caldwell Boulevard in honor of the dedicated Commissioner. Caldwell was present at the June 2009 groundbreaking for the road. Sadly, Caldwell passed away on November 1, 2009 at the age of 60, after a two and a half year battle with cancer. Even while battling the disease, he was an advocate for the American Cancer Society and Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.

Ernie Caldwell Boulevard was dedicated on January 7, 2012.