Emerson Center presents free speaker series select Thursdays through April

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Acknowledging community interest in the continuation of its annual Florida Humanities Series, the Emerson Center will present a new group of speakers for 2015-2016, in partnership with the Florida Humanities Council.

Seven programs will be presented between October 2015 and April 2016, with lectures and performances relating to Florida history, culture and people. Admission to each is complimentary. All performances will begin at 7 p.m. on a Thursday evening.

October is National Humanities Month and the premier speaker of the series will be Richard Votapka with “Fellsmere Firsts and Other Fellsmere Stories” on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. Fellsmere is a small agricultural town northwest of Vero Beach that was once the center of commerce in Indian River County. Dressed in costume of an earlier day, Fellsmere historian Votapka will share information via PowerPoint about what life was like there at the turn of the 19th century and its early years.

Next is Bill Jamerson on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m with “Dollar a Day Boys: A Musical Tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps.” Historian/songwriter Jamerson tells stories about Florida’s CCC boys, using photos, video and memorabilia. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC public relief program provided work and dollar-a-day income for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families. Jamerson will bring this often-overlooked period to life once again with heartfelt stories and hilarious tales from that era.

A special return engagement is The Avenue D Choir with songs of the season in “A Joyful Holiday Concert” on Dec. 10 made possible with a sponsorship by Marine Bank. The excitement, discipline and joy of making music together, brought success and applause for a group of young St. Lucie County boys and girls who will travel to Vero Beach to bring us entertaining holiday music. Holiday refreshments will follow. No tickets required.

Kicking off the New Year on Jan. 21 at7 p.m. will be Tom Berson and “Transparent Waters: The History and Significance of Florida Springs.” Berson, a former journalist and Florida and environmental history professor, will describe the numerous valuable natural springs in Florida that brought tourists here before Disney. The springs attracted travelers into a wild and enchanting Florida interior, including Weeki Wachee, the deepest naturally formed spring in the United States.

Following is Craig Pittman and “How Florida Contracted Manatee Insanity” on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Ever since 1893, when Florida passed its very first law protecting manatees, these ungainly marine mammals have been casting their spell over the people of this state. Author and environmental journalist Pittman traces the history of how manatees wound up on the endangered species list and why they remain there today, a story that features such characters as Jacques Cousteau and Jimmy Buffett.

Michael Francis, Ph.D. will be at the podium on March 10 at 7 p.m. with “La Florida before Jamestown: Europeans, Africans, and Indians in La Florida, 1513-1607.” This presentation explores the early history of European settlement efforts in Florida. It recounts the remarkably rich, yet much neglected, history of colonization in the U.S. southeast in the 16th century, a process that began almost a century before Jamestown. This presentation will give the audience an excellent background to understand our rich Spanish history.

Closing out the series on April 14 at 7 p.m. is Jack Davis, Ph.D. with “Paradise Lost: Reflections on Florida’s Environmental History.” University of Florida environmental historian Davis discusses the natural side of the human saga in Florida’s history, the early artists and writers who discovered a paradise they feared would be significantly altered or completely lost.

Funding for these programs is provided through a grant from the Florida Humanities Council with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and sponsored in part by Marine Bank & Trust.

The capacity of the Emerson Center is more than 800; free admission will be offered on a first-come-first-served basis for all speakers. The Emerson Center is handicap accessible and is conveniently located at 1590 27th Avenue, on the SE corner of 16th Street and 27th Avenue in Vero Beach. For more information, contact the Emerson box office at (772) 778-5249.

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