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Monday, March 13, 2006

A Tribute to a Florida and National Philanthropist

March 13, 2006

As part of our 20th Anniversary we beign our series-- A Tribute to Florida Philanthropists

He is the epitome of a southern gentleman. He is also a giant in the world of Florida road building, community service and philanthropy. A decorated Army officer, past chairman of dozens of corporate and nonprofit boards, proud husband of sixty-five years, father of two children and grandfather of three. Born a South Carolina son, he’s Orlando’s own Frank Hubbard.

Frank’s path to philanthropy is an anomaly. He was only twenty-two years old, married less than a year when he was sent overseas with the U.S. Army’s 342nd Engineering Regiment. Learning his father’s construction business, as he was doing at the time, had to wait. Duty to his country called.

Suddenly, he found himself no longer building roads for Hubbard Construction but re-building bridges and roads in France destroyed by German bombs. That experience taught him much about determination, discipline and responsibility.

He returned home in November of 1945, a man devoted to the success of the South Carolina business his Dad, Francis Evans Hubbard, founded in 1920. (Before WWII his Dad moved his family and part of the company to Florida.) As his Dad’s health declined, Frank’s responsibilities for running the company increased. After his Dad died in 1954 Frank led the company to statewide recognition and a reputation for integrity and excellence.

Under his leadership Frank guided thousands of employees on major projects such as infrastructure and road building for Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center, Orlando International Airport, the EPCOT interchange, Orange County Convention/Civic Center, the University of Central Florida and Florida’s “Main Street,” the Florida Turnpike. In 1984 he sold the company, “retired,” and shifted his focus to his other passion, helping others.

In 1998 he was recognized for his leadership in giving to others by the the national Association of Fundraising Professionals, as the Nation’s Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year, making Frank the first and only Floridian to be so named. I wanted to find out when and where Frank learned the art of philanthropy. So I visited with him at his Bay Hill home earlier this year.

As Frank explains, it was two special occasions in his life that made him think about the needs of others. The first being when serving in the Army in France a Dutch submarine sailor, who had been captured and escaped from the Germans, found his way to a bridge project in Sherbourg where Captain Hubbard was in charge of rebuilding bridges destroyed by German troops. Captain Hubbard took pity on the poor soul who was wet, freezing cold, without warm clothes and hungry. Before it was all over, Captain Hubbard even got the lad a job with the International Red Cross.

The second occasion took a bit more effort, as well as some serious negotiations with his Dad. It was January 1946 and Frank was fresh back in Florida from his tour of duty with a Bronze Star and other commendations for exemplary service to his country. He and his wife, Ruth Scorgie, who was born and raised in Frostproof, Florida, drove back to South Carolina so Frank could resume his duties with Hubbard Construction.

As the years passed Hubbard Construction, now established in Central Florida, was growing fast. Frank realized that many of its workers were aging and had little savings for retirement or worse yet, no life insurance or health benefits. Many couldn’t even read or write to fill out the forms to apply for President Roosevelt’s New Deal, Social Security Program.

Frank felt strongly about the situation facing the company’s employees. He gave the matter a lot of serious thought. Then he made his case to his Dad. “We work and live like a family, so why not treat everyone as family?” With impatience, his Dad responded, “Son, those things are for wealthy companies. If we were to provide all those benefits, as you suggest, we would bankrupt the company.”

Frank listened respectfully, but wasn’t about to give up. He proceeded to seek out an advisor. He found his man in Elliot Springs, President of Springmaid Cotton Mills. Months later the mentoring paid off. Frank went back to his Dad, with an even stronger case that emphasized the affordability, not the expense, of providing benefits. “Hubbard Construction must take care of its own and here’s how we can afford to do it.” In the end, his Dad agreed and Frank’s benefits program was so good that some employees actually received more during retirement than they had earned while working. These two events made Frank realize that helping others had no down side—it was a win/win for everyone involved.

After his father died in 1954 Frank become the single largest shareholder of Hubbard Construction. Each year as the company made money, Frank took a large portion of his own personal stock in Hubbard Construction and began funding the Hubbard Foundation. Later, he established, and became Chairman of, a family foundation which he called A. Friend’s Foundation Trust. It was managed by Frank, his wife Ruth, son Evans and daughter Connie. His grandson, Michael, was recently appointed to the Board of Managers. Evans was named Chairman in January of ’06.

As Frank’s giving increased so did the requests from more and more groups springing up in a growing Central Florida. Frank’s fame as a philanthropist spread and he received many invitations to chair campaigns and provide lead gifts to them. Over the years he has chaired more campaigns and served as president of more nonprofit boards than is possible to remember.

He and Ruth Hubbard are quite content splitting their time, six months in Florida, the other six months in the mountains of North Carolina. It gives them plenty of time to watch the kids carry on the family legacy of philanthropy. Evans also serves on the board of Dr. Phillips Foundation, Health Central Hospital, Historic Bok Sanctuary and United Methodist Children’s Home.

No doubt Frank Hubbard’s lessons in philanthropy will live on with those he has inspired by his example of generosity. As one of Central Florida’s and the nation’s leading philanthropists, this legendary road and bridge builder has paved the way to a better life for the less fortunate and built bridges of hope to many ‘a friend’ in need.