Manatee County School Board honors trio of late past
BRADENTON - With combined community service spanning more than 125 years, three late Manatee County School District leaders were honored Tuesday for their dedication to students and education.
Mary Cantrell, Dan Nolan and Gene Witt, honored at the beginning of the Manatee County School Board meeting, all died in 2015.
Cantrell was a school board member and the former head of Manatee Technical College.
Nolan and Witt served as superintendents in the school district after long terms as teachers and principals.
"We lost three great leaders in this community in this last year. They will be sorely missed," board member Bob Gause said.
Superintendent Diana Greene read a proclamation honoring the achievements of each, and a family member spoke about their loved one.
In remembering his wife, Louis Cantrell recalled how Mary Cantrell looked to Nolan and Witt as mentors and leaders while working in the school district.
"Mary, like many of you hear, loved education and she loved giving the opportunity to learn to every student she met," her husband said.
In remembering her husband, Marilyn Nolan spoke about the excitement Dan Nolan felt when he convinced Mary Cantrell to come work in Manatee County. She also spoke about how the relationship between Nolan and Witt blossomed into a true friendship.
"Dan would have felt very humbled, as I do now, to be the recipient of everything I have heard," she said. "His career was nurtured by many, many fine mentors. Among them was a very special person: Gene Witt."
In describing his father, Ron Witt spoke on behalf of the family and said he could not thank the district enough. He joked that his father would have noticed something about those who were being honored with him.
"He's being honored with two doctors. He'd make a point of saying he always thought of himself as a doctor," he said. "I remember as a small boy, being in the locker room when he was a coach, doing some surgery on some football players at halftime."
The achievements of the leaders were all so remarkable, major county facilities were named after them while still alive. Those facilities will honor the leaders for years to come.
"Each of these three educational leaders -- Dr. Mary Cantrell, Dr. Dan Nolan and Mr. Gene Witt -- left indelible marks in the history of public education in Manatee County," spokesman Mike Barber said.
On State Road 70 inside Manatee Technical College, Cantrell Hall serves as a gathering spot for students and community members. Rye Road East is home to Gene Witt Elementary School and R. Dan Nolan Middle School serves students on Greenbrook Boulevard.
Board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said she knows the sacrifices the leaders made to help the children and also thanked their families, the unsung heroes who supported the educators.
"I think the hallmark of the three individuals and their families, particularly the families that we honored tonight, is that being in education is a special calling and sometimes the families don't see very much of you all," Carpenter said. "It requires that extra mile."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.