Legendary leader "Big Sam" Mitchell will be honored at a ceremony, dinner and dance celebrating his life on Aug. 29 at the National Guard Armory in Marianna.
The event will honor the former Florida Legislator’s legacy while raising funds to create a perpetual scholarship in his name at Chipola College. He played on the college’s first football and basketball teams in 1947.
"Big Sam," developed a larger than life persona during his 40-year career as a coach, principal and father figure to thousands of children in Vernon and Washington County.
He began his coaching career at Campbellton High School in 1952 where he had a 24-2 record in his first season.
He was called to service in the United States Army, and upon returning home from military duty, Mitchell established himself at Vernon High School, where he compiled an overall career record as a basketball coach of 396-59. As a football coach, Mitchell compiled an impressive record of 113 wins and only 17 losses. Mitchell’s basketball team won the state championship in 1957. He was chosen basketball coach of the year in 1957, and football coach of the year in 1961.
Mitchell was appointed principal of Vernon High School in 1967 and served until 1977. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the Florida High School Activities Association from 1968-1975, and served as vice-president from 1975 to 1977.
Mitchell was elected by the people of this area to serve in the Florida Legislature. He served for more than 20 years, receiving many legislative awards. He completed his term as speaker pro tempore during the 1988-1990 sessions. At the time of his retirement from the Florida House, Mitchell was one of the longest serving and most respected members in the history of the Florida legislature. Former Rep. Robert Trammell who served alongside Mitchell in the Florida House for many years, said, "Big Sam was very proud of his rural beginnings. He never forgot who he was or where he came from. Even though he was one of the most powerful and influential leaders in the state of Florida, he always preferred the simple things in life and was always a friend to the little man."
After retiring in 1994, he worked with the Florida Lakes Department for three years. Mitchell was born Aug. 2, 1929, in Chipley. He married Nellie Henders on Sept. 4, 1951, and they had two children, Brenda and Sammie Jean. After retirement he settled down in Vernon, where he ran a small seafood business as a hobby, which allowed him to make new friends until his death in November 2003.
The Aug. 29 dinner is hosted by "Friends of Sam Mitchell" and sponsored by the Chipola Appreciation Club. The event will celebrate Mitchell’s life and contributions to the people of this area while helping to endow a scholarship in his memory at the school that gave him his start. Chipola president Dr. Gene Prough, said, "Sam loved Chipola and he gave the college credit for providing him the opportunity to earn an education. I know that Sam would be proud that we are establishing this scholarship in his name to insure that other people have the same opportunity he had."
The event will begin with a social hour at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. Entertainment will begin at 8 p.m., featuring the world-famous Embers, the Raleigh, NC, band renowned for its exciting renditions of nostalgic "beach music." Also appearing will be a 1960’s era band, the Villagers, which includes several Chipola alumni.
For information on the event, call Lillie Hamil at 850-718-2375.