December 2018 CityMaker:

David & Jean Bunch

By Jonathan Camargo

They say the beauty of a city lies in its people, the sights being a bonus. Luckily enough, living in Lakeland affords us the best of both, uncompromised. Our potential as a community, though, has only yet to be realized.

You’ve driven down South Florida and strolled the sidewalks of downtown. From the Terrace Hotel to Lawton Chiles Middle, the buildings that give our town a face are some of the oldest in the area. Their preservation, their longevity, and the aesthetic value they add to our city are only made possible by this month’s CityMaker duo: David and Jean Bunch.

A Car And A Ticket

To tell our story, we have to tell theirs. Both David and Jean have been calling Lakeland home for just around 60 years, for their own reasons respectively. Jean came to Lakeland with her family as her dad sought to make it by big by selling valuable Florida real estate. Flash forward a few years and he owned his own real estate firm; mission completion. David’s story starts a little differently.

A 20-year-old, fresh from the army, David decided he was moving to Florida. The logistics didn’t fully matter, just that he was going – take it or leave it. In a car packed full of belongings and with eyes set on Stuart specifically, he was off. One speeding ticket later, that destination would change to somewhere a little closer to our hearts: Lakeland.

On a whim, and nearly broke after the speeding ticket, David reached out to distant family that lived in Lakeland just to say hello. He’d never met them having grown up in North Carolina, but he was passing through after all. That simple greeting turned into a job, that job an opportunity, and that opportunity a life.

Freshly Planted Roots

David’s relatives were retired and owned a citrus caretaking business. Sensing David’s unfortunate position, they offered him a job knowing that he’d grown up on a farm and was familiar with the equipment.

“I stuck around and took that job, manual labor in a grove, and that fall I enrolled in Florida Southern College,” David said.

As a student, David’s place in our city grew alongside him. If the beautifully designed campus didn’t keep David’s eye, Jean certainly did. The two first met at Lakeland’s First United Methodist Church. Brought together by a faith that stands even stronger today, David and Jean married on December 28, 1963. Just about a decade later, the Bunches purchased what would become the start of their life’s work: a hearty, historic home built on a former cattle ranch.

A Hand And A Knee

The home was far from perfect, needing renovations galore, but it was just that: a home.

“We bought the property and the cattle along with it,” Jean said. “We decided to tackle the restoration of this house, which was built in 1914, and I became very hands-on involved with it. It was a very rewarding experience. When I finished, I was all fired up about historic preservation.”

Realizing that there wasn’t any body of people willing to advocate on behalf of our historic buildings and structures, Jean became that voice. In an effort to preserve the heritage of our town’s unique architecture and history, Jean formed an advocacy group that went by the name of Historic Lakeland.