The city of culture and heritage might rename one of its parks after recent allegations have cast a beloved Winter Park icon as a child molester.
Five women have reported being molested from as early as age 4 by late swimming instructor and local figure Fleetwood “Fleet” Peeples Sr., according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The recent allegations have already prompted the city to take action. City Manager Randy Knight released a statement on Monday that the City Commission will look at renaming Fleet Peeples Park – a dog-friendly green space by Lake Baldwin – to its original name of Lake Baldwin Park.
“While the city cannot prove or disprove the allegations contained in the Orlando Sentinel article, because of the number of people that have come forward and because of the severity of their claims, city staff believes the community is best served by returning the park back to its original name,” the statement read.
The alleged incidents took place during the early ’50s, mid-’60s and mid-’70s, according to the Orlando Sentinel. New York resident and freelance writer Katherine Sanderlin, 42, grew up in Orlando and took swimming lessons from Peeples Sr. as a young girl.
Sanderlin recalls learning how to swim, but also a camping trip with the longtime swimming instructor that brings back painful memories.
“I was wearing a nightgown and he just reached his hand up my nightgown and he felt I was wearing underwear,” Sanderlin said. “He said ‘Little girls don’t wear panties to bed.’”
“I took them off and I just remember his hands doing some kind of action on the lower half of my body.”
The reports from Sanderlin and four other women came after the arrest of Peeples Sr.’s son, Fleetwood Peeples Jr., in February over child molestation and pornography charges. He reportedly admitted to molesting as many as a dozen boys while serving as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader in the 1980s.
The younger Peeples is currently in the Orange County Jail with a bail set at $12,500.
It came as a great relief to see so many other women who went through the same ordeal, Sanderlin said.
“That little child part of me feels not alone anymore knowing that other people unfortunately went through a similar story,” Sanderlin said. “If he’s truly taught over 20,000 children how to swim and there are instances across different decades, my heart kind of melts thinking about how many others might have been hurt in this way.”
“Ultimately I chose to share my story.”
Winter Park residents remember Peeples Sr. as a beloved figure in the city. He joined Rollins College as a swimming instructor in 1922 and became the Director of Aquatics, serving the college for more than 50 years, according to records from the Winter Park Public Library.
After retirement from Rollins he became the first swimming instructor at Winter Park High School, having a new swimming pool named after him in 1976.
“His dedication to the Winter Park community was reflected in the volunteer work he did on behalf of polio and cancer victims, Cub and Boy Scouts, Red Cross, and the YMCA,” an oral history from the Winter Park Public Library website reads.
“In addition to his illustrious career as a swimming coach, he may be more recognized as the one who taught ‘20,000’ children to swim.”
His community involvement led the city to dedicate Lake Baldwin Park in his name in May 1985.
Fleetwood Sr. passed away in 1993 at the age of 95.
Treasurer and Secretary Carla Lubet of Friends of Fleet Peeples Park would not comment on the allegations.
A resolution to change the park’s name to Lake Baldwin Park will go before the City Commission at its July 14 meeting.
“A dog park is not an insult to me; it’s a place where creatures frolic,” Sanderlin said. “It never disgusted me, but it saddened me – it hurts.”
“There’s a sense of peace about it being called Lake Baldwin Park again.”