Schools are central part of community

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Before Wednesday's accident, the most talked about subject in Lake Butler was the future destination of C.J. Spiller. C.J. is the senior star running back at Union County High who is being recruited by colleges as close as the University of Florida and as distant as the University of Southern California.
School activities, especially Tiger football, are as central to life in Union County as the state prisons, which are the primary employer.
"The schools are a very integral part of the community," Union County Library Director Mary Brown said. "When things happen around the community, whether it is good or bad, we are all there for it. Most of us wear many hats in the community."
Union is 59th among Florida's 67 counties in size with a 2001 population estimated at 13,672 by the U.S. Census Bureau. Lake Butler, the county seat, has a population of about 1,988.
The community was named after Col. Robert Butler, who represented the United States in Spain's 1821 ceding of East Florida.
Turf wars of another sort are part of the town's history. Union was the 61st county to be created, which occurred in 1921.
Before that it was part of Bradford County. After the Civil War, elections were held to determine if the county seat would be Lake Butler or Starke, according to a history written by Marjorie McGill Driggers.
The argument went on for 50 years with the county seat swinging back and forth several times. Finally, Union County was carved out.
Today, prisons are the county's biggest employer, with the timber industry also paying a large role. What is now Union Correctional Institution was created in 1913 as a temporary stockade. It now employs about 822 people.
Other state correction facilities in Union County are two branches of the Reception and Medical Center with combined employment of about 972. Several neighboring counties also have prisons.
Kathy Lyons moved to Lake Butler about 16 months ago and helps manage the King House Inn Bed and Breakfast. The inn is owned by her daughter, Jamie Dekle, a high school teacher, and Dekle's husband, John Dekle.
"This is the kind of place . . . if you are looking for something off the beaten path that is quiet and laid back and hospitable," Lyons said. "I perceive this to be a very tight-knit community; very religious in its behavior overall."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or

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