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The Randells and the Randell Research Center

July 22, 2015
By ED FRANKS (efranks@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

Col. Donald Randell and his wife, Pat, arrived on Pine Island in 1968 when they purchased about 56 acres of Pine Island's "Pineland" area. Pineland was the central location of the Calusa Indians established at least 2,000 years ago. The Calusa inhabited Pineland for about 1,500 years until the arrival of the Europeans and Ponce de Leon.

The Calusa Indians were once the most powerful tribe in Southwest Florida. Remnants of this ancient civilization still exist in the form of shell mounds and hand-dug canals. Their primary source of food came from the estuaries of Southwest Florida and the refuse is the contents of the shell mounds. They lived in the Charlotte Harbor area down to the Ten Thousand Islands region of the Everglades.

An article in the Pine Island Eagle (Oct. 27, 1976) describes their property as "particularly interesting and beautiful. It is the old stomping ground of the lost Calusa Indians, and possibly some Indians even older. True Indian mounds surround the Randell house and a weed choked canal which the Calusa's traveled in their canoes crosses their property."

Article Photos

Patricia and Donald Randell at the conclusion of an appreciation banquet, Aug. 12, 1994.

PHOTO PROVIDED

Donald and Patricia Randell knew that their property had significant historical value. The Eagle article states that "they have constantly tried to preserve the natural vegetation and wildlife of the island including the Calusa mounds on their property. In the article Don Randell said, "Some day perhaps a knowledgeable geological team will excavate in them."

Nearly 20 years later, in 1994, the Randells donated 56 of their 80 acres to the University of Florida Foundation. In their honor, the property was named the Randell Research Center. It was the understanding at the time that their property would be sold to the state of Florida and the proceeds used to endow the center's research and education programs.

Donald H. Randell was born in Newark, New Jersey, November 23, 1909, in the house his grandfather built and the house where his father was born 23 years before. Randell's father found employment in the new automobile industry and acquired an interest in an auto repair garage in New York where the family relocated.

Randell was accepted into a select junior high school based on an IQ test given to all grammar students. When Randell was 12 his mother died and he returned to Newark to live with an aunt. He attended a co-ed college prep school near Philadelphia.

Randell's aunt decided that he should attend a summer camp program. The nine summer camps he attended left him with a lifelong interest in the outdoors. He was especially interested in venomous snakes. That led to a career that would keep him outdoors, and when he graduated from George School in 1928 he was accepted to Princeton University with a major in geology.

In 1932, just after graduation, Randell made his first trip to Florida, a place he described as "paradise," where he stayed on Biscayne Bay. Randell and a friend purchased a small boat and sailed to Bimini about 50 miles east of Miami. Randell then traveled to Europe where he visited museums and contemplated becoming a writer.

After returning to the states, Randell found a job in the mailroom of U.S. Trust Bank in New York. He quickly advanced into the Investments Department after completing classes at the American Institute of Banking.

Randell was also an officer in the Army Reserves and gained the rank of first lieutenant.

On Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1940, he met Patricia "Pat" Crandon. She was originally from Miami but was in New York working in the modeling business. When Don committed to active duty in 1941 the two were married and moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked with military procurement.

Once the war started, Pat returned to Florida with their two children and Don joined Gen. George Patton's 26th Infantry where he earned a Bronze Star and the rank of colonel.

Returning to the states after the war, Don found work for the Home Insurance Company gathering and analyzing data (a new field) and by the late 1960s he was thinking about retirement.

In 1968, the Randells purchased the property in Pineland. In an interview on the property with then reporter Randy Wayne White, Randell pointed out ancient pottery lying on the ground and stated, "I don't dig in the mounds. I hope to have an expert do that some day."

In 1983, he funded archeological mapping of a nearby property he acquired named Josslyn Island. The tiny island is off the western coast of Pine Island and has been relatively untouched since the Calusa inhabited the area.

In 1989, the University of Florida began the "Year of the Indian" project and children from Lee County began visiting the Randells' property to learn about the archeology of the area. The Randells hosted thousands of visitors, including 5,400 school children to their property.

In 1994, the Randells donated the property that would become the Randell Research Center. When asked why they donated the property Randell said, "We are giving this property because we are convinced that steps should be taken to preserve some of the past for posterity, and we want to see a place set aside where people can learn about what is being lost."

Sadly, in 1995, Donald Randell passed away, and his wife Pat Randell died in 2002.

Today the Randells' legacy, The Randell Research Center (RRC), encompasses more than 60 acres and is a permanent facility dedicated to learning and teaching the archaeology, history and ecology of southwest Florida.

The Randell Center is at 13810 Waterfront Drive, Pineland; 239-283-2062; email randellcenter@ran.cen-ter.comcastbiz.net The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. The bookstore is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 
 

 

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