What would you do with one million dollars? Ken Meeks has decided to pledge $1 million to the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center – a donation that will keep the doors open for years to come. Meeks first made the move to South Florida because he wanted to be a little closer to the saltwater. A banker by trade, Meeks initially helped establish the Westchester National Bank in Miami before migrating further south and starting The Islamorada Bank. At one point, he oversaw nine branches in the Keys and South Florida – but it was, and still is, his service to the community that makes the hardworking gentleman from Georgia a beloved figure in the Upper Keys. Named a lifetime member of the Upper Keys Rotary Club, Meeks continues to give back, as every year a student is awarded a scholarship in the name of Ken and his wife Dee.
You joined the Rotary Club of the Upper Keys in 1977, and became president in 1979. Having been named a lifetime member of the Rotary Club of the Upper Keys with 40 years of service, which annual Rotary event has come to be your favorite?
I don’t think I have a favorite, I like them all. I think the most prominent event is the Gigantic Nautical flea market because it does so much good for the community.
What is your favorite type of sportfishing?
Bonefishing and tarpon fishing. Bonefishing was greased lighting, tarpon fishing was solid work. When I had muscles, that’s where they came from, fighting tarpon. The biggest tarpon I’ve ever caught was an estimated 98 pounds.
How did you meet your wife Dee?
Dee was a stockholder at TIB; at our very first stockholder meeting she made a playful comment to a friend and it went from there. We’ll reach 39 years of marriage on September 25th.
What qualities do you look for in students who are potential recipients of your scholarship?
Merit, financial need, community service. I think that I would also include honesty. I think that honesty, not only with yourself but the people you deal with, is needed for success.
Which place in the Keys do you visit to find tranquility?
The Pen Key Club in Upper Matecumbe. Leon Pendleton founded the Club. That’s where “Pen” in the Pen Key Club came from.
You are a multiple Paul Harris Fellow for your contributions to the Rotary Foundation and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. How has polio affected you?
When I was a kid, I had a first cousin named Alfred Smith. He developed polio and he grew up severely afflicted — his brain was good but his body wasn’t. We were cousins and close friends who spent a lot of summers together, and it was in his memory that I made that donation. Outside of that, it was the desire to help end a plague.
What do you consider the most unusual piece of Keys History?
I think that one thing that is important to the history is Dr. Perrine’s introduction of plants from Central America. He brought key limes, mangos, aloe and pineapples.
Having been a longtime resident of Islamorada, which area in the Keys holds a special place in your heart?
Indian Key; for many years I led the Indian Key Festival. I think that the history of Indian Key in the development in our chain of islands is even greater than the history of Key West. The original setters on Indian Key salvaged wrecks from the reef and that helped developed Key West.
You founded the Westchester National Bank in Miami in 1962, and then moved to Islamorada where you founded The Islamorada Bank. What events led to this?
I was living in Greensboro, North Carolina at the time —it’s a lovely town and a lovely place — but it was too far from the saltwater. So when I got the call, I jumped at the chance. We came down and started the Westchester bank in 1962.
If you could go fishing with three people, alive or dead, whom would you choose?
Longtime Capt. Ken Knudsen; Dick Williams, that man had fantastic vision, he could spot a mud from a bonefish before you could even see it; and Billy Knowles.
Mike Boyce, of Boyce Excavating, recently thanked you for helping arrange a TIB loan for his business 40 years ago. In those challenging times, what made you decide to lend that money?
Banking taught me how to read financial statements. It also taught me how to evaluate management. I think that evaluation of management is what made me decide to give that loan to Mike.