After 20 years of championing the restoration of the Venice Train Depot, Rollins W. Coakley, 83, received a fitting honor this spring: The 3.25-acre public park surrounding the depot was named the Rollins W. Coakley Railroad Park. "I feel a great sense of pride and humility" over the honor, says Coakley, who retired with his wife to Venice in 1982 after spending 34 years with the Chicago and North Western Railway. A passionate railroad historian, Coakley says his great-grandfather was an Irishman who immigrated to Denison, Iowa, in 1867 and got a job as a section foreman for the same Chicago and North West Railway. "When I learned that, you cannot imagine the thrill that went through my body," he says.
In Venice, Coakley got involved with the then-fledgling Venice Heritage Foundation's efforts to buy the Mediterranean Revival-style depot, which was built in 1926 but fell into disrepair after passenger service in Southwest Florida ended in 1971. Coakley spent years facilitating efforts between the historical society, CSX Railroad, Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the county, which finally bought the depot in 1999.