For Rodney Turner, pride was found in the campuses he designed during his nearly 30 years with Polk County Public Schools, and joy was found in the simple act of making bacon for his wife, Diana, every morning.
Turner, senior construction coordinator for the school district, died on Sept. 28. He was 56.
From a young age, Turner was fascinated by the process that turned an empty patch of land into a towering building. He studied engineering in college, and helped to design numerous buildings in Polk County.
“Any time we’d drive through town he’d say, ‘I made that building,’” said Diana, who works as a secretary in Curriculum & Instruction at the district office. “He was most proud of the blue office building near Sonny’s in downtown Bartow.”
In his time at the school district, Turner worked as an architectural specialist, architectural supervisor, and project coordinator. In his final position as senior construction coordinator, he managed major construction projects for the district, which at the time of his death included three elementary schools and two high schools.
“He was an exemplary staff member and supervisor. I relied on him heavily. He had a passion for construction, always making sure that projects were on schedule and within budget,” said Angela Usher, assistant superintendent of facilities and operations.
“He was always teaching his staff and helping them while being considerate. He worked efficiently — multitasking and remaining in control of all his responsibilities. He was always happy, upbeat and helpful. The contractors all enjoyed working with him. I will fill his position, but I will never be able to replace him.”
When he wasn’t building schools, Turner was building relationships. He had many close friends within the school district, including Dwight Marsh, a service manager; and Ernest Joe, a longtime principal, coach and district office employee.
The three men would often bet on football games.
“He was a big Miami Dolphins fan,” said Marsh. “I ate lunch on him a lot because they lost a lot.”
Added Joe: “I’m a Ravens fan, but because of Rodney, I’m now a Miami Dolphins fan for life. Whenever I see the Dolphins, I’m going to think about Rodney.”
While Marsh and Joe will miss betting with Turner, and trading shots with him via text — which Joe said he can’t bring himself to delete — what they will miss most is their friend’s good nature.
“He was just a good ol’ boy. He had fun and got along well with everybody,” Marsh said.
Joe first got to know Turner in 2005. Joe was principal of Auburndale High, and he and Turner worked together on a project at the school. Joe invited Turner over to his house for barbecue, and they’d been friends ever since.
“He was just always willing to help you with anything,” Joe said. “He’d never turn anyone down. He was always willing to give a helping hand. We need more people like Rodney in the world.”
The school district is also where Turner met Diana.
Diana was teaching at Lakeland High and had recently divorced. Her then-principal, Tracy Collins (now the regional assistant superintendent of middle schools), thought the two would make a perfect “yin and yang.”
“I was the cupid,” Collins said. “Diana was so lively and animated. Rodney was such a calming presence and such a good man. I bought her a dress, and I don’t remember them ever not being together after that.”
Rodney and Diana’s first date was dinner at Ruby Tuesday. They dated for five years and were married for three.
“He was such a gentleman and handsome as all get-out,” Diana said.
Their life together was full of simple pleasures, Diana said. Whomever woke up last — and it was almost always Turner — had to give the other a kiss. They liked taking their camper to Venice and were planning to spend winter break building a deck on their home. Every morning, Turner made Diana two pieces of bacon for her breakfast, and every day he took her to lunch.
“The girls in my office were so jealous,” Diana said
In addition to Diana, Turner is survived by two children and three stepchildren.
A scholarship fund in Turner’s name has been established at the Polk Education Foundation. It will benefit students studying in the district’s construction academies. Donations may be mailed to the Polk Education Foundation at 1530 Shumate Drive, Bartow, FL 33830; or online at polkeducationfoundation.org. Donors should include Rodney Turner’s name when making donations.
A funeral service for Turner will take place on Oct. 3 at Whidden-McLean Funeral Home, 650 E. Main St. in Bartow. Visitation takes place from 1 to 2 p.m. Services begin at 2 p.m.