CFK President Gueverra: Memorial Day Remembrance of Service Members, Local Air Force Veteran & Historian

KEY WEST, FL, May 25, 2023— The College of the Florida Keys honors veterans and military service men and women each Memorial Day and Veterans Day through a “salute” from CFK President and CEO Dr. Jonathan Gueverra.

CFK President Dr. Jonathan Gueverra’s 2023 Memorial Day Salute

“As we prepare to usher in the unofficial start of summer with backyard barbecues, boating, and fireworks, I ask the community to join the CFK family to reflect on why this day is important. Memorial Day is a time to honor the memories of those who died for our country. It is a time for heroes, both those who have fallen and those who are still living. We thank our military, as well as law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals, and other first responders for working tirelessly to protect American lives.

CFK is grateful to all servicemen and women and their families for their commitment and sacrifices, and for their continued service to protect our lives and our freedom. Over the years, the College has benefitted from the contributions of many veterans. Each one deserves special recognition. This Memorial Day, I salute Jerry Wilkinson, who passed away in March at the age of 94. He was an entrepreneur, historian, philanthropist, artist, adventurer, and 22-year Air Force Veteran, whose service spanned two wars.

Long before Jerry Wilkinson permanently joined the Keys community in the 1980s, he ventured to Key West aboard a motorcycle in 1947. While in Key West, the young Wilkinson quickly noticed a challenge in seeking lady friends as the swarms of sailors on the island were steep competition. He decided that if he couldn’t beat them, he should join them. He applied to the Navy but did not pass their vision test. Fortunately, the Army Air Corp was right across the hall, and from there he embarked on his military career.

Eager and hard-working, Mr. Wilkinson soon climbed to the positions of Drill Instructor and eventually Special Electronics Instructor. In those roles, he discovered his passion for teaching. He enjoyed preparing scores of young soldiers—who were barely yet adults at the time— to be physically and mentally prepared for whatever their missions may bring.

In 1955, during the Korean War, Mr. Wilkinson was deployed to Guam. For two years, he was part of an Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron that repaired disabled aircrafts and returned them to action. Subsequently in 1958, post-Korean War and amid The Cold War, Mr. Wilkinson took part in a mission with our Allies to build a “radar fence” around Russia. He studied Spanish in Washington D.C. before being sent to Spain for four years to train Spanish Air Force radar operators.

Mr. Wilkinson’s military career concluded after a two-year stint during the Vietnam War where he served as an Electronics Superintendent at a radar station in Alaska. He retired in 1970 as a Command Sergeant Major after 22 years of service.

That was just the beginning of Mr. Wilkinson’s adventures. He spent the next 10 years with his wife Mary Lou, rotating between Key Largo where he taught windsurfing, Colorado where he guided river raft tours, and California where he took college classes. With the GI Bill and a love for education, he ultimately earned seven associate degrees.

The Wilkinsons eventually settled in Tavernier in 1988 and a new passion soon ignited. He became enthralled with the rich history of the Florida Keys and began his quest to research, archive, and preserve records of the islands’ unique stories, culture, and ecology. He became the president of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys (HPSUK) and shared his historical repository through a website he built,  The collections he amassed even assisted several television documentaries on historic Keys events, including the 1935 Hurricane and the construction of the Overseas Highway. Mr. Wilkinson, himself, was the subject of a 2021 film that documented his quest to save Florida Keys history.

While Mr. Wilkinson has established a legacy in the Keys of preserving its past, in 2016 he decided to invest in its future. He donated $100,000 to the CFK Foundation to establish an endowment that will provide scholarships for worthy CFK students in perpetuity. Fittingly, the history buff’s act of generosity has solidified his place in the College’s history—as well as in its future. Mr. Wilkinson was a true champion for education and a treasure to our community and our nation.

On behalf of the CFK family, I salute Air Force Command Sergeant Major Jerry Wilkinson this Memorial Day. We will continue to value his contributions and dedication to our country and community. His service is an inspiration to all.”

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