100 Years of Helping People Find Home: Lakeland Realtors Celebrates Centennial

It’s no secret to Lakelanders that our Swan City has become a mecca for those who have a dream and make it reality through hard work and collaboration. 

Lakeland Realtors has paved the long road for the way Lakeland currently stands in ways many people wouldn’t expect—or simply don’t know—starting back in 1923 when our city was a humble town with a lot of unrealized potential. 

In celebration of its trailblazing accomplishments, Lakeland Realtors is hosting a centennial celebration throughout 2023 involving all 1,500 of its members. 

“We’re including them in this celebration, reminding the community about all that they do, all the reasons they play a role when you’re getting involved in a housing transaction, whether it be purchasing a home or selling a home,” said Barbara Barnes, CEO of Lakeland Realtors.

The celebration’s motto is “honoring the past, celebrating the present and envisioning the future” as the organization prepares its members for the next 100 years of continuing its invaluable work. 

Lakeland Realtors was organized in 1923, its first president was John F. Cox, and it is a professional trade organization chartered by the National Association of Realtors. 

Being a licensed realtor carries more responsibility than just selling properties and negotiating deals. It also involves advocating for community members by attending conferences and lobbying for things like affordable housing—something Lakeland Realtors will soon be doing in Tallahassee.

“The state is very interested in, as are our members, providing affordable housing for the citizens who live here,” Barnes said. “We have meetings around the country….and I just got back from Seattle. We have meetings in other places where it’s very difficult, and the cost of living is so high.” 

Jana Lutz, president of Lakeland Realtors board and a local broker with Coldwell Banker, said it has been fun to dig into the history of real estate in Lakeland.

“It’s crazy to think how far the association has come not only legislatively with different housing laws and trying to keep things affordable but also giving back to the community,” she said. “I think our members really appreciate that.”

As part of its yearlong celebration, Lakeland Realtors is giving back to the community through an initiative called 100 Acts of Service. Throughout the year, Lakeland Realtors members are giving back to the community through 100 acts of service ranging from providing food to elderly through VISTE to packing backpacks of food with KidsPack to volunteering at Gospel Inc.

This initiative varies in scale, with some individualized projects and others involving many members of the organization. One member buys umbrellas and hands them out to those who may need them for rainy weather—just one example among many individual acts of kindness. 

Every action will be photographed and showcased to celebrate Lakeland Realtors giving back to the community as part of a bevy of celebrations, including a recent Centennial Gala at Bonnet Springs Park. They will also sponsor the monthly food truck rally in downtown Lakeland in October.

Lakeland Realtors wouldn’t be where it is today without trailblazers bringing Lakeland to new heights. One visionary is David Bunch, the longest-tenured member of Lakeland Realtors, and arguably one of our city’s forefathers, whose vision of growing Lakeland is alive and well through his colleagues today.

David Bunch, the longest-tenured member of Lakeland Realtors Association

Bunch was president of Lakeland Realtors in 1974 when Lakeland was mostly swaths of rolling citrus groves or, in his words, “a small version of what it is now.” He arrived in Lakeland through happenstance in 1959 when he got a speeding ticket on his way to Stuart and literally didn’t have enough money to go any further than Lakeland. 

At first, he worked in the citrus groves and as a night clerk at The Washburn Hotel. But his father-in-law was in the real estate business and started selling houses in 1965, and Bunch soon after determined that he wanted to invest his energies into commercial and industrial real estate. 

Bunch saw the potential for Lakeland to become a key commercial center thanks to its location along I-4 between Orlando and Tampa. He helped bring 1,200 businesses to the Lakeland area by selling them industrial property, and he also developed five industrial parks. 

“I knew once I established an industrial market in Lakeland 40 years ago, the big guys would come in and take advantage of that new market, and I knew I didn’t want to compete with them,” Bunch said. 

He worked in what he calls “niche” work, taking the time to purchase and zone land to then strike a deal for larger businesses. 

At his office on S. Kentucky Ave. there is a map covering an entire wall—the only one of its kind—with an aerial map stretching from the shores of Tampa Bay to Orlando with a yellow thumbtack on Bonnet Springs Park, which was formerly a railyard that divided Lakeland. He long ago memorized the entire map and he can quickly point out everything from the strawberry fields in Plant City to the phosphate mines south of Lakeland. 

“I love Lakeland. I’m glad I landed here,” Bunch said. “Good wife, good children, good friends, good life, good business, which is why we do so much volunteer stuff. We have an obligation to pay it back.”

Thanks to people like Bunch and other realtors who shared his vision for Lakeland to reach new horizons, Lakeland has become a hub of opportunity for businesses and homeowners alike, and the organization looks forward to making an impact for its neighbors for generations to come.

As part of its centennial celebration, Lakeland Realtors is doing 100 Acts of Service to give back to the community.