Cover photo for William Edward Carlson's Obituary
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1938 Bill 2023

William Edward Carlson

November 16, 1938 — June 18, 2023

Sebring, Florida

William Edward “Bill” Carlson passed away quietly on June 18, 2023 with his family by his side. His

passing was a result of complications due to an accident while on his way to the beach. He loved to sit

on the beach for hours watching the wind, waves and people. One of his favorite activities was walking

along the shoreline at sunrise with any of the kids or grandkids willing to get up early to walk with him.

Bill was born on November 16, 1938 in Salisbury, MD and grew up in nearby Princess Anne, a rural

farming and crabbing town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. His father was the first-generation American

son of Swedish immigrants. His mother’s family had lived for generations on America’s east coast. When

he was growing up his parents owned a chicken farm and a small general store. Bill refused to eat

chicken in his adulthood due to his years cleaning chicken pens. He learned retail skills from working in

the store and pumping gas. He also gained a fondness for handmade fountain drinks at his parents’ soda

fountain.

In later childhood his father became a truck driver traveling mostly from New York to Florida, while his

mother taught piano lessons in their home. Through his father’s travels, the family learned about

Central Florida and eventually relocated to Winter Garden. His father passed at a relatively young age

after teaching his son about hard work, ethics and supporting family.

Bill served a brief stint as an administrator in the United States Air Force being forced to leave due to the

financial hardship of his family. He turned that administrative experience, his natural brilliance in

mathematics and his ability to type more than 80 words per minute (on one of those old manual

typewriters) into a career in finance.

In 1965 Bill moved to Clewiston, FL, where he helped open a loan company. While at a Clewiston

barbershop, he inquired as to who would be a nice young woman to date. The immediate consensus

was an 18-year old natural blonde from a prominent local family. When Bill met Donna he fell in love at

first sight. It took him a few more months to convince her – which he did with his stylish suits, piercing

blue eyes and his ability to make people laugh. She also thought he was the smartest person she had

ever met.

Bill and Donna married in Clewiston in 1966 and moved to Holly Hill, FL, near Daytona, where he worked

for the loan company. About a year later they moved to Belle Glade, FL, and had Bill Jr. During this time

Bill worked at the Bank of Belle Glade. Three years later they had their second child, Jeff.

Bill always had entrepreneurial aspirations, so when he saw a successful home and auto parts store in

the area he asked about setting up a franchise. The family then relocated to Sebring where they started

their own store, White’s Home and Auto, which was a franchise of a Texas-based chain. The store sold

everything from hardware to appliances to fishing equipment to toys and bicycles.

As his boys were growing up, Bill put them to work in the store, first paying them $1 a day and then $5 a

day to help with customers, put together bicycles or go on deliveries with him. He also would treat them

with breakfast at McDonalds or lunch at nearby Dairy Queen.

In 1980 Kmart arrived in Sebring. Seeing that the large discount stores would likely crush the smaller

ones, he liquidated his business and tried to start a new career. He was in his 40s and had no college

degree so there were few options for employment. So many doors were closed in his face that, at the

 

age of 43, he went back to school – studying computer science and accounting at Weber College. He

studied in college full time while his sons were in high school.

During this time Bill knew he had to support his family so he became the first non-family driver of a

regional bus company. He drove all over the country including maneuvering buses through cities like

New York and Washington DC. The bus trips gave him significant downtime to study for his college

courses. He also served as a substitute teacher at Sebring High School.

In 1985 Bill earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Weber College. He finished a four-year degree in

three years earning a 3.5 grade point average while also working full time as a bus driver.

Fulfilling a lifelong dream, he established Carlson Accounting in 1986. Ten years later his son, Jeff, joined

the firm. Bill, Donna and Jeff, along with a great team, have grown the firm to be one of the leading

accounting firms in the Sebring area.

Bill served in many community organizations over the years ranging from Lions Club to the Friends of

Highlands Hammock. Every year at the Sebring Race, he enjoyed selling race programs with his sons

(often in the bitter cold) to raise money for the Lions Club.

He also was politically active and infamously opinionated. He twice ran for public office and lost. The

first time was for Sebring City Council. The second was for US President in 1980. He was one of more

than 500 candidates running that year. He chased this impossible dream to make the case for good

government and to see if an average person could have an impact. Through that process he traveled the

country with his family and proudly got votes on the ballot in Kansas. He took one of his sons to Florida’s

capital to ask politely to be added to the ballot where he was told by a senior Florida official to “sit down

and shut up.” His sons learned the value of listening to the public and the arrogance of corrupt political

oligarchies.

Bill’s most famous (or infamous) political protest was when he fought as a community activist against

the Sebring Utility Commission’s (SUC) goal to build a new $20 million diesel power plant. SUC ignored

public input and built the plant anyway. The decision resulted in the utility being sold under the weight

of massive debt and for the residents of Sebring to be charged a special assessment fee for decades. He

always felt great satisfaction when history proved him right.

His sons, inspired by his commitment to good government, were both elected to public office. Jeff was

elected to two terms on Sebring City Council and then to the Highlands County Commission where he

served as Chair. Bill Jr. was recently elected to his second term on Tampa City Council. On election night

Bill Jr. dedicated his win (won against incredible odds) to his father. Bill beamed with pride and enjoyed

watching his sons on TV while giving them his tips and critiques.

Bill dearly loved his grandchildren and played with them every chance he got. They fondly remember his

interest in their school projects, playing with his antique trainset and playing football or basketball. Even

at the age of 84 he was a tough opponent at basketball – of course he was much taller than them.

Besides his love for the beach, Bill also enjoyed traveling to historic places. While his sons were growing

up he couldn’t afford hotels, so he built elaborate camping equipment that he hauled around the

country in a station wagon or truck. The family blissfully traveled to most of America’s greatest

landmarks by camping, sleeping in the car and eating cold fried chicken or sandwiches out of a cooler to

 

save money. He taught his boys a sense of adventure, the joy of family experiences and an appreciation

for American history.

While his mother was alive, Bill would gather the family around his mother’s piano and organ to hear

Christmas music during the holiday season. He was also deeply committed to his Christian faith and

would take the boys to church every Sunday. He and Donna helped found Sparta Road Baptist Church

where he served as a Deacon.

Despite never having a lot of money, Bill always put his family’s needs first. He almost never bought

things he wanted so that he could buy the clothes and tools his boys needed to succeed. The happiness

of his family was always more important than any material possession.

Bill leaves a legacy of community service, strong family values and advocacy for good government.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 57 years, Donna, his two sons, Bill Jr. and Jeff (Jessica), his

grandchildren, Logan, Morgan, Trey, Jacob, Jon Luke and Jhet, and his nieces and nephews. He is

preceded to Heaven by his father, Victor, his mother, Estella, and his brother, Donald.

A small family service will be held July 23 at 3pm at Sparta Road Baptist Church in Sebring. In lieu of

flowers, the family suggests that friends and family contribute to the church where he served as Deacon, Sparta Road Baptist Church, 4400 Sparta Road, Sebring FL 33875.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of William Edward Carlson, please visit our flower store.

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