Bud Stonecypher will be 70 next year, but he was just a second-grader when he first met Apopka Mayor John Land.

“He came into our class to welcome us to school and told us to study hard because it would pay off some day,” Stonecypher recalled Wednesday after paying respects to Land, 94, who died Saturday morning.

He was among more than 300 people, young and old, who ignored somber gray skies and morning rains to visit Apopka City Hall, where the longest-serving mayor in Florida history lay in repose for four hours.

John Land through the years
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John Land through the years
Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, Orlando Sentinel
Apopka Mayor John Land at City Hall, on Tuesday, July 30, 2013.
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John Land through the years
Credit: City of Apopka website
John Land was honored Friday night by the Tri-County League of Cities which renamed its Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor, giving the first-ever Mayor John H. Land Lifetime Achievement Award to the former mayor himself.
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John Land through the years
Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel
John Land gives his concession speech as his wife Betty cries at right at Highland Manor in Apopka on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. He announced that he’d lost the Apopka mayoral race. Land said, “I love Apopka still, but I’ll probably have a broken heart.”
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John Land through the years
Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel
John Land is consoled by his wife Betty, right, and other family members as he gives his concession speech at Highland Manor in Apopka on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.
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John Land through the years
Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel
John Land gives his concession speech at Highland Manor in Apopka as his wife Betty cries at right on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. He announced that he’d lost the Apopka mayoral race. Land said, “I love Apopka still, but I’ll probably have a broken heart.”
The viewing was part of a daylong tribute to the former mayor that featured a community service and concluded with a mile-long funeral procession to Greenwood Cemetery that temporarily closed U.S. Highway 441.

More than 100 people lined the main highway through town, capturing the moment with mobile-phone cameras as a horse-drawn carriage passed by carrying the flag-draped coffin of the man known to many as “Uncle John.”

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An estimated crowd of 700 people listened to eulogies and tributes from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Land’s closest confidante Richard Anderson, Apopka Vice Mayor Bill Arrowsmith and others who loved him.

Banker David Rankin recalled ribbing Land about his age.

“I once asked him what was the mood in the room when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Right on cue, he fired right back: ‘It was a whole lot more upbeat than the surrender at the Appomattox Court House,’ ” Rankin said.

The Confederate Army surrendered at the courthouse in 1865, ending the War Between the States.

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Politicians from across Central Florida, businessmen, city employees and friends of the former mayor attended the public viewing inside City Council chambers. Most were greeted by the former mayor’s widow, Betty Land, 88, and his children, Suzanne Larkin, John Land Jr. and Cathy Waters.

A slide show of photographs documenting the former mayor’s life played on a screen on a wall inside the chambers.

The pictures showed the 94-year-old statesman as a high-schooler; a World War II soldier in Gen. George Patton’s Army; and a dancing, harmonica player. The images also revealed a dapper man who preferred string ties in the 1950s and who donned a wide-lapel, leisure suit in the 1970s.
“He is Apopka,” said Doug Gondera, 58, a businessman who moved to the city in 1990. “If you live here and get involved just a little bit, you’d understand why Apopka is a special place to us and it starts with Mayor Land.”

Many of those who waited in line spoke of a personal connection to the longtime mayor, who served Orange County’s second-largest city as its chief executive for all but three years from 1949 until this year.

Most left the viewing dabbing away tears.

David Hooper, 58, remembered when Land would break out his Hohner harmonica at summer parties, challenging kids to “Name That Tune.” The first child to blurt out the ditty was rewarded with a trinket or a candy treat.

Freddie Filmore Sr., 72, a black pastor, said he needed to repay the former mayor’s kindness.

“When my son died in 2007, Mayor Land came to the service,” Filmore said. “I expected him to do the hand-wave and go — that’s what politicians do. But that wasn’t Mayor Land. He stayed the entire time to comfort us.”

Anderson, who served beside Land for 42 years, said his eulogy was preapproved by the former mayor as he had offered the praise in April at Land’s final meeting. He cited lessons the mayor taught him.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness. What you touch is what you eat. Never break faith with the public. Do the right thing.”

Many in the crowd answered with “Amen.”