Alumnus Stimulates Highlands County Tourism: John Scherlacher
Almost 30 years ago, South Florida State College (SFSC) made an impact on 18-year-old New Jersey native John Scherlacher. Combining his experience in the marketing industry with a passion to serve the population, Scherlacher has made a career out of promoting Highlands County.
Scherlacher had the opportunity to return to SFSC after college in 1992. He held full-time positions as supervisor of SFSC’s community service booth at Lakeshore Mall, bookstore manager, and community relations assistant and coordinator. He went on to work as the director of marketing at the Lakeshore Mall, marketing manager at Eagle Ridge Mall, and tourism coordinator for Florida’s Freshwater Frontier. As an artistic person, he is always looking for innovative, challenging, and creative projects.
Currently, he works for the Highlands County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB) as the director of tourism. The VCB serves as a destination marketing organization that works to generate overnight stays, increase tax revenues, stimulate economic growth and strives to constantly enhance the image of Highlands County. In his current position, he finds ways to promote the community and its attractions that entice tourists to visit, thereby strengthening the local economy.
SFSC built a solid foundation for Scherlacher in his work today. As the director of tourism, he spends most of his time creating marketing plans, placing advertising, reporting to a tourist development council, and attending travel and tourist expos.
Over the next few years, he wants the VCB to find new ways to attract people to a growing Highlands County. “Tourism is a major economic driver for our community,” he said. “Everyone benefits from tourism, even if their job isn’t directly linked to it.”
In 1984, Scherlacher moved to Highlands County specifically to attend SFSC, then known as South Florida Junior College. After transferring to the University of Florida (UF) in 1986, Scherlacher discovered the value of his SFJC education.
“Nothing compares to the small class sizes and one-on-one interaction you receive from your instructors at SFSC,” he said. “I went from being the big guy in a little pond at SFSC to the little guy in a huge pond at UF.”
Although he studied and worked hard at SFSC, he also found time to be active on campus. Scherlacher was the first Pete the Panther. In fact, the mascot costume was created to fit his body.
“Pete the Panther was a great character, and the interaction with kids and adults was awesome,” Scherlacher said. “You became the character when the costume was on, and Pete was a representative of the college, so I took pride in that.”
Scherlacher developed his admiration for photography as a work-study student in the Community Relations and Marking Department and moved on to study fine art photography at UF. “Although my photography changed from journalistic to creative, I developed my composition and distinctive attributes from working at SFSC.”
The biggest thing SFSC did for him was expand his perspective and personality. In this small college community, instructors and employees exposed him to new points of view and showed him opportunities and resources that could help him reach his goals. SFSC ultimately became his second family.
Dr. Catherine Cornelius, former SFSC president, gave me the best advice I still use till this day. “You don’t have to be the biggest to be the best,” Scherlacher said. “SFSC is a rural college with a big heart and big impact on our community.”
Today, Scherlacher remains involved with the college. He is the chair of the SFSC Alumni Association Advisory Council. “It brings me great pride to serve on the council,” he said. “I would like to see the program grow, but it will take time.”
“I’ve always referred to SFSC as ‘my college,’” he said. “It has always provided a sense of belonging to me, and I will always cherish that. Now my daughter gets to experience the wonderful education I did as she is currently attending SFSC.”
“SFSC is the anchor to our community,” Scherlacher said. “You don’t have to leave the tri-county area to get a quality education. Some people just don’t realize what’s available at SFSC. I challenge people to walk around the SFSC Highlands Campus and check out what they’ve been missing. The seeds for my success were planted at SFSC.”