Lakeland’s famous alumni

Moulin Rouge Karen Olivo

Karen Olivo with Aaron Tveit in “Moulin Rouge.” | Photo via WWD

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Hollywood may be a solid 2,500+ miles away, but our little city still manages to stay on the radar of many a celeb. There’s resident George Lowe, a Cartoon Network voice actor; Harrison School for the Arts grad, Karen Olivio, who is currently starring in Broadway’s “Moulin Rouge! The Musical;” and countless stars who have either vacationed, filmed, or even met their spouse in the area (looking at you, Seth + Lauren Rogen). If all that doesn’t have you convinced we’re essentially the real Hollywood of Florida, just remember: You can’t spell La La Land without LAL.

While many prestigious personalities make their way to Swan City at some point in their lives, there are a handful who were fortunate enough to call Lakeland home from the very beginning.

Here are some of Lakeland’s most famous alumni:

Lauren Miller Rogen
Class of 1982Known for: Actress

This actress, screenwriter, and director grew up in Lakeland and has appeared in films including “Superbad”, “For a Good Time, Call…”, and “Growing Up and Other Lies.” She is married to actor, comedian, director, writer, and producer Seth Rogen. Seth even showed our city some love on FOX 13 News, highlighting how he enjoys the Frank Lloyd Art architecture and BBQ dishes that LAL has to offer.

Karen Olivo
Class of 1976Known for: Actress

Former Harrison School of the Arts student Karen Olivo is a Tony award-winning actress who has performed in Chicagos “Hamilton,” the “West Side Story” revival, and “Harry’s Law.” She is set to star in Broadway’s “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

George Lowe
Class of 1958Known for: Actor

Famous for his voice acting, George Lowe owns a house in Lakeland off Cleveland Heights Blvd. that is filled with artwork from both large and small artists.

Matt Joyce
Class of 1984Known for: MLB

This former Florida Southern Moc made it to the big leagues and plays for the Atlanta Braves.

Rhea Durham Wahlberg
Class of 1978Known for: Model

Originally noticed at a modeling show at Lakeland Square Mall, Rhea went on to become a successful model who has appeared on the cover of notable fashion magazines including Vogue and Elle. She also modeled for Revlon and walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Pat Skipper
Class of 1958Known for: Actor in The X-Files, Bosch, and Halloween.

Known for his role in The X-Files, Skipper has also appeared in Bosch and “Halloween,” as well as TV shows including Shameless and The Mentalist.

Steve Pearce
Class of 1983Known for: MLB player

Nicknamed the “Late Lightning,” Steve has played for multiple notable teams including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and more.

Eddie Goines
Class UnknownKnown for: NFL player and Actor

Eddie was raised in Lakeland and went on to be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. After a knee injury, he began pursuing acting and has been in TV shows including House of Payne, Suits, and Law & Order.

Chris Sale
Class of 1989Known for: Major League Baseball pitcher

He began his career with the Chicago White Sox and then went on to win the 2018 World Series with the Red Sox.

Faith Evans
Class of 1973Known for: Singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress

This R&B singer has released many successful records and even made an appearance in the film, “Girls Trip.”

Charleene Closshey
Class of 1981Known for: Actress, producer and composer

Harrison School for the Arts grad Charleene debuted on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical, “Once.” She appeared in “No Postage Necessary” and she is also a classically trained violinist.

Jonny Diaz
Class of 1984Known for: Singer

This contemporary Christian acoustic pop singer successfully released his hit single, “More Beautiful You.”

Frances LangfordClass of 1913Known for: Singer

She performed on USO tours with Bob Hope and also has a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. And in case you didn’t know – the Frances Langford Promenade on Lake Mirror was named after her.

Lee Janzen
Class of 1964Known for: Professional golfer

This Florida Southern College graduate won the Division II national championship. After college, he went on to win the U.S. Open twice in 1993 and 1998.

Mike + Maurkice Pouncey
Class of 1989Known for: NFL players

These twin brothers attended Lakeland High School and played football as teens. They both went on to be drafted into the NFL. Mike played for the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers and Maurkice played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Corey SandersClass of 1977Known for: Basketball player

After playing basketball at Kathleen High School, Corey went on to play as a Rutgers Scarlet Knight, then was drafted to play professionally. He currently plays for the Mega Basket Georgia of the Georgia A-League.

Neva Jane Langley
Class of 1933Known for: Miss America 1953

This former Lakeland High School cheerleader became Miss America in 1953 from the state of Georgia. She currently lives in Athens, GA.

Lindsey Alley
Class of 1977Known for: Mickey Mouse Club member

Lindsey graduated from Lakeland High School in 1996 and was on Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, which aired on and off between 1955 and 1996.

Ray Lewis
Class of 1975Known for: NFL player

LAL native Ray Lewis graduated from Kathleen High School. He went on to be named MVP of the Baltimore Ravens Superbowl win in 2001. He was also the first pro football inductee in the Polk County Hall of Fame.

Tiffany Hayes
Class of 1989Known for: WNBA player

Tiffany plays for the Atlanta Dream as a guard and was named the team’s all-time leading three-point shooter.

Joe Nemechek
Class of 1963Known for: Racecar Driver

At only 13 years old, Joe Nemechek began his racing career and took home more than 300 trophies in six years. He has raced in the NASCAR Busch Series Championship, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and more. He is also the founder of the NEMCO Motorsports team.

Rod Smart
Class of 1977Known for: Former NFL player

Known by his nickname, “He Hate Me,” from his time with the Las Vegas Outlaws of the XFL, Rod also played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers.

Dwayne BaconClass of 1995Known for: NBA player

This Lakeland native (and former McKeel Academy student) is now a shooting guard for the Charlotte Hornets.

This conversation was in part collaboration with @polkway863.


Reader-submitted responses

  • “I got to meet Kenny Rogers when he was in town to open his restaurant up on the north side. I got to have a nice talk about another place we were both familiar with. Great memories.” – Betty
  • “I almost ran over Ed Harris one morning as he was jogging on Imperia Lakes Boulevard. I guess that was more avoiding an encounter.” – Anna B.
  • “What about Lance Niekro, son of Houston Astros pitcher, Joe Niekro, and nephew of Hall of Famer, Phil Niekro. I grew up in Lakeland and graduated from George Jenkins. Played for SF Giants and is now the head baseball coach at Florida Southern College.” – Barbara N.
  • “Used to be there was the Shogun hibachi restaurant on Edgewood. It was about 1988 and we were going to have dinner, as it turned out we shared our table with the now late George Jones ( who used to live in Lakeland) and his wife Nancy. Everyone had a fun time and was a great evening!” – Vera B.
  • “My niece Rhea Durham. Grew up in Lakeland. Discovered here and became an haute couture model in Paris. Victoria Secret model and many others. Married to Mark Wahlberg. Her lovely mother still lives here.” – Joe P.

– LALtoday team (Jessica, Kaylee + Grace)

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