By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I grew up in Winter Haven and have driven by Waverly Growers Cooperative countless times when traveling around Polk County. But I never knew that at one time there was a formal garden and picnic grounds adjacent to the Waverly Welcome House.
Founded in 1914 by a group of local growers led by Charles Hillery Walker and Danish immigrant W.L. Pedersen, the cooperative was originally called Waverly Citrus Growers’ Association until the name was changed in 1936 to Waverly Growers Cooperative.
Pedersen’s 1950 obituary in the Lakeland Ledger notes: “It was Mr. Pedersen’s intimate knowledge of the operation of cooperatives in Denmark which resulted in establishment of the ‘Waverly plan’ of cooperative operation which has made the Polk organization one of the most efficiently operated citrus plants in the state.”
His son, W.C. “Bill” Pedersen, worked at the packinghouse and became the general manager in 1921. It was under his leadership that the Waverly Welcome House was born, as he was a true salesman who understood the need for promoting his product. Therefore, when I recently found a small brochure on Waverly Growers Cooperative, I wasn’t surprised to find the information targeted toward “Madam Housewife” and “Tropical Gift Shopper.”
Facts about the business in the brochure include:
“Continuous operation since 1915 — owned and managed by grower-members. Production Department cares for approximately 7,000 acres of grower-members’ property. This includes fertilizing, cultivating, spraying, irrigating, picking, trimming, clearing and setting out of new blocks, replacing, etc.
“Complete fertilizer and insecticide plants and equipment are maintained to service the entire acreage. The health and nurture of the thousands of trees must be watched to maintain all trees at top production level of over two million boxes annually. Packing house is capable of preparing and packing for shipment 6,000 standard boxes (13/s bu.) every 8-hour working day. Waverly employs approximately 465 people of whom many are growers. Sixteen have been employed in excess of 25 years each.”
This part of the brochure addresses the tourist market:
“MR. AND MRS. TOURIST … On your trip to this “Land of Sunshine,” you may see and learn all about every phase of the growing, care, harvesting, packing, and shipping of this fabulous fruit, by visiting the ultra-modern packing house of Waverly Growers, located right on the beaten track between Cypress Gardens and Bok Singing Tower, Route No. 540, a part of the famous “Orange Blossom Trail.”
The photos on the brochure included the Waverly Welcome House, described as “The Show Window of Waverly Growers” and a garden with the caption: “Stroll among the flowers in the beautiful formal garden. Use the shaded picnic grounds at Welcome House.”
In the garden was a plaque dedicated by Waverly Growers Cooperative to W.L. Pedersen (1864–1950) with the inscription: “Every successful organization is the shadow of some man,” perhaps paraphrasing a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It went on to note: “We the members of Waverly Growers Cooperative, Waverly, Florida, hereby publicly record our indebtedness to one who unselfishly devoted his years to the advancement of practical cooperation in the citrus industry and contributed so much to the success of our organization.”
Whether that plaque is still there, I do not know, but researching information on the garden opened up an entirely different window on Waverly Growers Cooperative to me. So, I think I’ll stop next time instead of just driving by.
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.