Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

Bernie Lester, Ben Hill Griffin III and Ben Hill Griffin Jr.

March usually signals the annual Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon, honoring those individuals who have made significant contributions to the state’s citrus industry. Like so many other things, COVID-19 changed that. This year, the celebration has been postponed to Friday, Nov. 5. Although it will still be at Florida Southern College, it will be held at the Field House instead of the Hollis Wellness Center.

Next year will mark the 60th luncheon, as the hall of fame started in 1962, when members of the Florida Citrus Showcase decided it was time to pay tribute to outstanding members of the Florida citrus industry. An autonomous organization called The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame was established, and committee members selected the nominees who were honored during a luncheon on the first Friday of the annual Florida Citrus Festival in Winter Haven. At that time, it was held in January and was called the Governor’s Day Luncheon, as Florida’s governor was the keynote speaker. Seventeen nominees were inducted the first year, with Joshua Coffin Chase as the first inductee. 

Today, the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame is supported solely through its annual luncheon, book sales and donations, which can be made online at www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com. Twenty board members representing various facets of the industry and all production regions of Florida now serve staggered five-year terms to select the annual recipients.

Thelma and Bill Raley, Anita Bryant and Jerry Chicone

Of the nearly 200 members of the hall of fame, Bill and Thelma Raley are the only husband and wife members, with Bill inducted in 1990 and Thelma in 1998. Thelma, Anita Bryant, Lena Hughes and Nancy Gurnett Hardy are the only women inductees in the organization. Nancy followed her father, Jack Gurnett, who was inducted in 1993. Ben Hill Griffin III (2009) was selected 30 years after his father, Ben Hill Griffin Jr., was selected in 1979. Another father-son combo was A.R. Updike (1995) and John C. Updike Sr. (2015), just 20 years apart. In addition, family relatives John Snively Sr., who was in the original 1962 class, was followed by Robert Snively in 1994.

As time marches on, this year’s inductees — John Jackson Jr., Lew Prosser, former Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Steve Sorrells — will make 198 men and women who, like them, have dedicated their lives to the betterment of the Florida citrus industry. Putnam will be the third agriculture commissioner to be inducted behind Nathan Mayo and Doyle Conner, and Sorrells will join family member Howard Sorrells, who was inducted in 2010. We hope you will plan to join us in November to honor their accomplishments!

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.

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