By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
Frank Sullivan III, of Sullivan Victory Groves, recently gave me a few boxes of his gift fruit catalogs, books, records and memorabilia for the Citrus Archives. Since December always reminds me of sending gift fruit to friends and family, it’s only appropriate that I share this story.
One of the items he donated was a booklet published in 1994 titled “A History — Florida Gift Fruit Shippers Association” by William A. Stubbs, Joseph E. Ball and Julius E. Houghtaling. It noted that the Florida Gift Fruit Shippers Association was formed in 1946 from a meeting notice placed in the Lakeland Ledger which simply read “A meeting of express fruit shippers to take place in Lakeland, Florida on May 2, 1946, to create an organization of express fruit shippers.” George Harvey estimated that approximately 200 people attended the meeting. Three weeks later, on May 23, 1946, a certificate of incorporation of the Florida Express Fruit Shippers Association was filed in the office of the secretary of state of Florida.
The following month, on June 19, 1946, the first meeting of the board of directors was held in Orlando. Alvin A. Voges was the association’s first secretary-treasurer and general manager from 1946 to 1951, with Col. Sam Howard as president and J.S. Allen as vice president.
The main goal of the organization at the time was to address rate increases the Railway Express Agency was proposing for citrus shipments. The new association worked with the newly formed Florida Citrus Commission and Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) to create a code that protected the industry from “unfair transportation rate schedules” and hired the Growers and Shippers League of Florida to “ensure proper rates and service for the industry.”
By July, they were “able to announce that they were successful in their first petition to the ICC to have a rate increase (proposed by Railway Express Agency) set aside, pending a hearing.” Potential shipping increases by the Railway Express Agency would continue to plague the gift fruit industry, ultimately leading to the organization creating its own transportation system and truck terminal to get a quality Florida citrus product delivered to customers throughout the nation in a timely manner.
Another major issue that the organization faced during its first five years was insisting that the FDOC advertise express fruit shipments with the tax money collected from the express fruit shippers. At the time, the money was being spent on generic fresh fruit campaigns that had nothing to do with gift fruit. When the organization threatened to take the FDOC to court, “Lo and behold! Within a month the Florida Citrus Commission would vote an appropriation of $6,730.00 to cover an approximate eight-week newspaper campaign in Florida which would advertise express fruit shipments.” The haphazard way the tax was collected at the time led to Voges “working with the Citrus Commission to develop new ways and means of improving the method of collecting the advertising tax from the express shippers.” Both of these hardships were weathered with goodwill and foresight that affected the industry immensely in the years that followed.
I found the information extremely interesting in that so many came together to solidify a segment of the industry that is often overlooked when, in fact, it was such a big factor in portraying the image of Florida citrus to the general public. The association’s early motto really said it all: “Doing together what cannot be done alone.”
This holiday season, think of all of the gift fruit sent to friends and family over the years and how it spread such goodwill for our industry to so many. As we look ahead to those to come, I hope we’ll keep in mind that early motto and work together to do what cannot be done alone.
May you and your families be blessed with the spirit and peace of Christmas, and may your new year be fruitful!
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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