Citrus Achievement Award

Preserving and Promoting the Florida Citrus Industry

Daniel CooperAwards

Citrus historian and volunteer extraordinaire Brenda Eubanks Burnette is the 2024 Citrus Achievement Award winner.

Citrus Achievement Award
Brenda Eubanks Burnette

Brenda Eubanks Burnette’s initial exposure to the citrus industry was merely by chance. As Miss Winter Haven in 1978, she was asked to fill in when the reigning Florida Citrus Queen couldn’t make a scheduled appearance at a citrus processing plant.


Needing scholarship money for college, Burnette decided to compete for the Florida Citrus Queen title the following year. It took her two tries, but she earned the title in 1981 at age 21. During her reign, she fell in love with the Florida citrus industry and never looked back. For more than 40 years, she has served the citrus industry in a multitude of ways. Her efforts have culminated in being named the 2024 Citrus Achievement Award winner.

Burnette recalls her first year working in the industry as the Florida Citrus Queen. The position entailed a great deal of travel while serving as a spokesperson to promote Florida citrus. “There were so many highlights: visiting schools where one class dressed up in orange trash bags with green felt leaves, so they looked like oranges; meeting celebrities (including Wayne Gretzky, Joan Crawford and Sam Huff) at various events; touring the Midwest with the Sheiks of Morocco marching group from Busch Gardens; my first time in New York City; and learning how to do media interviews. But the big one was going to Japan.”

Visiting Japan was a highlight of Burnette’s reign as Florida Citrus Queen.

The Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) arranged the trip as the U.S. market was opening up for citrus exports to Japan. The three-week tour included numerous appearances to promote Florida grapefruit. Burnette achieved notoriety when she kissed a Japanese baseball team manager on the cheek while presenting him with a fruit basket. Suddenly, everyone in Japan wanted a kiss from Burnette, and sales of Florida citrus increased in the country during her tour. Burnette’s trip was deemed a resounding marketing success and led to a three-year stint as a consumer spokesperson for FDOC that included a second visit to Japan.

Burnette with Florida Department of Citrus field representatives Tom Cowan and Ray Gross. Gross arranged many of her Florida Citrus Queen tours.

The Florida Citrus Queen program is now known as the Miss Florida Citrus program. While the name has changed and the women do considerably less travel and appearances, the program still provides scholarship money and serves to promote Florida citrus. As the volunteer manager of the Miss Florida Citrus program, Burnette generously gives back to the program that got her started in citrus. 

In 2015, she got the Miss Florida Citrus program going again, which had stopped in 2004. This year, she organized a special centennial celebration for the program, bringing together past title holders.

“Brenda has revived the Miss Florida Citrus Pageant via the Miss America Program and continues to use that platform to include Miss Florida Citrus at various industry events and to promote the industry with unique tie-ins featuring Florida citrus,” said Mandy Hancock Jarrett, Miss Florida Citrus 1991, who nominated Burnette for the Citrus Achievement Award. “Brenda has worked tirelessly for decades to promote the Florida citrus industry. She has been an amazing advocate of the Florida citrus industry over the past four decades. She truly stands out for her devotion to preserving and promoting Florida citrus. She normally is the one behind the scenes researching and writing others’ life work, but the spotlight deserves to now shine on her.”

Citrus Achievement Award
While she was Florida Citrus Queen, Burnette visited a classroom of students dressed up as oranges.

Another way Burnette served the citrus industry was as the executive director of the Florida Citrus Showcase, where she organized the Florida Citrus Festival.

“I was hired in 1988 to help bring citrus back to the festival, but the general manager took a job with the carnival, so I had to take on the responsibilities of running the fair as well,” recalls Burnette. “I spent five years there, which were a profitable period for the organization.”

It was during her time at the Florida Citrus Showcase that Burnette first became involved with the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. The hall of fame was previously managed by the showcase. She helped preserve the hall of fame by moving it out from under the showcase before it went defunct.

Burnette with Florida Citrus Hall of Fame inductees Bernie Lester and Hugh English

“FDOC used to write the scripts for the hall of fame induction ceremony, which was presented during the Florida Government Day luncheon during the Florida Citrus Festival,” says Burnette. “I filled in to write the script when the person who was supposed to do it was unable to. I have been involved with almost all of the scripts since 1989.”

Citrus Achievement Award

Since 2008, Burnette has served as executive director of the hall of fame. She has conducted the video interviews for the induction presentations since they began in 2010. She also conducts oral history interviews throughout Florida to capture the memories of past and present citrus industry members.

Burnette added to her citrus resume when she founded Burnette & Associates in 1994. Her company sold and created citrus label calendars as promotional items for gift fruit shops and other businesses. The company soon expanded to offer more citrus-related items that she outsourced.

“This eventually resulted in consulting work for the FDOC and citrus companies such as Callery Judge Groves and Freshco, which produces Indian River Select orange and grapefruit juice,” says Burnette. “I was the creative director for their bottle label. We were the first to use blue as a background color, which really stood out from all the orange and green labels.”


Among Burnette’s many citrus accomplishments is helping to create the Citrus Archives endowment in 2008 at Florida Southern College. The endowment was used to fund an engaged learning program at the school in which students are hired to catalog, scan and digitize the contents of the Citrus Archives, which was started by the late Professor Thomas Mack.

“It’s the official state of Florida Citrus Archives designated by the state legislature, but there wasn’t anything being done with all of the memorabilia and information Professor Mack had collected,” says Burnette. “So, we thought it would be a good fit to help organize a program under an archivist that the college was in the process of hiring. The goal was to have the archives serve as a research tool as well as a resource for citrus-related displays.”

Burnette actively collects all types of citrus memorabilia — from photographs to crate labels to various artifacts — that she donates to the Citrus Archives.


One of Burnette’s more recent citrus achievements is playing a pivotal role in getting the Citrus Crate Label Tour up and running. Started in Polk County in 2015, the tour now includes almost 100 citrus crate label signs in Lake, Polk, Manatee and Indian River counties. Putnam and DeSoto counties are exploring the possibility of expanding the tour into their areas.

Brenda Eubanks Burnette has two sons, Brad and Hunter, and grandson Austin, who she lovingly refers to as her “grandman.”

“The goal is to preserve and promote the heritage of the industry,” explains Burnette. “Harriet Rust, of the Davenport Historical Society, came up with the idea based on the North Carolina Quilt Trail and brought it to Myrtice Young, who heads up the Polk County History Center. They came to me with the idea, and we ran with it from there.”


Part of Burnette’s efforts to preserve and promote the Florida Citrus industry involve the written word.

In 2015, she debuted her popular Pieces of the Past monthly column in Citrus Industry magazine.It’s just one more way she successfully puts citrus history in the spotlight. She aspires to publish a book that is a compilation of all her past columns.

Burnette has co-authored two books with Jerry Chicone Jr.: “Florida Citrus Crate Labels: An Illustrated History” (1996) and “Florida Citrus Crate Labels – Florida’s First Billboards” (2014).

“I’m also working on a biographical compilation of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame members. It’s called “Florida Citrus Pioneers – Shaping a State,” she says.

All of Burnette’s current work in the citrus industry, with the exception of her part-time position as the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame executive director, is on a volunteer basis. She sells real estate in order to fund her passion for citrus volunteer work.

Citrus Achievement Award

When asked what her goals are, Burnette says she wants “to preserve our citrus heritage and have a succession plan in place so all of the things we’ve been able to accomplish will continue when I’m gone. I would also love to have a museum dedicated to the Florida citrus industry.”

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About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine

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