LAKELAND — The Selection Committee for The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has announced that three industry leaders will be inducted into the hall during the 50th Anniversary Citrus Celebration Luncheon on March 2 at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
In honor of the anniversary, a Golden Jubilee Gala also will be held the following evening to highlight the Florida citrus industry and recognizing all members of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Several other events are scheduled over the weekend to help celebrate the occasion.
Robert J. Barben of Avon Park, Frank M. Hunt II of Lake Wales and Dr. W. Bernard Lester of Lakeland will be honored during the March 2 luncheon, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. in the Hollis Wellness Center at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
An Avon Park citrus and cattle producer, Barben is president of Robert J. Barben Inc. and was a founding member of both the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association and the Florida Agricultural Tax Council, which he also chaired. He served on the Florida Department of Citrus Marketing Advisory Council since its inception in 1969, chairing it for more than 20 years during a lengthy legal battle that involved numerous trips to Tallahassee.
A research proponent of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), Barben has been active with the SHARE Council since 1973, serving on the executive board and as its chairman, during which time he helped raise almost $2 million for a new building at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
Barben was a longtime board member for Florida Citrus Mutual, Adams Packing Company and the Growers’ Administrative Committee, and he has been on the board of Growers Fertilizer Company since 1953. He was a member and former chairman of the Florida Citrus Production Managers Association since the early 1950s and served on the Highlands County Soil and Water Conservation District Board for more than 30 years, chairing for more than 20. He served two terms as mayor of Avon Park, was president of Florida Agricultural Services and Technology (FAST) and served on the Highlands Independent Bank board of directors and the Florida Hospital Foundation.
A fifth-generation Floridian, Hunt is chairman of the board of Hunt Bros. Inc., an 83-year-old citrus company which was founded by his father, Deeley Hunt, who also is in the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. He has played a key role in the development of the successful cooperative of Citrus World Inc., now known as Florida’s Natural, as well as in the fields of citrus processing, fresh fruit marketing, operating supplies and banking.
Hunt II was a board member of Citrus World for more than 50 years, serving as president and chairman of the board from 1973 to 2003, during which time he led the shift from producing product to marketing it, resulting in the introduction of the Florida’s Natural brand. Under his leadership, the cooperative has grown to be the largest citrus co-op in Florida, and along the way he helped to create a supplies cooperative known today as Highland Exchange Services Cooperative (HESCO).
In addition, Hunt II helped shape the future of the U.S. farm credit system as a member of the committee that formed what is now CoBank, and he served on its board of directors during its formative years. He was president and on the board of Seald Sweet Growers and HESCO, and he served on the board of the Florida Citrus Packers and Florida Fresh Citrus Shippers Association.
A Bull Gator and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow, he is the recipient of the prestigious John T. Lesley award from the Florida Citrus Packers and a member of the Cooperative Hall of Fame.
Lester worked for the Florida Department of Citrus from 1967 to 1986, beginning as a research economist and working his way to executive director in 1979. During his tenure, he dealt with challenges ranging from marketing some of the largest crops in Florida history to working through freezes, trade and tariff challenges, increased imports and diseases. He also helped to send orange juice adulterators to jail to maintain the quality of Florida juice products.
Lester went on to join Alico Inc. and was on the board of directors for almost 20 years. He also served on the board of directors for Orange-Co Inc., the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, the Florida Land Council and the board of trustees for Florida Gulf Coast University. A member of the Florida Blue Key since 1960, he received the Florida Citrus Processors Award for dedicated services, as well as awards from the Florida Department of Citrus, the Florida Association of County Agents, the American Business Women’s Association and Boy Scouts of America and a number of awards from Alpha Gamma Rho.
Lester has served in numerous capacities for a variety of educational and service organizations, including the IFAS Leadership Development Program, Hendry County Extension Advisory Committee, Southwest Florida Research and Education Foundation, South Florida Agricultural Council, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, Farm Bureau and Future Business Leaders of America.
The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame honors distinguished leaders who have made significant contributions to the Florida citrus industry. The Citrus Hall of Fame display and Archive Center is located in the McKay Archive Building at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. For more information on the Citrus Hall of Fame or the Golden Jubilee activities, visit the website at www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com or contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette at 561-351-4314.
Tickets to the Hall of Fame luncheon, which is sponsored by Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida Department of Citrus, are $50 for general admission, $100 for reserved patron seating or $1,000 for a sponsor table, which includes preferred seating for eight, table signage, two tickets to the gala and a listing in the program.
The luncheon will be followed by an OJ “Meet & Greet” with the inductees as they unveil their names on the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Tree, located in the McKay Archives Center. An historic Citrus Exhibit will be featured, along with oral history presentations of industry pioneers, a Citrus Label Show and Sale and tours of the Citrus Archives.
Shuttles will provide transportation between the Hollis Wellness Center and the McKay Archives Center, where the main parking lot is located.
Ticket prices for the Golden Jubilee Gala the following evening are the same, with table sponsors receiving two tickets to the luncheon.