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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
“Does anybody know who in the hell is John Kennedy?” This is the punch line to one of my favorite John Kennedy stories. On cold nights I would call Golden Gem and get temperatures from John. Around 2 am one night he headed out to check on crews and my call rotated to the guard house. When I asked to speak to John Kennedy, the gentleman on duty made the above comment! Must have been others with him! Seems he was not aware of who the VP and Production Manager was at his employer, Golden Gem Growers!
Most of you know who in the hell John Kennedy was. We can start with the obvious facts that he was responsible for grove caretaking on more than 15,000 acres at one time. He had help from a fantastic team he assembled to handle this assignment – Dixie, Bob, Ed, Harold, Joe, and Hershal were his “assistants”. John worked closely with them to put together a first class grove management program. John was a VP with Golden Gem so he also worked closely with management next door to develop budgets and guidelines for the coop. He worked closely with those down the hall that were responsible for harvesting the crop. He had to be in touch with the packinghouse and processing plant as to know they needed. And lastly John spent a lot of time working with growers; listening to problems, answering questions, sharing observations, etc. In addition John was always attending meetings. He had his calendar on his desk (not in his phone!) and he would fold up announcements/programs and stick them in the appropriate slot (day of meeting). That day calendar was always jam up full!
John was active in many ways outside Golden Gem. Production Managers Association, Director for Florida Citrus Mutual for many years, Citrus Hall of Fame Selection Committee, and he served on my advisory committee for many years. He was very competitive; just ask anyone that played tennis or gold with him. I have many stories about John. I spent a lot of time in the Golden Gem production office. John and I would spend one day a year traveling to and from the Hall of Fame Selection Committee meeting. We talked about citrus, about family, about community, about growing up, and so much more. We went on a couple of trips together. John, John Hey, Skip Wilson and I went to Kentucky to find out how a computer network called Green Thumb worked. Skip was the chauffer. We had a great time and received fantastic insight into the program. John added excitement to the trip. We attended Florida State Hort Society meetings in Miami Beach many years ago. John enjoyed the meetings AND John enjoyed the hospitality suites where he had a great time with many friends from around the state. John enjoyed life and squeezed all he could from it. John was a family man. He deeply loved Winkie and their extended family. I heard just how much at his funeral as family members remembered him. John did me a huge favor in 1968. I was ready to graduate from UF with a Masters degree in Fruit Crops and was looking for a job. I had an interview with John. It went well. BUT John informed me that they just did not need anyone and wished me luck. Four months later I returned to Lake County as the Citrus Extension Agent, a job made for me. I did not go to work for John directly, but I did go to work for him and many others fabulous growers.
I hope you know a little more about John Kennedy. He was a fantastic friend and great supporter of my efforts as an extension agent. John’s legacy will continue for many years through the generosity of his family. They have established the John M. Kennedy Family Fellowship at Florida Southern College. This is tremendous way to honor him, I know he is pleased and humbled by this gesture. So my response to the guy in the guard house; “I know who in the hell John Kennedy is! He is one hard working, highly competitive, citrus savvy, compassionate guy that spent his professional life dedicated to Golden Gem Growers and the Florida citrus industry”!
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