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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
Sadly we lost Nick a few months back. It has taken me this long to put my thoughts on paper. You may not have known he had been battling colon cancer for a while. Nick was a close friend and it has been difficult for me to come to grips with the loss. I know his family is devastated. Nick was about family. His wife, Sharon, worked side by side with him from the start of his citrus business. She experienced all the ups and downs, the freezes, greening and so much more. Their children, Lauen and Brian were the joy that allowed them to escape for a while from the "citrus" scene. Then along came the grand children and you know Nick adored them more than one can imagine. This family spent many hours together; eating out, a week at Captiva, and any excuse to get together. Nick demonstrated his love, showing his family the value of "doing it right".
This concept of doing in right carried over into his business. Nick never did anything just to get by; he always went the extra mile and made sure every angle was covered, every bolt tight, and everyone treated fairly and with respect.
He was an innovator of the highest degree. This industry is deeply in his debt for his work with using elevated micro sprinklers for cold protection. Nick did not just stumble on this technique. He spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about how he could use the low volume sprinklers to protect trees during a freeze. It took a couple of severe events to perfect the technique. Someone less concerned with details would not have been successful. Nick made sure his pumps were in perfect shape, he relied on Detroit diesel not Florida Power, he used high quality filters and most importantly he was watching the temperatures any night there might be a slight chance of a freeze. Like everything else he did, Nick invested time and his entire being into protecting his (personal and those he cared for) groves. Nick worked hard!
I saw this early on. When he was in high school Nick would contract spray for Golden Gem in the summer. His sister's boyfriend got to drive the supply truck and Nick drove the tractor and operated the sprayer. I was part owner of a sprayer myself during this time period and knew he was putting out 30 or 40 tanks a day while we were lucky to put half that many! Nick and his father, Ed, would spend long hours each night servicing and getting the equipment ready to go the next day. Nick had very little down time. What a work ethic for a high school junior! It never changed - he worked hard to earn a degree from UF, he worked hard to establish a contract spray business, he worked hard to get into harvesting and he worked hard to build and operate a packinghouse.
The "other" Nick was your friend that would do anything he could to help you. Nick served on the Lake-Orange Extension Citrus Advisory Committee for many years. He was always there to help me professionally whenever I needed him. He encouraged me to get FAWN going, he cooperated with field trials, he offered advice and suggestions for meetings, participated on grower panels and he supported every activity he could. I am sure he played a similar role with Umatilla Citrus Growers Association. He was a board member of Florida's Natural. A member of the A. H. Whitmore research foundation board, staunch supporter of Florida Citrus Mutual, Lake County Farm Bureau and the Lake County sheriff's office. Nick was a sharing member of his industry and his community.
Nick was always there when I needed some help. A lawn mower that would not work, a chain saw that I could not start, trailer with a broken tongue, 12 volt sprayer that would not run, a worn out pickup truck that was always in need of something. He never said, "John I have all I can do to keep my business running, you really need to take it to someone else". When I retired and was looking for a boat, who went with me to Jacksonville to check out one I found - Nick. Who always had a box or two of fruit I could use whenever I needed to set up a display - Nick. Who was first in line to thank me for my years of service as Extension Agent - Nick. Who always was there to help me escort some administrator from Gainesville or visitor from some other country - Nick. Who was one of my biggest supporters during the 38 years I worked for citrus growers - Nick.
We shared many lunches. We spent many nights together dealing with freezes. We went to see Governor Childes about diaprepes root weevil. We went fishing in Honduras and Alaska. Nick was always sure that you were comfortable. You ordered first at lunch, how was I doing with the cold event, he took the governor a bag of fruit, he made sure all the lures/rods/reels were set up and working as they should. Nick made you feel important, it was not about him, but you. When I retired from the Extension Service Nick told me that it would not be long before I would have many offers to help the industry. He was sure that I had the ability to continue to serve the industry and there would be many opportunities to do so. My professional life was not over Nick said, "you still have a lot to offer the industry". Nice and comforting words from someone that always put others first. Nick was more than just polite, he truly cared about others deeply.
After his family, citrus was his passion. I know he liked music, but he lived citrus. He never wavered in spite of freezes, labor issues, diaprepes, tristeza or even greening. Nick and Sharon established a grove care and harvesting business in Umatilla when the industry was shrinking as a result of freezes and urbanization. He built a packinghouse while these facilities were shutting down all over the state. I am sure Nick felt he was swimming upstream most of the time. That is where you find the leaders, swimming upstream. Accepting challenges and finding ways to deal with them. Nick made it through many "whitewater" stretches and now he is in the calm shallow water and can slow down. However, should He need a mower fixed, a field mowed, or a question about how it should be done. You can rest assured Nick will be there to help and remind Him to "do it right"!
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