Jerry J. Chicone, Jr. (1934)
Battaglia Fruit Company
Sell Florida First
“Squeeze Oranges, Not Growers”
Florida’s Natural Growers Cooperative
Florida Citrus Mutual
Florida Citrus Showcase
Florida Citrus Festival
Jerry Chicone, Jr. was born on November 19, 1934 in Orlando, in Orange County, at the Orange County General Hospital, on Orange Avenue – to Maude Lee and Jerry Chicone, Sr. Unsurprisingly, Chicone would eventually become a leading figure in the Florida Citrus Industry.
He grew up in Winter Garden with his sister, Kay, and attended Lakeview Jr. High School, often riding into downtown Winter Garden on his horse to get a coke. He got his first introduction to citrus by riding through the groves with his father in an old Chevrolet, standing on the seat and often hitting his head on the ceiling as his father gunned the car through the sand, earning his first nickname, “Bumpy.” It would stand him in good stead during his later years, as he never hesitated to “bump heads” on issues that he felt were important to the industry. His first job in the industry was pruning citrus trees for his father and getting paid by the tree.
The family moved to Orlando when Chicone was in tenth grade. He attended Orlando High School and graduated in 1952. Chicone attended the University of Florida, graduating as a Business Major in 1956. While there, he was a member of Blue Key and president of Sigma Chi. After college, he worked a season with Battaglia Fruit Company shipping tangerines and tangelos, where he did everything from loading trailers to working in the packinghouse. He would start at seven in the morning and work through eleven at night, bringing his breakfast, lunch and dinner to work with him.
Chicone then went to work with his father at the family partnership, Chicone Groves. Chicone’s father asked Henry Swanson, the extension agent for Orange County at the time, to take his son to every meeting he went to until he knew the people and issues in the industry. And Chicone was to make sure at all times that, whenever Swanson called, he was available to go!
In 1959, Chicone married Sue Throckmorton, of Miami, whom he had met when mutual friends got married. Together they have three children: Jay, Cary & Susan, and four grandchildren.
In the early ‘60s, Chicone had another first: he and Hall of Famer Nancy Gurnett Hardy sat in on their first Citrus Commission together. They remained friends throughout her lifetime and she often asked his input on industry issues. Ed Price, a former chairman of the commission, put Chicone on several committees and encouraged him to speak out on industry issues. Chicone was instrumental in many of the promotional programs initiated by the Florida Department of Citrus, including the Rio Pinar Citrus Invitational Golf Tournament, and the Sell Florida First Program, for which he received the Sunshine Tree Award from the Florida Citrus Commission.
In the early 1980s, Chicone developed a slogan campaign meant to protest the low prices growers were receiving for their fruit, when processors were at an all-time high in the marketplace. He coined the phrase, “Squeeze Oranges, Not Growers,” which became a common bumper sticker seen throughout the state of Florida. His motto was “If the grower doesn’t grow it, then the picker can’t pick it, the processor can’t squeeze it and the shipper can’t ship it.” His diligence in fighting for grower returns helped elevate grower expectations and their position in the consumer chain.
Chicone was a board member of Florida Citrus Mutual for nine years and created the first Federal Political Action Committee, of which he was the first chairman. As such, he made numerous trips to Washington lobbying on behalf of the Florida citrus industry – even making the opportunity to discuss orange imports with President Reagan. He was a member of the Growers Advisory Committee, the Umatilla Citrus Growers Board, and Florida’s Natural Growers’ Cooperative.
In the 1980s, Orlando was trying to address waterway pollution and to that end the Conserv II project came into being, using reclaimed water to irrigate citrus groves in Orange County. The Orlando mayor at the time was Bill Frederick, a close friend of Chicone’s, and he encouraged him to sign onto the project – knowing that if Jerry took the lead, others would follow. When Chicone sought his father’s advice, his only comment was, “Water adds value to your land.” Chicone signed up and another twenty growers followed, putting into place a project that has garnered numerous awards throughout the nation. He has been involved in many industry issues, from supporting the Conserv II project in its early beginnings to obtaining disaster funding for industry damages due to recent hurricanes. When the major freezes of the 1980s wiped out many of his groves, Chicone saw opportunity to better his groves. He upgraded his irrigation system and reset his groves with Red Valencias and Red Navels – both sought after today for their high quality and solids ratio.
Bill Raley introduced Chicone to Central Florida growers and encouraged him to get involved with the Florida Citrus Showcase, bringing him in as Vice President. His first project was “The Gold Book,” which was dedicated to the history of both the industry and the Showcase. To promote the bicentennial, Chicone helped to put together a display of old citrus labels for The Florida Citrus Festival and he became hooked on collecting the art of that era. He is a founding member of The Florida Citrus Label Collectors’ Association, and has helped stage and promote events showcasing this eclectic piece of our past. He was involved with Jim Ellis and the Showcase in putting together the first book on Florida citrus labels in 1985, and he and Brenda Eubanks Burnette published a follow-up book in 1996. Both books are completely sold out. In addition, he has reached across state lines and has had numerous articles published in the California label collectors newsletter, “The Citrus Peal,” about the history of many Florida citrus labels.
He has donated numerous labels to museums across the state, and he and his sister, Kay, donated the Heritage Museum building to the city of Winter Garden, complete with all of the Winter Garden labels that are known to exist, as well as the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, which is a separate building for genealogy and history. The money he’s made in citrus has continually been sown back into the community, helping revitalize the downtown Winter Garden area and support numerous organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Habitat for Humanity and the Winter Garden Health Center for the uninsured. A big believer in giving back to the community, Chicone has received the Chamber of Commerce Philanthropy Award and the Distinguished University of Florida Alumni award for his philanthropic contributions to both the football and basketball programs. He has supported a variety of agricultural organizations, including the FFA and 4-H Clubs.
Chicone has served on numerous boards for his community as well: the University of Florida Foundation, Orlando Jaycees, and the UCF Advisory Council. He was Chairman of the Downtown Development Board and President of both the Orlando Utility Commission and the Orlando Chamber of Commerce. He was inducted into the Orlando Business Hall of Fame, the Sigma Chi National Hall of Fame, the Orlando Jaycee’s Colonel’s Club and is the recipient of the Jr. Achievement Hall of Fame Laureate. In addition, Chicone was the youngest Eagle Scout in Orange County at age 13, and received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award 50 years later.
A former president of The Florida Citrus Showcase, Chicone was the unifying force in keeping the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame running. Chicone worked extremely hard to maintain the integrity of the organization throughout the ups and downs of the Showcase. He served on the committee from 1975 to 2008, and was Chairman from 1988 to 2000.
At a time when Dick Pope was known as Mr. Florida, Jerry Chicone was known as Mr. Florida Citrus due to his incredible passion and energy level in promoting the Florida citrus industry and lobbying on behalf of Florida citrus growers throughout the state. His legacy is a phenomenal preservation of our citrus heritage. Throughout everything, Chicone has maintained his humility, a sense of pragmatism, and an enduring passion for Florida Citrus history.