Victor B. “Vic” Story (1945)
Victor B. “Vic” Story, Jr. grew up in a one-room barn in the middle of an 80-acre citrus grove that his father had planted in Frostproof, and lived there with his younger brother, Terry, until he was 14. His father, Vic, Sr., was born in Kissimmee and had dry goods stores in Kissimmee, Winter Haven and Frostproof before he was drafted in 1940 for WWII and became a bomber pilot. He married his wife Frieda, who was a flight evacuation nurse, in Palm Springs, CA, in 1944 and Vic was born there in 1945. After the army, he moved the family to Frostproof and worked for Latt Maxcy as his personal secretary. He saved his money and bought his first 80-acres of land, which he cleared and planted over the course of two years. By the time Vic was 8 years old he was in the groves with his father – planting trees, fertilizing, hoeing and spraying – and was doing the work of a grown man by the time he was ten. The family eventually moved to Lake Wales to get a house with heat for his mother’s crippling arthritis, and he attended Lake Wales High School where he played football, a sport he was extremely passionate about. While there, he was a Key Club member and organized Career Day, and was voted as having the “Best Sense of Humor” in his class – a trait he was to find he would need in the citrus business. After school, he and his brother were back in the groves working with their father. When Vic graduated high school and left for the University of Florida, he said his father had to buy their first bulk fertilizer spreader because he’d lost his “bagman” – Vic!
Vic was a walk-on football player at UF, playing when Steve Spurrier was the quarterback, and although football was his passion, it was his brother who went on to be a 4-year starter at Georgia Tech, while Vic came home after two and a half years because his counselor told him “I thought you had a lot of promise when you came here, but it’s time for you to go back to the farm!” Vic knew he always wanted to be a citrus grower, so he left school in 1966 but was drafted. When a bad accident sidelined his father, Vic received a hardship deferment and moved home to take care of the business, working full-time while his brother was in school and his father recuperated.
He and his father bought their first grove together in 1967 and they worked side by side to make the business profitable. They hoed groves together, and his father would drive the supply truck while Vic drove the sprayer. His father did the operations and harvesting while Vic did the production. In the last three years of his father’s life, Vic picked him up every day at 9AM and they would ride together everywhere Vic needed to go. He slipped quietly away in Vic’s car while they were checking on a grove.
A workaholic, Vic was constantly in the groves and actually met his wife, Ann, on a blind date for a BBQ. After dinner, he asked her to ride with him while he checked the volume guns in the grove and she did – waiting in the jeep in the pitch dark while he moved the guns. He asked her to marry him two weeks later, and three months after that they married in the Bartow courthouse since they had no money for a wedding. This August will mark their 45th anniversary, and together they have five children: Michele, Jeff, Jennifer, Matt and Kyle. Matt is the Production Manager for The Story Companies, while Kyle is the Vice President of Operations and Harvesting.
Vic and his father grew the business from 100 acres to over 2,000 acres in Central and South Florida. The business model was to find depressed groves, buy them, and return them to productive groves. By 1988, Vic and his father had grown the business to 2500 acres and Vic was active in a number of activities throughout Central Florida. He was Director of the Farm Service Agency in Polk County for 9 years, helping to promote the conversion of overhead irrigation to micro jet irrigation. A leader in the field, he led by example and was one of the first growers to make the transition to micro jet technologies. He was also a pioneer in the use of software to trace chemical and fertilizer use per block per variety, using the historical data to operate more efficiently and effectively.
However, the 1989 freeze decimated approximately one-third of their groves and Vic had to concentrate on staying in the citrus business. They went into salvage mode, selling what they could, and borrowing money to replant whatever was feasible. The following year, Vic started a caretaking business, which he managed because his father wasn’t what he called “an accommodating man!” The caretaking business helped to keep the employees and equipment afloat, and together with their own groves became a viable business unit now called The Story Companies. With his sons in the fold, The Story Companies now owns and manages more than 7,000 acres of citrus, with additional acreage in peaches and blueberries, along with 30 full time employees.
In the late ‘90s, Ellis Hunt asked him to serve on the Polk County Farm Bureau, and Vic once again became involved in the ag community. He was on the board of Florida Citrus Mutual, serving as President in 2011-12, and was a member of the Florida Citrus Commission, serving two years as Vice-Chair before losing his seat to redistricting. During that time, he was a sought after spokesman for the industry, covering numerous hot topics such as trade issues, anti-dumping, canker and greening, while educating elected officials about the citrus industry and laying the groundwork for important legislative programs and assistance. As an industry spokesman, Vic has also done countless interviews with local, state, national and international media outlets. He’s even visited schoolchildren in Polk County to teach them about citrus. In his role as Florida Citrus Mutual President, Story traveled to Washington and Tallahassee lobbying for citrus growers on everything from labor reform to disease research to trade policy. He testified in front of many federal and state committees as well as the International Trade Commission. A humble, quiet man with an easy sense of humor, Vic Story didn’t waste words, so when he spoke, it was with conviction and insight on the problem at hand and people listened.
He was also heavily involved in creating a viable vehicle to provide funding to the Citrus Research Development Foundation and in moving the focus of the Citrus Commission from advertising to research to establish the basis of research efforts for the greening problem, thus gaining valuable time for the industry. A leader in cutting edge production methods, he sprayed for psyllids as early as anyone in the industry, helping to keep his groves from psyllids and allowing the company to concentrate on the overall health of the tree and its root system instead of the vector.
But Story’s industry footprint doesn’t end with production. He helped to create the Sun Lion citrus label which is currently sold at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. He formed the label to be able to provide a high quality Florida branded fresh product to consumers. More than 100,000 Sun Lion cartons were shipped during the 2014-2015 season.
Vic is widely known as the “go to” agricultural fundraiser among Polk County political leaders and he is still very active in all Florida Citrus Mutual federal and state Political Action Committees. His cell phone number is on speed dial for many members of the Florida Congressional delegation. Nobody has done more to educate elected officials, regulators and the general public about our $10.8 billion industry and its importance to the state of Florida.
He is a member of the FFA Foundation and is still on the Farm Bureau Board, which he and his son, Kyle, served as President – the only father/son team other than the Putnam’s to have done so – and he recently received the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Florida Farmer of the Year Award.
He was an activist in helping to get the Florida Polytechnic University started in Polk County, serving as Co-Chair on the PolyVision Committee to separate the school from USF and bring it to Polk County. In addition, he has supported Warner College’s new ag program as a collaborator since its inception, hiring one of the program’s first graduating class members.
Also committed to his community, Vic was on the Lake Wales City Commission and served one term as Mayor, was a founding member of the Lake Wales Little League, refereed youth football, President of the YMCA, board member of American Bank & Trust, and Chairman of the Deacons at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Wales and the CARE Center Board for special needs children.
A true Southern gentleman and man of integrity, Victor B. Story’s unselfish commitment to the citrus industry and his community over the last 50 years has made him a significant force for the betterment of the Florida citrus industry.
Therefore, please help us honor him as a welcome addition to the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!