D. Victor Knight Sr. (1929-2007)
Knight planted his first grove at age fourteen. Upon graduation from high school he attended the University of Florida for two years and then served in the Korean War. He was heavily involved in the industry’s transition from the standard box to the ten box bin that is currently used today and was one of the first to bring the Autoline electronic sizing equipment to the East coast.
Riverfront Groves Packinghouse
Autoline Electronic Sizing Equipment
Star Ruby Grapefruit
Victor Knight was born on June 5, 1929 into a pioneer family that had already established itself in the agricultural business and citrus industry in the Indian River district. He was the sixth of seven children born to John M. and Burma Knight. Knight was literally born with his feet in the Ag industry and never left it during his entire life. The family was heavily involved in the tomato, citrus, and cattle industries. Knight planted his first grove at age fourteen and never looked back. The family owned approximately 3,000 acres of groves and Knight worked in those groves daily, learning production from the ground up. Upon graduation from high school he attended the University of Florida for two years. After military service during the Korean War, he reentered the family business, eventually branching out into the citrus harvesting business. He built the business up to the point where he took responsibility for harvesting all the fruit from the family groves. From this experience Knight determined that a vertically integrated citrus operation would best serve the family and therefore ventured into the citrus packing business, developing Riverfront Groves Packinghouse in 1960 with his father and his brother, Reed. Together they built Riverfront into one of the largest packinghouses on the river.
Knight eventually purchased his family’s interest in the packinghouse in the early 1970’s. Knight continually looked for new ways to add efficiencies to his packinghouse. He was heavily involved in the industry’s transition from the standard box to the ten box bin that is currently used today and was one of the first to bring the Autoline electronic sizing equipment to the East coast. If he couldn’t buy it, he would build it. Knight spent an untold amount of effort to try to improve on things in a cost effective manner, for both his business and the industry, and was always willing to share that knowledge. He was a progressive thinker and the first to switch from an ink stamp on the fruit to a paper sticker in the mid-1980’s, hopeful that would build consumer loyalty. He is also credited with introducing the Star Ruby grapefruit to Florida, grafting it in a greenhouse behind the horse barn at his home.
Knight’s service to the industry was broad and far-reaching. He served as a Director of Seald Sweet Growers and Florigold Growers from 1962 until 1985, during which time he served as President and Chairman of the Board of both organizations. Knight worked tirelessly, along with Don Lins and others at Seald Sweet, to help open up international markets for Florida citrus. He served as President of the Florida Citrus Packers and was a member of their Board from 1962 to 1985. Knight received the prestigious John T. Lesley Award of Excellence for his lifetime of dedicated service in 1997. Like his father before him, who served on the first Florida Citrus Commission in the 1930s, Knight served on the Florida Citrus Commission for four years, appointed by Governor Claude Kirk in 1968. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Indian River Citrus League from 1968 to 1982 and was a long-time member of the Hesco Board of Directors. He also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association from 1968 to 1980 and served at the national level on the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association as a member of their board from 1978 to 1980. Beginning in 1971, Knight served fifteen consecutive seasons as either the member or alternate shipper member representing the Indian River District on the Shippers Advisory Committee, which in 1977 became the Citrus Administrative Committee. At that time, there were eight to ten meetings each season, with only one held on the River, so he made the trip to Lakeland countless times across the then two-lane Highway 60. This, on top of his trips to the Seald-Sweet headquarters in Tampa, led to his decision to get a plane, in order to shorten his time on the road and enable him to attend as many meetings as possible.
A dedicated family man, Knight married Wanda in 1950 and together they had four children: D.V., Paula, Audrey and Dan, all of whom have been or still are involved in the industry. Active in his community, Knight was a former trustee for St. Edward’s school and the Knight family is one of the largest “legacy” families of the school, with 10 members of the Knight family having attended St. Edward’s. Victor Knight passed away on December 19, 2007 at age 78. A true ambassador for the Florida citrus industry and the Indian River district, Knight’s leadership, pioneer spirit, honesty and integrity have earned him a lasting legacy in the Florida Citrus Industry.