John M. Kennedy, Sr. (1926-2017)
John M. Kennedy, Sr. was born in Pittsburgh, PA on May 28, 1926 to Joseph B. Kennedy and Mary Abrams Kennedy. His father was a career Coast Guard member, so he and his siblings, Joseph, Bill, Edward and Marie, moved around from port to port several times over his dad’s military career before moving from Alaska to St. Petersburg, FL in 1943. John was a junior at St. Petersburg High School and was an avid student athlete who actively participated in football, basketball and track – milking cows on a nearby dairy farm that summer.
He was drafted into the United States Coast Guard at the age of 18 and served his country as a signal man from 1944 to 1946 on board the USS Breckinridge, which was en route to Japan when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and John was told to signal the boat to return to New York City.
When his military service ended, John returned to St. Petersburg and attended St. Pete Junior College, and worked delivering ice as his first job. In 1948, he enrolled in the University of Florida where he was a member of Alpha Zeta, Phi Kappa Phi, alpha Tau Alpha and Gamma Sigma Delta, graduating with a BS degree in Agriculture in 1950, before returning to St. Pete for a job with Naco Fertilizer company as a marketing representative. While there, he met John Nelson, an avid citrus grower in Lake County who hired him in 1952 as the Production Manager in Altoona for Grand Island Citrus Cooperative– the forerunner of Golden Gem Growers. He was promoted to Vice President, Director of Grove Services for Golden Gem Growers in 1974 and continued his career in that position until his retirement in 1996, managing over 17,000 acres of citrus.
He met his wife of 53 years, Winifred “Winkie” Collier Kennedy in 1962 and they married in 1964. He has three sons by his first wife – John, Jr., Robert, and Donald – and was a loving father and mentor to Winkie’s daughters, Peggy and Janie.
John was one of the early members of the Florida Citrus Production Managers Association, which he served as President, board member and on numerous committees. Through the Production Managers Association John had an impact on many important issues such as the research box tax, the Harvesting Research Committee, the burrowing nematode program and numerous other production issues faced by the industry during that time.
He was a Florida Citrus Mutual board member for 10 years, serving as Vice President and active on several committees where he was a strong voice for Lake and Orange County growers.
A strong supporter of the Florida State Horticultural Society, he felt that it was important for growers to stay in touch with current research work and the impact it could have on the industry. He was elected President of the Citrus Section and was therefore responsible for the selection of papers to be presented at the meeting and published in the proceedings. He served on the Board of Directors of the Society where he was a strong advocate for the involvement of students from UF and Florida Southern College.
He also served as chairman and board member of the Lake County Farm Bureau for many years as an advocate for agriculture in Lake County, lobbying decision makers (county, state and federal) to provide necessary funding to support agriculture in Lake County. This ranged from trips to Tallahassee and Washington to making sure fruit loading locations were maintained by the county to facilitate the harvesting operation. It was critical to have clay roads graded and loading areas in good shape to move the over 140 million boxes of fruit being harvested from groves to processing plants and packing houses.
John served as chairman of the Lake/Orange Citrus Extension Advisory Committee and was a member there for almost 20 years, providing leadership in identifying potential new programs and assisting in all activities, whether as a speaker at meetings, providing field plots to evaluate practices, securing sponsors and helping with the annual extension report.
As a member of the UF/IFAS Freeze Recovery Task Force, John spent many days providing grower input on the ‘80s freezes which enabled IFAS to evaluate the results and create a workbook that showcased both the economic impact of the freezes and practices that enabled growers to better cope with freezes in the future.
John’s experience and common-sense approach to governmental regulations were important during his time on the DPI Plant Technical Council, where he helped make recommendations relative to regulatory issues impacting citrus, many of which pertained to the production of nursery trees. It was critical that growers provide input that allowed for protection of the industry from harmful insects and diseases, but also kept unnecessary regulations from driving up production costs.
He was also Chairman of the Citrus Industry Harvesting and Research Committee to seek answers to the issues involved with harvesting, support research work and encourage mechanical harvesting companies from other parts of the country to explore the Florida market.
When not managing Golden Gem’s 17,000 citrus acre portfolio and serving the co-op’s 400 growers, John M. Kennedy was a man who “gave back” to his community.
He was Exalted Ruler of Eustis Lodge 1578, President of the Umatilla Kiwanis, Director of Lake County Boys Ranch, Scout Master, President of Pine Meadows Golf and Country Club, Director First Union National Bank of Eustis board, Trustee/Board Member Montverde Academy and a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
Upon his death in 2017, the family established the John M. Kennedy Fellowship at Florida Southern College as part of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Endowment Program, which funds an engaged learning program for Florida Southern students to help preserve and promote the history of the Florida citrus industry. A true leader and friend to the industry, John’s great sense of humor and hearty laugh were heartfelt and welcomed in all areas of his life.
Therefore, we are honored to induct John M. Kennedy, Sr. into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!