John Updike, Sr. (1924)
John Updike, Sr. was born in 1924 in Trenton, New Jersey to Archibald and Mildred Updike. His father, who is also in the Hall of Fame, was a citrus developer and grower who, after numerous financial hardships, formed a partnership to buy 2,400 acres of citrus near Lake Wales and moved his family to Sebring to manage the property, which was called Alcoma. The Alcoma name came from a merger of two individual landholding companies, one called Alhambra and the other Wincoma, and was purchased from the estate of August Hecksher, a wealthy philanthropist from New York. John, Jr. grew up in Sebring with his siblings, Arch, Jr. and Virginia, and graduated from Sebring High School, where he met and eventually married his childhood sweetheart, Jean Spivey.
He attended the University of Florida and worked part time to help pay his way through college, and when war broke out, he was called into service. After the war, he came home and began actively working in the Lake Wales citrus business managing the packinghouse and marketing the fruit. The business grew slowly from 1942 through 1958, hampered by three freezes and three hurricanes during that period. In 1957, a devastating fire destroyed the company’s fresh fruit packinghouse, prompting the family to build what was considered one of the most modern fresh fruit packinghouses in the state in 1958.
In 1964, Arch, Sr. died, and John became responsible for managing approximately 14,000 acres of land and citrus with his brother Arch, Jr. and brother-in-law, Horace Herndon. A desire to handle their own eliminations led to the construction of a modest bulk concentrate plant in the late 1960s and John focused on selling their products up and down the East Coast. He developed and mastered the dairy pack concept of frozen orange concentrate, selling dairies on the idea of transporting FCOJ in their milk tankers and reconstituting private label juices across the country. At one time, this concept was the major user of orange solids in Florida.
A true visionary, John was a thinker who was able to see the big picture and think outside the box, seeing the benefit early on in using the futures market to help solidify prices.
Under John’s leadership, the packinghouse was closed in 1977 to make room for a feed mill and the concentrate plant was expanded and improved to accommodate the mill and by-products of concentrate processing. His motto was “Sales made the business” and he concentrated on making his products the best they could be to keep the customers coming back.
John was also extremely conscientious about his employees and treated them as part of the family. His nephew, Sam, noted that “what he helped to build at Alcoma was more than just an organization of employees to produce and market citrus products…” He created a “sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves… We knew each other’s’ families, understood each other’s’ problems and helped one another, and that was part of our corporate culture.”
John was active in numerous industry organizations. He was a Director and President of the Florida Canners’ Assn., the National Juice Products Assn., and Seald Sweet Growers, Inc., as well as a director of the Citrus Associates of the New York Cotton Exchange and Alico, Inc. He was well respected by his peers for his knowledge of all aspects of the industry, as well as his ability to bring consensus to the table when issues arose.
As the next generation of boys in the family came of age, he honed their skills and involved them in the family enterprises, bringing John Updike, Jr., his cousins Larry and Sam Updike, and cousin Phil Herndon into the business. Phil was John’s understudy and was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 2002. A tough taskmaster, his leadership drove the new generation to accomplish things they never thought they could do and built the processing facility into one of the best run in the industry, by almost any measure of quality or efficiency. He demanded excellence, challenged his team to be the best and made them want to give it to him.
An active community leader, John gave generously to his community and showed his Alcoma family, by personal example, what it meant to serve others. He helped establish the Lake Wales Housing Authority, which provided quality low cost housing for working families and helped create the lake Wales Family YMCA in the 1970s, which is still thriving today in part because of the Updike Endowment. An elder of his church, he also helped develop the Lake Wales Hospital and was subsequently honored as the Lake Wales Citizen of the Year in 1966.
In 1997, the family sold the concentrate plant and re-organized as a citrus growing and caretaking operation only, changing its name to U&H Caretaking, Inc. and sadly, a year later, John passed. However, his contributions as an active and productive member of the citrus community left a legacy that is remembered to this day. His congeniality, wisdom, insight and leadership helped steer the helm of numerous citrus organizations and he was a mentor to many in both the industry and his family. A man of principle, he took pride in his relationship with everyone he knew, regardless of their circumstance in life. He loved his family, served them unselfishly, called them to be better than they thought they were and all who knew him were better for their association with him.
Ben Hill Griffin, III sums it up nicely: “John Updike was a unique individual that served the industry in a leadership capacity on both the fresh and processed side and is well qualified to be a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome John C. Updike, Sr. as he joins both his father and his nephew in the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!