R. Dolph Keene (1885-1973)
Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative
Citrus Pulp Plant
Growers & Shippers League
Florida Citrus Commission
Florida Citrus Mutual
United Growers & Shippers Association
Born in 1885, R.D. Keene began his citrus career at the age of ten by working his father’s grove near Kissimmee during the 1895 freeze. In 1907, he worked as a grove laborer for Dr. P. Phillips, eventually rising through the ranks in the company as picking crew foreman and fruit buyer.
In 1922 Keene launched his own business when he and his partner Barney Dillard, Jr. bought a packinghouse in Eustis. They nearly lost everything their first year when an unexpected bumper crop triggered a fall in prices. Selling out his interests in this concern he relocated to Winter Garden in 1933. Keene remained in the West Orange County town the rest of his life, prospering and expanding his operations from a log school house into a huge packinghouse operation.
After establishing his own packinghouse in Winter Garden, Keene was one of the organizers of the Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative. Until 1966, he was the chief executive officer of this cooperative. Keene was known for his ability to adopt new ideas and grasp opportunities for the citrus industry. These are documented by the fact the Winter Garden operation expanded from single strength to include concentrate facilities, enlarging several times to become one of the largest concentrate plants in the state. Keene’s citrus pulp plant was one of the most efficient in Florida and its recovery plants produce a full line of citrus by-products.
During the time he was with the Winter Garden Cooperative, his associates characterized Keene as a man of unusual perception and vision. Associates also describe him as a man of consistent integrity “who would battle all the way for what he thought was right.” He was extremely fair-minded and possessed common sense and judgment typical of one who started with little and eventually amassed an empire.
His citrus experience was not limited to the Winter Garden Cooperative. Throughout his career, he proved to be a positive force in the total development of the industry from the time it was simply a fresh fruit operation through concentrate production, citrus waste and by-products.
One additional organization of industry-wide significance and impact that he contributed greatly to was the Growers and Shippers League. He served as its president from 1938 to 1953 and then for the next fourteen years he was chairman of the board. He also was an active participant in the Florida Citrus Commission. As a leader in the “Maxey Plan,” he helped formulate what today is the Florida Citrus Mutual although he never became a member of that organization. He also helped found and provided outstanding leadership to the United Growers and Shippers Association. This was an organization of independent fresh citrus fruit shippers, including several cooperatives. He served as its president in 1948 and 1949. He became chairman of the board until the association was dissolved in 1956.
His example as a producer was a stimulus and guide to other producers. His groves were well kept and were models for the industry in productivity and quality. He was concerned with the quality of the product which he produced and marketed, and was concerned with certain organization in which he believed he could contribute effectively – all for the benefit of the industry. A close friend spoke of him: “Certainly it takes great leaders, even though they often hold opposing points of view, to make a great industry.”