Sam A. Banks (1905-1972)
Lakeland Packing Company
Shipper’s Advisor Committee
Florida Fresh Citrus Shipper’s Association (Florida Citrus Packers)
Florida Citrus Commission
Florida Southern College
Governor’s Shippers Advisory Committee
Industry Advisory Committee of Florida Citrus Mutual
United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association
Sam A. Banks was born the youngest son of an Atlanta banker, merchant, and cattle buyer in Attalla, Alabama, in 1905. He moved to Florida in 1922, residing mainly in Lakeland, but also lived briefly in Frostproof and Lake Wales. Graduating from Florida Southern College in the late 1920s, Banks aspired to attend law school but instead married his college sweetheart Mary Gatewood Pulliam. Banks managed his father’s Frostproof citrus groves and eventually opened his packing house in the town.
Forming a partnership with James Heller of New York City during the Great Depression, Banks built the Lakeland Packing Company which turned out 1,800 boxes of grapefruit plus 400 boxes of oranges and tangerines every hour. During his membership on the Shipper’s Advisory Committee in 1952-53, and again in 1959-60, he felt a need within the industry for an organization for shippers. He wanted one that “really did the job.” All prior efforts had proven fruitless. On May 5, 1960, his extensive spreading of the word of the organization and work on the subject resulted in the formation of the Florida Fresh Citrus Shipper’s Association, an organization eventually known as Florida Citrus Packers. Banks served as president of this organization for three years and continued to serve on the board until his death.
In 1963 Gov. Farris Bryant appointed Banks chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission. One year a devastating freeze hit Florida, cutting half the state’s production. Banks viewed the freeze which cut production in half as only a temporary setback. Always optimistic, on March 25, 1967 the Lakeland Ledger later quoted him as saying. “We were overproduced anyway. The freeze has given our research and advertising a chance to catch up.”
Remaining an active member of the Florida Citrus Commission from 1961-65, Banks occasionally returned to his Lakeland Packing Company office following meetings and informing his friends and associates that important measures had been approved. His leadership in adopting new advertising agencies and programs resulted in a three-fold increase in concentrate sales within 10 years. Such methods, according to one observer, took citrus “out of the medicine cabinet” and put it on the breakfast table.
Under Banks’s progressive leadership the Florida Citrus Commission launched an in-depth study of its activities, resulting in reorganization of its staff and providing adequate salaries to attract qualified personnel. During his time as chairman, the commission hired a professional manager, and due to his lobbying efforts Banks succeeded in getting the general manager a higher salary than that of the governor of Florida.
Banks was devoted to the enhancement of the state’s growing citrus industry and its national and international image as the foremost supplier of citrus. This devotion led to the suggestion that his alma mater in Lakeland, the “Campus in a Grove,” develop a school of citrus within its curriculum. His suggestion contributed to the founding, in 1948, of the Citrus Institute at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. This was one of only three institutions in the nation at that time granting four-year Bachelor of Science degrees in citrus production and management. The school continues to place the majority of its graduates into positions within the industry today.
As well as his work on the Florida Citrus Commission Banks served on numerous advisory boards and trade associations, including the Governor’s Shippers Advisory Committee, the Industry Advisory Committee of Florida Citrus Mutual, and the Advisory Board of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.
A life-long philanthropist, Banks headed many fund-raising efforts for almost every conceivable worthy cause, including his beloved Methodist Church, the United Way Fund, and Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Banks also lent his fund raising skills to such organizations as the Florida Heart Association, the Lakeland Boys Club, and the Board of Missions of the Florida Methodist Church.
At the time of his death in 1972, Banks was general manager of Lakeland Packing Company, president of Bordo Citrus Products Cooperative and was on the Board of Directors of Citrus Central.