Four more added to the elite Florida AG Hall of Fame

01/01/2009 02:00:00 AM

Since 1980, the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame has sought to preserve the history of the state’s rich agriculture. Each year in February, the Hall of Fame inducts new members at the Florida State Fair in Tampa.

This year, four men have been named inductees for 2009. Two represent the citrus industry, one the cattle industry and the other education in the agriculture field. The following biographies of the inductees were compiled from news releases from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Mason Smoak

Longevity isn’t a requirement when it comes to being inducted into the Hall of Fame. After only 33 years, the work Mason Smoak did in the citrus industry was enough to earn him a place among the elite.

Smoak was born in Avon Park in 1974 and was raised in Lake Placid among his family’s citrus groves. In 1997, he earned a bachelor’s degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida. Following his education, he began his career in the family’s agriculture operations, which at the time included over 13,000 acres of cattle ranchland and wildlife habitat in Highlands and Hardee counties and more than 3,000 acres of citrus.

Smoak’s positive impact on Smoak Groves was realized with the start of business in timber and horticulture—today the company has 1,250 acres of pine timber in Marion County and 270 acres of caladium bulbs in Hardee County.

While Smoak offered much to his family’s businesses, he also gave much to the agriculture community through involvement in several organizations. Just one year post-college, he was elected to the Highlands County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He also was a Florida Farm Bureau state director, chairman of the Florida Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Program, president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers, chairman of the Heartland Agriculture Coalition and a member of the Florida Citrus Mutual Federal Political Action Committee.

His expertise was recognized by individuals outside the agriculture industry on two occasions: when he was invited to testify in front of the U.S. House of Representatives at a public hearing on labor needs in October 2007 and in January 2008 when CNN interviewed him in one of his family’s citrus groves about immigration reform.

He also had much concern for the environment and natural wildlife. This is evident in his work to improve water management, establish conservation easements on his family’s ranches and study black bear populations in Highlands County. The latter was the reason for his untimely death June 20, 2008—he and Dr. Dave Maehr were conducting aerial surveys of bears when the plane he was piloting crashed killing both men.

Smoak is survived by his wife, Tracee, and three young children.

Dr. James Griffiths

For 60 years, citrus growers in Florida were sure to see James Griffiths at almost every citrus meeting across the state. He was born in Alta Loma, Texas, in 1914, earned his doctorate in entomology in 1941 from Iowa State University, served in the Army during World War II and then found his way to the Florida citrus industry.

Following the war, he was a scientist at the Lake Alfred Citrus Experiment Station, and in only five years there he authored or co-authored 75 articles. At that time, he created a standard fertilizer recommendation for young and maturing groves.

Afterward, Griffiths became a district manager at Lyons Fertilizer Co. and general manager at Eloise Groves and Cypress Gardens Citrus Products. During all of this, he was foremost a citrus grower having been purchasing groves since the 1950s. He is remembered for his direct involvement in the care and management of the groves.

In 1981, he founded Citrus Grower Associates Inc., a small cooperative of growers that promotes and protects its members. This role led to his reputation of being a watchdog in the industry, always determined to be informed on every aspect of the citrus industry. In this capacity, he also ventured into politics becoming an advocate for Florida citrus in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee.

One of his most notable achievements was his successful lobbying for the establishment of the Polk County Water Policy Committee on which he served from 2001 to 2006.

Griffiths also participated in several associations, including the International Society of Citriculture, the Soil Science Society of Florida, and the Florida Citrus Production Managers Association.

Griffiths was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1998. He died at the age of 91 on June 13, 2006. He is survived by two sons, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Richard Kelly

Many of Florida’s agriculture leaders wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for Richard Kelly and the training he provided them throughout his career. He spent nearly 50 years focusing on ways to improve agriculture education.

Born in Ocala in 1937, Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1960 and a master’s degree in education in 1963 both from the University of Florida. During the early part of his educational career, he taught at the high-school level as an agricultural teacher and an FFA advisor.

In 1965, Kelly took a role with the Florida Department of Education in Tallahassee as executive secretary of the state’s FFA program in which he worked to motivate and train agriculture educators. He also developed a week-long state convention and helped establish the Florida FFA Foundation.

Four years later in 1969, Kelly became the executive assistant to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner, and he remained in this role until his retirement in 1991. In this position, he was responsible for maintaining communications with the legislature and committee staff on a year-round basis. He also helped develop the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ legislative programs, coordinated statewide agricultural fair programs, served as the department’s liaison to UF/IFAS and worked with department division directors to form agriculture policy.

He has worked with UF’s Department of Agricultural Education and Communication to fund and create scholarships for agriculture students. Since 2002, six new undergraduate scholarships were established totaling more than $120,000. He also has spent years active in Alpha Gamma Rho, the social and professional fraternity for agriculture students and directed the work of the alumni association and education foundation at UF.

Kelly played a key role in forming the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame and for 20 years served as the historian.

Over the years, Kelly has received many awards, including the Honorary American Farmer Degree (the highest accolade given by the FFA) and UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumnus of Distinction Award.

Kelly lives in Tallahassee with his wife. They have three grown children, three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Kay Richardson

Born in Evinston in 1938, Kay Richardson grew up on his family’s farm, Richardson Brothers Inc., which produced vegetables, field crops and citrus. In 1960 he earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Florida. From there, he spent four years in the Marines until he became an active partner in his family’s business, which was in the process of shifting production to beef cattle and citrus.

In the 1970s, Richardson became chief executive officer of Richardson Brothers and focused on improving cattle production. After the freezes of 1985, the company sold its citrus groves and shifted solely to beef cattle.

Richardson is known for his innovation as a beef cattle manager always being on the cutting edge of technology, pioneering the use of production records to improve the productivity of his herd, collecting birth and weaning weights to produce top-quality beef, using ultrasound for evaluating traits to breed cattle and more.

Richardson and his wife, Rhoda, live in Evinston and have two grown sons.

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