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Updated: 01/18/2012 05:52:10AM

Florida Citrus Hall of Fame announced 2012 inductees for 50th anniversary celebration

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Dr. W. Bernard Lester


Frank M. Hunt, II


Robert J. Barben

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A selection committee for The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has announced three distinguished leaders will be inducted into the Hall during the 50th anniversary Citrus Celebration Luncheon on Friday, March 2 at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

In honor of the 50th anniversary, a Golden Jubilee Gala will also be held the following evening, highlighting the Florida citrus industry and recognizing all members of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame, with several other events scheduled over the weekend to help celebrate the occasion.

The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame honors distinguished leaders who have made significant contributions to the Florida citrus industry. The Citrus Hall of Fame display and Archive Center is located within the McKay Archive Building at Florida Southern College.

Robert J. Barben of Avon Park, Frank M. Hunt, II of Lake Wales and Dr. W. Bernard Lester of Lakeland will be honored during the luncheon scheduled for 11:30 a.m. in the Hollis Wellness Center at FSC.

Robert J. Barben

An Avon Park citrus and cattle producer, Barben is president of Robert J. Barben, Inc. and was a founding member of both the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association and the Florida Agricultural Tax Council, which he also chaired. He served on the Florida Department of Citrus Marketing Advisory Council since its inception in 1969, chairing
it for over 20 years during a lengthy legal battle that involved numerous trips to Tallahassee.

A big research proponent of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), Barben has been active with the SHARE Council since 1973, serving on the executive board and as its chair, during which time he helped raise almost $2 million for a new building at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

He was a longtime board member for Florida Citrus Mutual, Adams Packing Company, and the Growers’ Administrative Committee, and has been on the board of Growers Fertilizer Company since 1953. He was a member and former chairman of the Florida Citrus Production Manager’s Association since the early 1950s and served on the Highlands County Soil & Water Conservation District Board for over 30 years, chairing for over 20; served two terms as mayor of Avon Park; and was president of Florida Agricultural Services and Technology (FAST), Highlands Independent Bank board of directors and the Florida Hospital Foundation.

Hall of Fame member Hugh English commented: “His wonderful public service and longtime dedication to the industry makes him truly worthy of the honor.”

Frank M. Hunt, II

A fifth-generation Floridian, Hunt is chairman of the Board of Hunt Bros., Inc., an 83-year old citrus company which was founded by his father, Deeley Hunt, also in the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.

He has played a key role in the development of the successful cooperative of Citrus World, Inc. – now known as Florida’s Natural, as well as in the fields of citrus processing, fresh fruit marketing, operating supplies and banking. He was a board member of Citrus World for over 50 years, serving as president and chairman of the board from 1973 to 2003, during which time he led the shift from producing product to marketing it, resulting in the introduction of the Florida’s Natural brand.

Under Hunt’s quiet, resourceful leadership, the cooperative has grown to the largest citrus co-op in Florida, along the way also creating a supplies cooperative that is now known today as Highland Exchange Services Cooperative, or HESCO. In addition, he helped shape the future of the U.S. farm credit system as a member of the committee that formed what is now CoBank, and served on its board of directors during the pivotal formative years. He was President and on the board of both Seald Sweet Growers and HESCO, and on the board of the Florida Citrus Packers and Florida Fresh Citrus Shippers Assc.

A (University of Florida) Bull Gator and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow, he is the recipient of the prestigious John T. Lesley award from the Florida Citrus Packers and a member of the Cooperative Hall of Fame.

Dr. W. Bernard Lester

Dr. Lester worked for the Florida
Department of Citrus from 1967 to 1986, beginning as a research economist and working his way up to Executive Director in 1979. During his tenure, he dealt with challenges ranging from marketing some of the largest crops in Florida history to working through devastating freezes, trade and tariff challenges, increased imports, diseases, as well as sending orange juice adulterators to jail to maintain the quality of Florida juice products.

He went on to join Alico, Inc., where he was on the board of directors for almost 20 years, and also served on the board of directors for Orange-Co, Inc., Gulf Citrus Growers Association, the Florida Land Council, and the Board of Trustees for Florida Gulf Coast University. A member of the Florida Blue Key since 1960, he received the Florida Citrus Processor’s Award for dedicated services, as well as awards from the Florida Department of Citrus, Florida Assn. of County Agents, American Business Women’s Assn., Boy Scouts of America, and a number of awards from Alpha Gamma Rho for his outstanding service and guidance.

Dr. Lester has served in numerous capacities for a variety of educational and service organizations, including the IFAS Leadership Development Program, Hendry County Extension Advisory Committee, Southwest Florida Research and Education Foundation, South Florida Agricultural Council, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, Farm Bureau and Future Business Leaders of America, to name just a few. Hall of Fame member George Austin noted: “He knew how to make things work in less than favorable conditions and he always wanted what was best for the industry.”

For more information on the Citrus Hall of Fame or the Golden Jubilee activities, visit the web site at or contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette at (561) 351-4314.

Tickets to the luncheon, sponsored by Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida Department of Citrus, are $50 for general admission, $100 for reserved patron seating or $1,000 for a sponsor table, which includes preferred seating for eight, table signage, two tickets to the Gala and a listing in the program. The event will be followed by a “meet and greet” with the inductees as they unveil their names on the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Tree, located in the McKay Archives Center. An historic Citrus Exhibit will be featured, along with Oral History Presentations of industry pioneers, a citrus label show and sale and tours of the Citrus Archives. Shuttles will provide transportation between the Hollis Wellness Center and the McKay Archives Center, where the main parking lot is located. Ticket prices for the Golden Jubilee Gala the following evening are the same, with table sponsors receiving two tickets to the luncheon.