I was 19 years old when I lost my father to cancer. It was the summer of 1971, and I had just finished my first year of college at the University of South Florida. I was studying electrical engineering, but I had to quit. My father owned a citrus grove in St. Petersburg and I had to take over. My younger sister, Jacklyn, who was only 14 at the time, and my mother, Linda, asked me to take over from Dad and not to sell the business. They didn’t have to ask me. I couldn’t imagine selling the place. It was where I grew up. It was where I became a man. It was part of the memories I had of my father.
I moved back home and set my mind on following in my father’s footsteps. He would have been upset that I had quit school to come back to the grove, but he would have been proud of me for taking care of the family. That much I believed. I had to. The farmhands began dropping like flies the summer of 1972. I had to start cutting them back because I couldn’t afford to keep them going with the little money we were making that year. We went from a 15-man group to a five-man group. Instead, I took the money that would have paid for their salaries for the rest of the year and invested it in a Petersen Citrus Loader. The loader helped us collect all the fruits we needed that year and for many more years. The Petersen, as we called it, lasted a long time and it helped us make it by.
I took care of mom while Jacklyn went off to college. She got a full scholarship and got a job as a waitress during her time at the University of South Florida. She studied biology because she wanted to become a doctor. She wanted to help cure people of illnesses ever since Dad died. And she did. She now works in Seattle as a heart surgeon. She left Florida and didn’t come back until mom died in 1991. And I sold the grove that year and decided to open up a sandwich shop in Hollywood instead. It’s been successful, which I’m glad about. And I still go up to the grove when I get a chance.