Barben, Hunt, and Lester are inducted into Florida Citrus Hall of Fame

The selection committee for the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has announced that three industry leaders were inducted during the 50th anniversary Citrus Celebration luncheon March 2 at Florida Southern College, Lakeland.

In honor of the anniversary, a Golden Jubilee Gala was 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.

Robert J. Barben, Avon Park; Frank M. Hunt II, Lake Wales; and Dr. W. Bernard Lester, Lakeland, were honored during the luncheon.

Barben, who 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.

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

A fifth-generation Floridian, Hunt is chairman of the board of Hunt Bros., Inc., an 83-year old citrus company 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 always doing his job and serving the industry, and was very much admired in many different arenas,” said Hall of Fame member Ben Hill Griffin III.

Dr. Lester worked for the Florida Department of Citrus from 1967-1986, 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.

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.”

The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame honors distinguished leaders who have made significant contributions to the the state’s citrus industry.

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

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