MANATEE -- Roger Alan Hill, a 43-year employee of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch who rose through the ranks to become ranch manager, died unexpectedly March 1, 2013, at a Bradenton-area hospital at age 68.
Mr. Hill, who gave up his architectural studies because he wanted to work outdoors, knew every inch of the 50-square-mile working ranch that became Lakewood Ranch, friends and family said.
As a young man, he started a fence company, and won a contract to install fences for SMR, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, said his daughter, Valerie Ellery. Through that association, he was later offered a job at SMR.
Mr. Hill served as ranch manager since 1981, and became known as the go-to-person for any number of projects. He oversawdevelopment of both the
Sarasota Polo Club and Premier Sports Campus.
"He did not retire. He had projects he wanted to finish when he got out of the hospital," Ellery said.
Mr. Hill was also involved in the wider Manatee County community, serving on the Manatee River Fair Board, including two terms as president. He was also active in the Manatee Farm Bureau, the Manatee Cattlemen's Association, and as deacon and elder in his church.
Dan West, manager of the Manatee County Fair, said Mr. Hill agreed to serve back-to-back terms as president to ensure completion of the fair arena project.
"He was very straightforward. We'll miss him immensely," West said.
Valerie Ellery recalled his strength, and love for his family. "You drew strength from him. He loved so dearly," she said.
When Mr. Hill showed visitors around Lakewood Ranch and all its new rooftops, he wanted them to understand that agriculture remained important to SMR, with its strong citrus, sod, cattle and mining operations.
"Cattle maintain taxes," Hill said in a 2008 interview. "All of our taxes are based on use of land. Even after we get a development of regional impact approved or a piece of land rezoned, we can have cattle on it."
"I go back to the 1970s on the ranch," Hill said in the 2008 interview. "Our first pens for cows are now buried under McNeal Elementary. Our first bunkhouse is over there where you see that Greenbrook sign."
Jason McKendree, cattle manager for SMR -- a job previously held by Mr. Hill -- called him one of the "main pillars for a strong operation."
"When he put his mind to it, he made sure something got done," McKendree said. "We all grew up wanting to be like him one day."
Mr. Hill was born on a dairy farm in Johnson City, N.Y. As a teen he moved with his family to Florida and graduated from Lakeland High School.
In keeping with his love of the outdoors, he had a life-long enjoyment of camping, hunting, fishing and beekeeping.
He was preceded in death by his son, Ryan Alan, his parents, brother Jimmy and sister Joan.
He is survived by his wife, Laurie; three daughters, Connie Smith, Valerie Ellery and Christy Cruz; 11 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and a sister, Shirley Martin.
A celebration of life service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bayside Community Church, 15800 State Road 64 E., Bradenton.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1.