MANATEE -- The late James Thomas Reeder, better known as J.T., has been selected as the 91st member of the Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame since its opening in 1967.
Reeder, who preferred to do his business -- and his good works -- without fanfare or publicity, was a dairyman, citrus grower and farmer.
"He did everything quietly," said his daughter, Patricia Reeder. "We are delighted that dad is being recognized."
J.T. Reeder was born July 11, 1920, and at age 14, leased 160 acres for a dime an acre to run his own herd of cattle, according to the Reeder family.
He left school in 10th grade to start a vegetable farming venture with his mother and father, Layla and Hiram Reeder. Reeder Farms started with 40 acres purchased in the Ruskin area in the mid-1930s, according to family history.
In 1946. the Reeder family sold its Ruskin operation and bought property in Manatee County, eventually moving from vegetable production to citrus, dairy and beef cattle.
Along the way, Reeder and his family started Airport Manatee, north of Palmetto.
Reeder's son, Tom, said the idea for starting the airport came from a flight instructor who was teaching his father to fly.
"The family took a pasture and seeded it," Tom Reeder said. Today, the airport is still a grass strip, serving light aircraft.
J.T. Reeder's agricultural endeavors were interrupted by World War II, when he served as a B-17 radio operator in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He attained the rank of sergeant.
Reeder was active in the operation of Reeder Farms and Reeder Ranch and Dairy Inc. until his death in 2009. Among those steering the family operation, after the deaths of Hiram and Layla, were J.T. Reeder, Graham Reeder, and Marvis and Randolph Snell.
J.T. Reeder was a man of faith, serving as deacon and Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church of Palmetto.
In addition, he was a lead
er in establishing 10th Street Baptist and Palmview Baptist. He also helped establish financial support for mission work in Manatee County through a loan program with the Southern Baptist Association. He helped reorganize Gillette Cemetery and served as a director.
"Mr. Reeder put his whole heart into this church throughout the years," said Pastor Larry Pritchett of Palmview Baptist.
Asked about Reeder's habit of avoiding the limelight, Pritchett said, "He wanted his Lord and Savior to get all the honor."
Reeder family members recalled J.T.'s bedrock values.
"He looked you straight in the eye and didn't back down. It was important to him that a man keep his word," Tom Reeder said.
Patricia Reeder added: "He loved his work; being on his horse and working the cattle was his joy."
J.T. Reeder will be inducted into the Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame at noon Nov. 21 at the Womans' Club of Palmetto.
For reservations, call Ann Marshall at 941-722-8940.
The Hall of Fame induction is part of the annual Manatee Farm City Week activities set Nov. 14-23.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.