Third-generation Manatee farmer leaves numerous legacies

rdymond@bradenton.comMay 13, 2014 

MANATEE -- Third-generation Manatee County farmer James Carson Nanney, 87, died Sunday, leaving behind a legacy of gladiolus, his years as scoutmaster to hundreds of Manatee boys who joined Troop 22 and his years as a lay leader at First Presbyterian Church in Bradenton.

But Brenda Rogers, an agriculturist herself who was on hand when Mr. Nanney's photo portrait went up in the Manatee County Agricultural Museum in Palmetto after Mr. Nanney was awarded Agriculturist of the Year in 2000, sees his legacy differently.

"Jim's legacy is his family," Rogers said Monday. "He instilled the love of the land and those values of agricultural preservation in all six of his children."

The always hyper-active Mr. Nanney, whose tennis, racquetball and ping-pong had been slowed the last few years by congestive heart failure, died at 10:30 p.m. in his favorite chair at his home at Meadow Croft after attending a Mother's Day celebration for his wife, Mary Catherine "Red," at his daughter, Valerie's, Bradenton home earlier in the day.

All six of his children were in town for the Mother's Day celebration, including eldest son Bill, James, Kitty, Michael, Pat and Jennifer.

"We all knew it was coming," Bill Nanney said Monday. "I talked to him earlier on Sunday and told him I would come back from Plantation next week and take him out to lunch. He said he would look forward to it."

Bill Nanney recalls his father and mother taking the family on cross country vacations with a pop-up camper.

"All eight of us would be in that pop-up," Nanney said. "I think a few times we came close to killing each other.

"I would say my dad taught us patience and to think through problems," Nanney added. "He also told us if we had a problem to write it down and list the pros and cons."

Mr. Nanney, whose grandfather's farm was on the site of the former Manatee County Agricultural Center, made improving the ornamental industry his life's work.

After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946, Mr. Nanney got a degree in agriculture from Ohio State University in 1950.

Mr. Nanney came back from Ohio to Manatee County to work with his father in W.C. Nanney and Son Gladiolus Growers.

"He was brilliant," said Nanney's daughter-in-law, Margi Nanney, who married Mr. Nanney's son, Pat. "You could cut a tomato open and he could tell how old it was and exactly what kind it was. In fact, just a few days ago I showed him a tomato leaf with a bug on it and he told me exactly what it was and that I needed to dust it right away."

Mr. Nanney, who is also credited with development of strawberry stock production to enable Florida growers to accelerate early winter production, was a soft-spoken, gentle, kind, patient and loving man but was also a do-er, Margi Nanney said.

"Dust never settled on him," Margi Nanney added. "He learned how to use a lathe to turn wood. He was a craftsman. There wasn't anything he didn't know."

"Dad was very smart but he was a simple man," Bill Nanney said.

Mr. Nanney worked as production manager for the Roman J. Claprood Co. from 1954 to 1978.

'Gladiolus, his main thing'

"We had a packing house in old Sun City where we grew 900 acres of gladiolus every year," said Barbara Kiefhaber, Claprood's daughter.

"Jim worked for my dad for 25 years," Kiefhaber added. "Gladiolus were his main thing. Glads were the predominant flower. They were shipped up north to florists by train and then by airplane from Tampa."

In his own resume, Mr. Nanney writes of that time: "This position involved the total aspect of production of the following crops: gladiolus, chrysanthemums, statice, gypsophila, asters, flowering pot crops, foliage and seedling vegetable plants. During this time I supervised 150 employees and hired all my own mid-management personnel."

After Clapwood's plant closed, Mr. Nanney worked for Fullwood-Nanney greenhouses and, later, was a greenhouse grower at the family's 17-acre farm, which included a 14-room house built in 1904 at 401 Terra Ceia Road, Terra Ceia.

Mr. Nanney was also a horticulture consultant, traveling to Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica.

One memory Bill Nanney will never lose is the "Sunday Popcorn and Milk" memory.

"Popcorn on Sunday night was a family tradition," Bill Nanney said. "Either my mom or we kids made popcorn in a pan. We would eat it with butter on it but dad would pour milk over the popcorn in the bowl and eat it like cereal."

A reception for Mr. Nanney has been set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at Griffith-Cline Funeral Home, 720 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Nanney's funeral is set for 1 p.m. Friday, May 30, at First Presbyterian Church, 1402 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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