PALMETTO -- Farmer. Cattle rancher. Citrus grower. World War II veteran. Church founder. Mentor. Christian.
The late James Thomas Reeder, better known as J.T., was all of these, but it was his contributions to the local farming community that landed him a spot in the Manatee Agriculture Hall of Fame this year.
Reeder, who passed in 2009, was posthumously inducted during a Thursday luncheon ceremony at the Palmetto Womans' Club, becoming the 91st honoree.
"He was a fine fellow," said Delbert Reeder, J.T.'s first cousin. "He did a lot for this county."
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Reeder began running his own herd of cattle at age 14. He left school in 10th grade to start Reeder Farms in Ruskin with his parents, Laily and Hiram Thomas "Tom" Reeder. In 1946, they sold that farm and bought property in Manatee County, where they grew citrus and ranched dairy and beef cattle. He and his family also founded Airport Manatee, north of Palmetto.
While he was honored for his work on the farm, it was his founding of Palm View Baptist and 10th Street Baptist churches and other ministry work around Manatee that made an impression on Larry Pritchett, now the pastor at Palm View.
"He was a man of honor," said Pritchett, who met Reeder 36 years ago. "A man that loved the Lord. In all the things he did, he was a man of God."
Pritchett described Reeder
as a "manly man," like many veterans from his generation, who lived by the creed of "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
"That seemed to be his motto in everything, especially his church work," Pritchett said.
Lee Sly, who spent years rounding up cattle with Reeder, saw the man's serious side.
"I don't think they had recess when he went to school," said Sly from behind his cowboy hat and thick mustache. "He didn't quit. He didn't play."
Reeder's sons Tom and Clark, his daughter, Patricia, and his widow, Priscilla, were in attendance Thursday along with other family members and friends.
A portrait of Reeder will be permanently displayed in the Manatee County Agricultural Museum along with this year's other inductee, Bill Orban, the Manatee County Agriculturist of the Year.
"He would appreciate being included with many of those he respected," Tom Reeder said of his father.
The organizers of Farm City Week, which is celebrating its 57th year, say it's important to recognize and remember those who planted the seeds of Manatee's farming history.
"There's a lot of young people who, when you say, 'Where do you get your food,' they say 'the grocery store.' " said Frank Brunner, emcee at Thursday's luncheon.
A thousand third-graders from around the county learned about agriculture as part of Farm City Week's Ag Venture event at the county fairgrounds last week. And also honored Thursday were the winners of the Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation district's speech contest, Alisha Erozer of Lakewood Ranch High, and the Farm City Week essay contest winners, Kayla Clayton of Haile Middle School and Michael Fioretto of Braden River High School.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.