John Stickles was remembered in many ways Monday.
He taught Jaime Garcia growing techniques and how to operate farm equipment.
He told Garcia's brother, Armando, about his love of Porsche sports cars, particularly his restored, fire-engine red 1955 Speedster.
But what Glenn Williamson, his longtime business partner at Florida Pacific Farms, remembered best was Mr. Stickles' appetite for life, including his enthusiasm for agriculture.
"He knew how to get things done," Williamson said. "He was very curious and he liked to learn everything he could about the business. If he saw something that might look good, he'd try it to see what happened."
More than 200 friends, family members and farm workers gathered Monday for a three-hour "celebration of life" service at the Florida Strawberry Growers Association's headquarters on Lewis Gallagher Road in Dover. Mr. Stickles, who was 57, died suddenly on July 26 of an apparent heart attack.
In addition to Florida Pacific, Mr. Stickles and Williamson were partners in Dover Fresh Produce LLC, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. Mr. Stickles belonged to the board of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and was a former board member of the strawberry growers association and Farm Bureau.
Williamson said Mr. Stickles was fascinated both by growing techniques and the business of agriculture, and was forever seeking ways to introduce science to trim costs and produce a bigger crop.
He used drip irrigation instead of conventional broadcast spraying and added liquid fertilizer to the water to save money on both.
He experimented with huge thermal blankets this past winter, covering parts of his strawberry crop to protect against freezing night air. The method worked and saved the farm from having to pump groundwater to coat the berries with a protective layer of ice. Groundwater pumping is controversial because it drains the aquifer and causes sinkholes.
"He liked trying new things," Williamson said.
Mike Stuart, president of the state's fruit and vegetable association, said "John's passing is a tragic loss for his family and for all of us in the industry. He will be sorely missed."
Mr. Stickles' love of farming apparently originated decades ago when he worked on a farm in Oceanside, Calif., said Williamson. Mr. Stickles came to Florida in the early 1990s and the two soon became friends and business partners, launching Florida Pacific in 1996, he said.
"He worked a lot in the office, but he wasn't afraid to get out in the fields," the 77-year-old Williamson said. "He wasn't afraid to get down there and get his hands dirty. I can't do that anymore."
Jaime Garcia, 43, a farm manager at Florida Pacific, said it wasn't unusual to see Mr. Stickles alongside field workers at harvest time. He had big hands and a big smile. He was easily approachable. He taught Garcia how to operate farm equipment.
"He always wanted to help out," Garcia said quietly outside the conference center as guests milled in and out of the building. "He always asked how you were doing. I remember at Thanksgiving he would come over and help cook the turkeys. We had all these cookers lined for Thanksgiving for the employees and he was there helping out."
Inside the center, images of Mr. Stickles, his wife of 27 years, Kim, and the couple's grown daughter, Helen, flashed on a screen. Visitors dined on fruit and cheese. The event was relaxed and low-key, though sometimes punctuated with tears and laughter.
A table inside the foyer displayed photos of Mr. Stickles, including one with his fiery red Speedster. Mr. Stickles was a member of the 356 Porsche Registry Florida Division. He also liked fishing, Williamson said.
But what he liked most, according to Williamson, was eating out — an interest that appealed equally to Williamson. He was a fixture at Johnson Barbecue in Plant City, he said.
"He must have gone there twice a week," Williamson said.
The two shared many meals together, and Williamson said he'll miss those times the most.
"I had a lot of good times with John. He was good at eating and Kim was good at picking out new places," he said, smiling. "I'm going to miss going out to dinner with him. He was easy to talk to. I'm going to miss my friend. "
The Stickles family said a burial at sea will take place off the coast of Oceanside, Calif. A date for that ceremony had not been set.
Rich Shopes can be reached at (813) 661-2454 or email@example.com.