Ed Swindle owns an insulating business and thousands of acres of tomatoes, strawberries and timber, but the 82-year-old says his heart is in philanthropy.
Earlier this month, Swindle and his wife, Myrtle Lou, were recognized as Supporters of Youth in Agriculture at the Agriculturalist of the Year breakfast at the Florida Strawberry Festival fairgrounds.
Swindle provided funding this year to build one of two pavilions at the festival grounds to house exhibits for youth-based livestock programs.
"He's one of the kindest gentlemen you'll ever meet," said Paul Davis, Strawberry Festival general manager.
Swindle has been involved in agriculture one way or another since his family moved here from Davenport in Polk County in 1932. His father grew fruit and vegetables and handed down a love of farming to his son — just as Swindle has handed it down to sons Larry and Rodney. Both are involved in Swindle's agricultural operations. So, too, is Myrtle Lou, his wife of 61 years.
"If I had some tractor work to do, I'd set it up and she would drive it," Swindle said. "That was the whole plan, to live together and work together."
Swindle owns a 130-acre strawberry and tomato farm in Dover and a 2,500-acre timber operation in Jackson and Calhoun counties in the Florida panhandle.
Soft spoken and stooped only slightly by age, Swindle, doesn't care much for accolades, especially when it comes to agriculture. He says it's his duty to encourage youth to get involved in farming.
"Of course, I don't think you should win anything for when you're helping youth," Swindle said. "It's important to help youth, and it's important to try to encourage them to stay in the field. Whether it's farming or fertilizer sales, it's important for them to stay in the field, because if we don't help them, we're in trouble."
He's also active in youth programs at the First Baptist Church of Dover, where he has attended services for more than 60 years, and is a former director of the Future Farmers of America Foundation and a current director of the South Florida Baptist Hospital Foundation in Plant City. In 2004, he was awarded the Ronald Reagan Gold Medal for business leadership.
Swindle, a Korean War veteran, is chief executive officer of ESI Group, an industrial insulating company on Adamo Drive in Tampa.
It's where he can be found most days when he's not checking on his crop or monitoring his timber operation. His office is dominated by the head of a 850-pound mule deer shot in New Mexico a few years ago. In addition to hunting, Swindle enjoys fishing.
"Lately, I only work half days," he said with a grin. "From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m."
Recently, we posed a few questions to learn more about Swindle:
You have achieved many things in your life, how would you like to be remembered?
As an honest person who cared for other people and helped in anyway he possibly could. You can't go through life and take from a community without putting something back into it. It's like church. You can't take without putting something back. I try to make sure to treat everybody the same and to be fair to everybody. I don't care if he's digging a ditch or a chemical engineer. Is there anything on your bucket list, something you would still like to accomplish?
I've been to a lot of places and seen a lot of stuff. I still enjoy going to New Mexico. I'm also very family-oriented and I'd like to be able to do more for the community, the church and the community as a whole. I'd like to continue to support the Strawberry Festival and the new diagnostic center at South Florida Baptist Hospital, basically to support anything to do with health, the community and kids. If you could have dinner with anybody in history, who would that person be?
Christ or somebody like Peter. He was a hustler and believed in telling the truth, but being fair. Today, he would be classified as being on the hard side of things, but I can get along with anybody as long as they tell the truth. What's your favorite place in Plant City?
When they have the steer show at the Strawberry Festival. That's where I like to be because it's youth-oriented. It's a non-profit deal and they don't allow booze. They run a tight ship. What's your favorite time of the week?
I enjoy working more than anything else and spending time with family, my wife, kids and grandkids. Everything that we've done has been family-oriented.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.