ST. PETERSBURG — Emmett Hood Jr. spent the bulk of his life in his family's dairy, one of the oldest and largest in the Tampa Bay area.
It was a good thing he enjoyed the work, because he never had much of a choice. Mr. Hood's father, Emmett Hood Sr., had wanted his sons to continue the business his own father started in the late 19th century.
Four out of five sons did.
Hood's Dairy grew into a $25-million-a-year dairy, milking nearly 15,000 cows to supply 11 counties. In addition to the Hood's brand, the plant at 22nd Street and 54th Avenue N sold milk, ice cream and cottage cheese to Publix Super Markets wholesale for the store's own label.
Milk had become pasteurized, then homogenized since the dairy's beginnings. Then glass bottles gave way to cartons. The company kept expanding, even producing orange juice and facial lotion. The Hood's name was as familiar to locals as Maas Brothers, Kash n' Karry and Eckerd Drug stores.
And like those institutions, it eventually changed into something else.
The family sold the business. Mr. Hood ran a flying service, bowled a lot and tilled the soil behind a summer home in North Carolina.
Mr. Hood, who followed 40 years running a dairy with another 40 in retirement, died Sunday at home. He was 96.
"My grandfather (John Hood) came here in the 1870s from Mississippi," Mr. Hood told the Times in 1995. "He'd worked in a logging camp as a teenager and came to Tampa. He bought a sailboat and hauled lumber from Tampa to Bradenton."
John Hood moved with his family from Safety Harbor to St. Petersburg in 1899. With a milk cow and a horse and buggy, he started a dairy at Eighth Street and Ninth Avenue N — an area then considered "country."
By 1909, the dairy had grown to eight cows and moved to 5700 22nd St. N. Emmett Hood Sr., John's son, joined the family business in 1909.
Emmett Hood Jr. was born at home in 1916, the fifth of eight children. By middle school he was milking cows in the predawn darkness, then coming home by 3:30 p.m. to milk them again.
Of Emmett Hood Sr.'s five sons, one attended college. Douglas Hood would go on to become a St. Petersburg physician.
Emmett Hood Jr. wanted to go to college, too. "His dad said, 'No, I need you in the business,' " said Becky Wells, Mr. Hood's daughter.
After John Hood's death, Emmett Hood Sr. sold 12 percent of the business each to sons Paul, John, Emmett Jr. and Lester "Dick" Hood, retaining 52 percent for himself.
On Sept. 8, 1940, Mr. Hood married Helen Ward, a local girl he had dated six weeks.
His father stepped aside in 1944, selling all but 10 percent of the business. It grew exponentially from 1944 to 1954, from having four delivery trucks to 44. In 1956, the company changed its name to Hood's Milk.
Wells, 68, remembers her father as a cheerful man who told corny jokes, who left the house long before daylight but still played with his children when he got home.
"He was never too tired for us," she said.
By the early 1970s, the Hood plant was churning out 50,000 gallons of milk a day, and 35,000 more gallons for "cultured products" such as yogurt and cottage cheese.
Danny Hood, a grandson of Mr. Hood's eldest brother, had joined the business, making five generations of Hoods to do so. The family sold to Pet Milk in 1973.
"Pet wanted to buy them," Wells said. "It was a good deal and they said, 'Let's retire!' "
Mr. Hood bought Bay Air at Albert Whitted Airport, then Red Carpet Flying Service out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International. He and Helen took their grandchildren to other countries. He read National Geographic and a world atlas, worked in his woodworking shop and planted vegetables.
"He no doubt missed the challenge of the business, but at the same time he had worked so hard for so long," Wells said.
On March 8, the family noted that Mr. Hood and Helen, also 96, had been married exactly 721/2 years.
Mr. Hood died two days later.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.