Title: 2003 Woman of Year: Jennie Lee Zipperer
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
Diane Zipperer Streid, Daughter: My mom’s special because she never sees obstacles. She doesn’t dwell on the negative and she, as a result, motivates everyone around her. She’s an inspiration.
Douglas Zipperer, Son: She’s a person that is, is as comfortable in a set of cow pens as she is on a ballroom dance floor. She can work with, with the cowboys as well as with kings and queens.
Jennie E. Zipperer, Daughter: I got to see a very beautiful, very capable woman do business with all men and do it very well. And do it with dignity and a femininity that most women cannot retain in doing business with men.
John III Zipperer, Son: She is a beautiful, highly intelligent, athletic… She’s a perfectionist and a hard working person. And when you combine all those attributes into one package you come up with a person that really gets things done.
John Zipperer, Jr., Husband: She’ll take those grandchildren and take a trip with them. She’ll go out in the pasture with you and do cow work is she has to and she’ll do whatever she has to do to make the family go and life progress along like it should.
Jennie Lee Zipperer wasn’t born into agriculture, but like anything else she puts her mind to, agriculture became a part of her. Jennie Lee Wheeler was studying science with an interest in genetics at the University of Florida when she met and fell in love with fellow student, John Zipperer, Jr. The couple married and began working for John’s father in Fort Myers, Florida. Zipperer Farms was already established as a distributor of floral ferns and grower of gladiolas. But it wasn’t until Mrs. Zipperer applied her knowledge of genetics that the farm first developed its own varieties of gladiolas.
Jennie Lee Zipperer: We’d label them all, what crosses we’d made, and, uh, that way we hoped to develop the straightest, strongest, disease resistant flowers possible. So they might go through half a million flowers before they ever got to one or two or three that might work. It’s quite an extended … we were very naive, but it was fun. It was fun.
Through years of trials Mrs. Zipperer’s efforts yielded several superior varieties for winter cut flower production in south Florida. Her oldest son, John, continues the hybridization program and those varieties are still in commercial production in Florida and elsewhere around the world.
John Zipperer III, Son: My mother’s interest in genetics helped extend the profitability, or improve the profitability of our family business in that it gave us new varieties with more vigor as well as giving us products that were different than the other suppliers. This allowed us to differentiate ourselves in the cut flower market.
Following up on the success of her gladiola efforts, Mrs. Zipperer channeled her interest in genetics to cattle production. While Zipperer Farms already had a commercial cattle operation, Mrs. Zipperer bought a small herd of cross-bred Florida cattle for herself, and through rigorous selection, was able to achieve an almost unheard of 95 percent conception rate. Also, in an effort to significantly increase the weights of her herd’s calves she began cross-breeding Black Baldie cows with Beefmaster bulls. The results were so promising that she entered into the Beefmaster-raising business, a venture separate from Zipperer Farms’ cattle operation.
Jennie Lee Zipperer: The commercial herds and the Beefmaster herds were two separate operations. They had to be. A commercial cow might be an excellent cow but you don’t have long-term records on her. The Beefmaster cow that you were raising was supposed to be a superior type commercial cow.
Mrs. Zipperer worked hard to improve the Beefmaster breed using sophisticated techniques such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, electronic monitoring and careful selection. She introduced ear tagging to track cows sired by a particular bull, which would later become a requirement for purebred certification by the Beefmaster Association. In addition to producing outstanding animals in her own herd, Mrs. Zipperer was able to identify superior animals in other herds – she purchased and syndicated two bulls significant to the Beefmaster industry: Robert E. Lee from Barfield Beefmasters of Florida and King Cotton from Schutts Land and Cattle of Texas.
Douglas Zipperer, Son: King Cotton turned out to be one of the leaders in the breed and today is still known as one of the animals by which they judge all the other bulls by.
Today cattle coming from the Zipperer herd can be found in many countries around the world. While she saw success with her own herd, Mrs. Zipperer saw the need for more promotion of the breed and became involved in the Southeastern Beefmaster Breeders Association. She served in many positions, and as president she was able to achieve over $1.6 million at the Southeastern Sales Auction, a first for the Beefmaster industry.
Jennie Lee Zipperer: A group of breeders going to sales in a number of states with all different qualifications for the kind of cattle they needed in that area to have sales that totaled a million dollars was quite an accomplishment. It was great fun. We enjoyed that.
In addition, she served on the board of directors and as vice president of the Central States Beefmaster Breeders Association. But perhaps most notably, at the national level Mrs. Zipperer served on numerous committees, the board of directors of Beefmasters Breeders United, and in 1992 was elected the group’s first woman president. No small feat in an organization of thousands of cattlemen.
John Zipperer III, Son: To be accepted by them as one of their own and to be chosen to lead their association showed their regard for her intelligence, her ability to get things done and her interest in working hard to promote the association.
In recognition of her amazing accomplishments in the Florida cattle industry, Jennie Lee Zipperer was named the Southeastern Beefmaster Breeders Association’s member of the year for 1991 and the national Beefmaster Breeder of the Year in 1995.
Jennie Lee Zipperer: I can honestly say that the Beefmaster part of my life is a wonderful part. I learned, I grew, I made friends.
Mrs. Zipperer’s energy is boundless. And her level of commitment to agriculture is equaled to that of her service to the community.
Dianne Zipperer, Daughter: If she saw a need in her community, she didn’t stand back and talk about it. She grabbed it, took hold of it and did what needed to be done in order to solve the problem, acquired the financial backing; from planning and being a leader to if someone needed to put the chairs out for a meeting, she put the chairs out. There was no work that was below her. And there was no work that she felt on a higher level intellectually that she couldn’t do.
Mrs. Zipperer established a Garden Club and served as President on the Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council. She’s beautified the county, served on the planning commission, has been active in political campaigns, and raised money to build a local school. She has been a Sunday school teacher, a Den Mother, and involved in the PTA. Throughout all of her endeavors Jennie Lee Zipperer made certain that her family always remained first.
John Jr. Zipperer, Son: With all her activities she ran a household. She raised four children. She helped nurture 11 grandchildren and I could never see that there was ever any drop or neglect to our family life even with all her other activities which is quite remarkable.
Jennie Lee Zipperer: I’ve got a family that stands by me every which way they possibly can. If I need them, they’re there. I’ve got a husband of 50 years. And it’s a good life. It’s a good life.