Title: 2007 Woman Of The Year: Colleen Boggs
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
Mike Hoy: Colleen is kind of the star growing up here in Highlands County. And everyone knows her. And they still, today, they will say, how’s your sister, you know, because they still remember something good about her they want to bring out from 30, 40 years ago.
Colleen Hoy Boggs’s ability to bring out the best in others – and herself – was evident to everyone in Lake Placid since the Hoy Family first moved there in 1949. Always positive and determined, Colleen excelled throughout High School, not only athletically and socially, but academically as well. From being the first Lake Placid resident to be named “Miss Highlands County” to valedictorian at Lake Placid High School, Colleen approached everything she did with distinguished style and grace.
Colleen was born in Miami Beach and grew up in nearby Coconut Grove. Her father, John J. Hoy, a WWII veteran, delivered mail by bicycle in the Grove, while her mom, Sis Hoy raised Colleen and her younger brother Michael. Though life in the Grove was enjoyable, the family moved to the rural community of Lake Placid, where her father would later serve as Post Master for 19 years. Their homestead on Lake Huntley was a new experience for Colleen, one which she took to right away. They grew up in the citrus groves, and raised chickens and cows; Colleen’s love of horses began at this time when she got her first cracker horse, Linda. But from the time Colleen was 10 years old what interested her most were plants.
Mike Hoy: Colleen was always into the plants a little bit, but then she did a science fair exhibit on plants and she won a trip to Daytona Beach and went on TV there. She was about 12 years old or something, and won a free vacation for the whole family for a week. So I started to be pretty impressed with her.
Colleen spent summers during high school and college working at the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid.
Hilary Swain: But here she was, this interested young girl -- very interested in botany -- and down the road, there was this first-rate organization with a first-rate botanist who was able to train her in all the basics that, you know, someone with an advanced undergraduate degree would have.
Colleen Boggs: As a child, my father used to take me down to Archbold Biological Station and the botanist there, his name was Len Brass, and so everytime we would go down there, I would go to Len’s lab.
Len started teaching me a little bit about keying plants and taxonomy and the ecology of the area. And I just kept up with that and I just loved being there and loved doing those things.
As an assistant taxonomist, she would collect, sort and catalogue specimens, creating herbarium sheets still used by researchers today. After earning a bachelor’s degree in bioscience with specialization in botany from Florida State University, Colleen was able to continue her love for science through teaching biology at Coral Gables High School.
Colleen: I elected to teach school, so I taught high school biology. And I was also managing an apartment house. Then in 1965, Hurricane Betsy came along and wiped out the landscaping there. When I was just looking for plants to replace at the apartment house, I came to Homestead and there were only a very few nurseries. And there were no fruit tree nurseries to speak of, just one large one that mainly dealt with commercial supply. So I just sort of had in the back of my mind that that would be a good opportunity to do that if I ever had the chance. And one day I had the chance, so I started.
She started small, growing primarily citrus trees in an 18-by-24-foot greenhouse. In 1971 she purchased 40 acres in south Dade County and, in early 1972, established Pine Island Nursery in the Redlands. The nursery business is not an easy one, and over the years Colleen endured three battles with citrus canker and several major floods. She suffered through more than a dozen hurricanes, including Andrew which nearly wiped out the nursery. But whether it was natural disaster, suburban development or even changing markets, each time Colleen faced adversity she met it head-on.
Erik Tietig: The best lesson I think my mom ever taught me was actually not that long ago. I was having some shipping problems to the State of California. And trying to settle me down a little bit, she reminded me that through great adversity lies great opportunities.
Colleen has had more than her share of those opportunities. In the mid-1980s, Pine Island Nursery struggled through a two-year citrus canker quarantine. When the quarantine was finally lifted, Colleen decided to shift the nursery’s focus away from citrus trees. She began growing a wide variety of tropical fruit trees, many of which are now exported around the globe. From the familiar mango and avocado, to the newly introduced dragon fruit, Colleen has worked hard to make them known and affordable to the public.
Kris Tietig: The quality I admire most about my mom is her work ethic, the way she was able to accomplish everything without taking any shortcuts, and the ease at which she did everything, from parenting us, to her work, to all her community involvement. It was a lot for her to handle, and she did it with ease.
Colleen Boggs: The things you learn from your parents -- sometimes they don’t teach you directly. But indirectly, my father devoted certainly more than 15 percent of his time to community activities, as did my mother. They never said we’re doing this and we feel it’s the right thing to do. They just did it. And -- so it was a part of my life growing up.
Following her parents’ model, Colleen found time -- between managing the nursery and raising her sons -- for her own community activities. One of the first associations she became involved with was the Dade Chapter of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) in 1972. While Colleen had a strong background in botany, she had no experience in running a nursery as a business.
Colleen Boggs: It was the first time I had a chance to talk to other growers. Having had no experience in horticulture, and basically no education in horticulture, because my education was in botany, I never knew the business aspect of running the nursery. And so, from them, not only did I learn the business aspect, but, you know, I learned about customer relations and just how to run a business and also, the benefits of getting together as a group to get things done, politically, and just all kinds of ways.
Heather Tietig: She absorbs everything she touches, and she learns and she keeps it, and files it away. And no matter what, I’ll be the one to ask her a question and she’ll have an answer. I guess that’s what makes her such a unique businesswoman, because she’s obtained all this knowledge throughout her life and uses it in the business.”
Colleen’s work with the group proved very successful. In 1982 she was honored with the prestigious Wendell Butler Award for Nurseryman of the Year, and later was inducted into the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association’s Hall of Fame. But her work with the association did more than just promote nurseries.
Jane Spurling: The nursery business was principally run by men. And when she came into it, it was something new. She was the first woman, and she paved the way for the rest of the women. When other people said, well, hey, she can do it; I can do it, also.
After serving on the board of directors she became the first woman to be the chapter president, ultimately becoming the association’s second woman state president. She received the ATHENA Award, an international award that recognizes businesswomen who have helped other women achieve their full potential.
John Fredrick: What makes Colleen effective is she does her homework. She is considerate of issues. She comes to meetings with ideas and solutions. Colleen’s contribution to the Farm Bureau is her tireless service over many, many years.
As a member of the board of directors and past-president for the Dade County Farm Bureau, Colleen has been a determined advocate for agriculture and the farming families of South Florida.
John Fredrick: She’s an effective decision-maker and provided the leadership this organization has needed. And I think no one here has served better than her over these years.
A pioneer in Florida’s tropical fruit industry, Colleen has been active at the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center, or TREC, served on its advisory committee, and was instrumental in expanding the Center’s facilities in Homestead.
Van Waddill: Colleen is, as most people know, is very persuasive in a gentle way. And she was able, along with some of the other ag folks in Homestead, to convince the then president of the University of Florida, John Lombardi, to put a teaching program here. Shortly after that we needed some new facilities; we needed teaching greenhouses, we needed a shade house, we needed a head house. So she worked with others in the Miami-Dade chapter of FNGLA to get the funding to build those facilities.
From expanding the knowledge of growers and researchers at TREC, to reaching out to students through Florida Ag in the Classroom, educating the public on the importance of Florida agriculture has always been a goal of Colleen. And as Colleen learned as a 4H Horse Club advisor, sometimes you get back a lot more than you give.
Colleen Boggs: There’s three really important young girls in my life; I think I first met them when they were 13 and 14; now they are in their fifties, and we became lifelong friend. Every other year we get together and we try to do something horsy, like go to the Rolex Grand Prix or Equine Affair in Ohio or something special. So they’ve been a part of my life ever since then, so I enjoy my time together with them.
As an educator, her impact on agriculture extends well beyond Florida’s shores. Thanks to her expertise with tropical fruit, Colleen was invited to Ecuador and Columbia to teach their growers about commercial mango production. Students from countries like the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Russia also benefit from her knowledge. Invited to the U.S. to study horticulture and marketing at Pine Island Nursery, the students are introduced to the agricultural community, its events and projects, and Colleen guides their studies. One student was so impressed with Colleen that he returned to help mange the nursery after he received his degree.
Ron V G: I was starting horticulture in Holland, and I had a chance to take a little trainingship abroad. So I was calling companies all over, you know, Miami and -- Colleen was actually the first one after, like, 50 phone calls, the first one who said, like, yeah, sure, why not? And later on, she told me, like, well, you know, it’s just because you called yourself. And she was proud of that, and that’s where she really gave it a chance. And it worked out really good.
Kris Tietig: I remember my mom as somebody who -- she knew everybody in the community. It’s funny the way she would -- we’d just drive around the area and she would wave at about every single car that would drive by. And I’d always ask her, “Mom, who was that, Mom, who was that?” And she’s, “Oh, that’s Mr. Strano.” “Oh, that’s Mr. Eplin.” And it was just the funniest thing, because she would end up waving at at least half the people she passed. And the funny thing I would do, I’d be right behind her, waving at everybody, too, just assuming my mom knew them.
Erik Tietig: I would describe my mom in a sentence as really just being a mother to all. Of course, she was a great mother to us, but you will also hear how Bob Epling, President of Community Bank, refer to her as mom. Our Farm Bureau Insurance agent, Hal Arvey, always referring to her as Mom. And that’s the way it was for us all growing up. Her friends always referred to her as Mom, because that was her primary identity.
Bob Epling: You know, affectionately, those of us who know her well call her mom. And we refer to her as mom and, you know, that has a special connotation within itself, the fact that we look at her as the epitome of a mother, and we look at her as the epitome of a friend. We’ve looked to her for leadership. We look to her as a confidante. And we also look to her for fun. She has a unique combination of wit and wisdom. And with that, I think everyone in this community truly respects her. From the bank’s standpoint, she’s always been someone who always thought things out … before she spoke, she always thought things out.
Colleen Boggs: I really enjoy my time at Community Bank... I just enjoy the interchange I have with them. And it’s been good for me socially, business-wise, and personally. So that’s been a very good thing for me.
For the Community Bank of Florida, Colleen has been an influential member of its board of directors since 1989, later serving as its first and only chairwoman.
A non-profit organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of migrant farm workers, Centro Capesino benefited from Colleen’s involvement.
Colleen Boggs: I particularly like my time with Centro Campesino, because the thing that I admire most about them was they were providing single family housing for farmworkers.
As a member of its board of directors and vice-chair, she sought to help migrant workers become more self-sufficient through homeownership and neighborhood improvement initiatives.
Steve Mainster: She was on our board for 10 of her most important developmental years. And her good judgment -- always attending, always listening and giving us the greatest advice that we possibly could get, sharing her contacts with us, discussing her experience. And her knowledge is so wide, her contacts are so wide. And her desire to help is so sincere, that she was one of the strongest, most important board members we’ve ever had.
Mike Hoy: Colleen has never had a personal agenda in her life. It’s always what’s best for the family, for the group, for the business. She’s real good at, at handling situations that could turn into a bad situation, that she just mediates over them and brings people together and comes to a consensus for a group and does good for everyone.
Acknowledging her exceptional ability to building a consensus, Colleen’s leadership has been sought out by a number of professional groups. Florida Governor Lawton Chiles appointed her to the state’s Hazardous Waste Advisory Council. She was elected to the South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors, chaired the Board of Professional Geologists, and has been involved in the Miami-Dade Ag Practices Study Advisory Board.
Colleen Boggs: I learned so much from the different professional boards I was on and they helped me grow. So even though I was giving my time, I think I got the better benefit.
Kathy Edgemon: Well probably the most special part about Aunt Colleen is that any time you need anything, you just ask her and she’s there. She’s always very helpful with anything you need. She’s a very special person in our lives, myself, my husband, and my kids.
Jack Edgemon: She is a really wonderful person in the sense that she’s a parental figure. She’s very strong. She’s very knowledgeable. She’s very wise. You’re able to call her and ask her advice about personal stuff. You can ask her advice about business stuff or anything that you need, need a little help on. And she is always, always willing to sit there and talk to you.
These days, Colleen’s greatest pleasure is spending time with her sons and their families. Of all the titles she’s held throughout her career, her favorite is Granny.
Mary Jo Tietig: One of the most special things about Mom is the way she interacts with the kids, the grandkids. She loves those grandkids, and she’ll do anything for them. She’ll walk through the woods and they’ll pretend they’re on a safari hunt and she’ll go fishing with them and catch minnows and she’d catch tadpoles and lizards.
Heather Tietig: She’s got such an open attitude and an open heart and open mind, which is very, which very unique, because not very many people you want to cross are very open minded, you know, when you walk into their lives.
Kris Tietig: My mom was able to attend all my tennis matches, my football games and she -- I don’t think she missed anything. She knew what was important. She never missed anything important with my brother and I. And she was always able to make all of her meetings and run the nursery and be successful.
Erik Tietig: How did she balance all those responsibilities that -- it’s difficult to say, but she did it very gracefully. That’s for sure. Yeah. It’s hard to believe that someone could do it that well and be as effective as she was.
Colleen Boggs: Thinking back, I don’t know how I did it. But at the time, I, I was able to do it. And, and I really captured this remark from some else and I don’t recall from who, but “the more you do, the more you can do.” And I found that the busier I was, the more I accomplished. So when I had that stress of having to get everything done and had to schedule everything very timely, I was more productive and could do more, so I kept doing. That’s the way it was.