Title: 2008 Woman Of The Year: Patsy Nathe
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
Logging has long been a part of Florida agriculture. For generations, the timber industry has provided lumber and jobs for the Sunshine State.
It’s hard and dangerous work, and the last place you’d expect to see a former model; but that’s where you’ll find Patricia “Patsy” Nathe, co-owner of R.J. Nathe and Sons, Inc. of Dade City.
Wherever she might be, she is always demonstrating her support for those who make their living off the land. A longtime advocate of Florida agriculture, she feels just as comfortable in the backwoods of Pasco County as she does on a fashion runway.
James “Jimbo” Nathe: She’s a lady. Even though she not scared to get her hands dirty, she always acts that way. She’s a very classy lady. Anything she puts her mind to she goes full force. It doesn’t matter what it is she really gets into it and she tries to do the best that she could do.
Patsy Nathe’s agriculture roots run deep. The Pasco County native was born and raised in St. Joseph, a tiny town just outside Dade City. Her father was in the citrus-harvesting business and made sure Patsy learned at a young age how to tend the garden, milk the cows and feed the animals.
Patricia “Patsy” Nathe: You were self-sufficient. You grew your own food, most of your own vegetables. We had a milk cow. We had our own butter and cream and our own beef and hogs, chickens, whatever. It was just something you just do. And you learn to do it when you’re very young.
In 1959, she married Robert “R.J.” Nathe and moved to his grandfather’s pioneer family homestead in rural Pasco County. There, they raised five sons and a daughter while building a logging and land-clearing business, Nathe and Gude, Inc. For years Patsy’s days were filled with the demands of raising six kids and helping out with the business.
Bill Nathe: She was tough, had to be tough to raise five boys and one daughter. Strict about what we did, made sure we all behaved which, as kids, that didn’t happen.
Joe Nathe: She did give me an early start in physics lessons, I learned at a very young age that a lady’s belt puts more pressure, pounds per square inch, than a man’s belt does. But was one of those lessons that I only needed to learn once.
Bill Nathe: When we messed up we paid for it.
After her children started attending school, Patsy began to get a little free time. Never one to just sit around, she began to devote herself to the cause of agriculture education and quickly became one of Florida agriculture’s most effective ambassadors.
Her first foray into volunteering began when she joined the Cowbelles, now known as Florida Cattlewomen, Inc., in the 1970s.
Patsy Nathe: We were having a meeting and somebody approached me. And she said, “We need a vice president, how about you doing it?” I said, “I don’t know how to be vice president. I’ve never done anything like that before.” Before I could say no, they had me signed up to be the vice president. I found myself knee deep in food booths. And I got on the phone. I started calling people. And I said, “Okay, what do I do, how do I do it?”
Patsy was one of her local chapter’s most active members, chairing events like the food concession at the high school rodeo. Before long she became the chapter’s president.
During her tenure with the Pasco County Cattlewomen, she designed and managed educational booths and spoke regularly in schools about nutrition. She recorded radio spots promoting beef, hosted farm and ranch tours, and did beef cooking demos in supermarkets around the state.
While she was recognized four times as Pasco County’s Outstanding Cattlewoman of the Year, it was the encouragement she received for her efforts organizing and modeling in a Cowbelles fashion show that set Patsy on a new career path.
Told that she “had what it takes” to be a professional, Patsy began taking modeling classes. So impressed were the folks at the school that they asked her to join the staff, and soon she was teaching as well as modeling.
Meanwhile, the timber and land-clearing operation was prospering and the company ventured into raising cattle and growing citrus. To help the business, Patsy saw to it that the citrus operation was a hands-on, family undertaking.
Robert “Junior” Nathe: We were kids growing up we used to pick oranges after school; she was there, she’d pick us up from school, she be right there picking oranges with us. Dad come in, take over.
Robert “R.J.” Nathe: You know, we’d picked fruit after work and Saturdays and Sundays, and picking fruit is where we made our living. Believe it or not there were a lot of days that me and her and the kids would pick 100 boxes of oranges.
“Junior” Nathe: With all of us kids things were tight and the house they got now picking fruit helped pay for it.
When partner Walter Gude retired, the Nathes’s five sons became part owners of the logging company, which they renamed R.J. Nathe and Sons, Inc. Later the cattle and citrus divisions would become Tall Timber Cattle and Grove, Inc.
In 1993 Patsy left the modeling profession to become business manager for both companies, where she’s responsible for accounting, permitting and other legal matters, as well as safety, advertising, and public relations.
“R.J.” Nathe: She’s got the hardest job of all of them. I wouldn’t have it. I couldn’t do it. All I’ve got to do is cut logs and keep enough money in the bank to pay the bills; and she does all the hard work, you know, going here and going there, and it would drive me crazy. I couldn’t do it. And she’s good at it you know; everybody will tell you she’s good at it.
Charlie Nathe: She’s the one who gets things done. I mean she takes care of everything in the office and business wouldn’t be business without her.
From the beginning Patsy enjoyed the scope of her responsibilities, and the challenge of keeping pace with the timber industry’s ever-changing rules and regulations. But her biggest joy is being able to work along side R.J. and their sons.
Patsy Nathe: They love what they do. They inherited that from their daddy. They'd grown up in it. And so it’s really wonderful. I get to see them every day, because headquarters is here and they’re in and out.
While most people would be overwhelmed just managing two businesses, Patsy started branching out to advocate for the timber industry.
Patsy Nathe: A forester that we work with came to me one day and he said, “You do a lot of work for the cattle people; forestry is your bread and butter. You need to get involved in this.” I said, “Well, how do I get involved in the Forestry Association?” And he said, “Come to the annual meeting.” And I did, and that’s what happened. It seems like everything that I get into, I get involved in it some way or another. So I got very involved with the Forestry Association.
At the Association Patsy worked on a number of high profile projects. She helped develop the Forest Discovery Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, where each year 35,000 to 40,000 visitors learn the value of Florida’s forests. She spearheaded the “Work in the Woods” exhibit to showcase careers in the timber industry. And Patsy also played a key role in the successful “Log-A-Load” program, a fundraiser where individual loggers annually donate a truck load of lumber to raise money for childhood illnesses.
Again, it did not take long for her talents and effectiveness to be recognized. Patsy was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush and Governor Charlie Crist to serve on the Withlacoochee River Basin Board. Currently Patsy sits on the board of the Florida Forestry Association, and represents the Association on the Ag Advisory Committee of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Charlie Nathe: She loves being on committees, doing things to help other people, trying to make sure not only our little world goes around right but the rest of the world around us, trying to point everything in the right direction. So many people have so many ideas; she’s just trying to make sure that everybody’s point of view is in there.
She also serves on the boards of the Florida Loggers Council, the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame and the Future Farmers of America Foundation.
In 2001 Patsy was selected by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to represent the cattle industry at the White House. Of the 200 small business owners invited to attend, Patsy was one of three invited to be on stage with President George W. Bush as he spoke about the permanent repeal of the estate tax.
Volunteering keeps Patsy pretty busy with meetings and conferences, so whenever she gets the chance, she gets back to her agriculture roots, tending her garden. While she does enjoy those moments alone, nothing is more important to her than family. As often as she can, she likes to get everyone together for dinners at the family barn.
Patsy Nathe: It’s usually pretty busy around here, people coming and going all the time. I get to see my grandkids and, and we’ve got eight of those now. So they are in and out, too, with their daddies and moms. So everybody is around all the time. It’s great
“Jimbo” Nathe: She basically is the glue that’s kept this family together, and kept us all working towards one thing and that’s to keep the family together. That’s really been extremely important to mom and dad both as we grew up.
Irene Johnson: She just a family person, taking care of the house, taking care of the kids, lot of cooking and cleaning and having dinner on the table when it’s supposed to be, always keeping the family together and making sure everybody’s included in everything.
At the end of the day, Patsy rides out with R.J. to the fields where the cattle are grazing. The clear skies, the open pastures, reminders of why she gives so much to Florida agriculture.Patsy Nathe: Some people say, well, why do you do it? Well, I guess I’m selfish. It gives me a good feeling. If I can do something to help somebody else, to help our industry, to keep it out there so we can keep producing the food and fiber that we need, it gives me a good feeling and a sense of accomplishment. And I just will continue doing it as long as I can.